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which will in a great measure regulate our conclusions upon this head. The first is, that any form of Christianity is better than no religion at all; the second, that, of different systems of faith, that is the best which is the truest. The first of these positions will hardly be disputed, when we reflect that every sect and modification of Christianity holds out the happiness and misery of another life, as depending chiefly upon the practice of virtue or of vice in this; and that the distinctions of virtue and vice are nearly the same in all. A person who acts under the impression of these hopes and fears, though combined with many errors and superstitions, is more likely to. advance both the public happiness and his own, than one who is destitute of all expectation of a future account. The latter proposition is founded in the consideration, that the principal importance of religion consists in its influence upon the fate and condition of a future existence. This influence belongs only to that religion which comes from God. A political religion may be framed, which shall embrace the purposes, and describe the duties of political society perfectly well; but if it be not delivered by God, what assurance does it afford, that the decisions of the Divine judgment will have any regard to the rules which it contains ? By a man who acts with a view to a future judgment, the authority of a religion is the first thing inquired after: a religion which wants authority, with him wants every thing. Since then this authority appertains, not to the religion which is most commodious,-to the religion which is most sublime. and efficacious,--to the religion which suits best with the form, or seems most calculated to uphold the power and stability of civil government, but only to that religion which comes from God; we are justified in pronouncing the true religion by its very truth, and independently of all considerations of tendencies, aptness, or any other internal qualities whatever, to be universally the best.
ectly well. Iscribe the dutch shall emim A political From the first proposition follows this inference, that when the state enables its subjects to learn some form of Christianity, by distributing teachers of a religious system throughout the country, and by providing for the maintenance of these teachers at the public expense; that is, in fewer terms, when the laws establish a national religion, they exercise a power and an interference which are likely, in their general tendency, to promote the interest of mankind: for, even supposing the species of Christianity which the laws patronize to be erroneous and corrupt, yet when the option lies between this religion and no religion at all (which would be the consequence of leaving the people without any public means of instruction, or any regular celebration of the offices of Christianity), our proposition teaches us that the former alternative is constantly to be preferred.
But after the right of the magistrate to establish a particular religion has been, upon this principle admitted; a doubt sometimes presents itself, whether the religion which he ought to establish be that which he himself professes, or that which he observes to prevail amongst the majority of the people. Now, when we consider this question with a view to the formation of a general rule upon the subject (which view alone can furnish a just solution of the doubt), it must be assumed to be an equal chance whether of the two religions contains more of truth,—that of the magistrate, or that of the people. The chance then that is left to truth being equal upon both suppositions, the remaining consideration will be, from which arrangement more efficacy can be expected;—from an order of men appointed to teach the people their own religion, or to convert them to another? In my opinion, the advantage lies on the side of the former scheme: and this opinion, if it be assented to, makes it the duty of the magistrate, in the choice of the religion which he establishes, to consult the faith of the nation rather than his own.
. The case also of dissenters must be determined by the principles just now stated. Toleration is of two kinds ;-the allowing to dissenters the unmolested profession and exercise of their religion, but with an exclusion from offices of trust and emolument in the state; which is a partial toleration: and the admitting them, without distinction, to all the civil privileges and capacities of other citizens; which is a complete toleration. The expediency of toleration, and consequently the right of every citizen to demand it, as far as relates to liberty of conscience, and the claim of being protected in the free and safe profession of his religion, is deducible from the second of those propositions which we have delivered as the grounds of our conclusions upon the subject. That proposition asserts truth, and truth in the abstract, to be the supreme perfection of every religion. The advancement, consequently, and discovery of truth is that end to which all regulations concerning religion ought principally to be adapted. Now, every species of intolerance which enjoins suppression and silence, and every species of persecution which enforces such injunctions, is adverse to the progress of truth; forasmuch as it causes that to be fixed by one set of men, at one time, which is much better, and with much more probability of success, left to the independent and progressive inquiry of separate individuals. Truth results from discussion and from controversy; is investigated by the labours and researches of private persons. Whatever, therefore, prohibits these obstructs that industry and that liberty which it is the common interest of mankind to promote. In religion, as in other subjects, truth, if left to itself, will almost always obtain the ascendency. If different religions be professed in the same country, and the minds of men remain unfettered and unawed by intimidations of law, that religion which is founded in maxims of reason and credibility will gradually gain over the other to it. I do not mean that men will formally renounce their ancient religion, but that they will adopt into it the more rational doctrines, the improvements and discoveries of the neighbouring sect; by which means the worse religion, without the ceremony of a reformation, will insensibly assimilate itself to the better. If popery, for instance, and protestantism were permitted to dwell quietly together, papists might not become protestants (for the name is commonly the last thing that is changed *), but they would become more enlightened and informed; they would by little and little incorporate into their creed many of the tenets of protestantism, as well as imbibe a portion of its spirit and moderation.
The justice and expediency of toleration we found primarily in its conduciveness to truth, and in the superior value of truth to that of any other quality which a religion can possess: this is the principal argument; but there are some auxiliary considerations too important to be omitted. The confining of the subject to the religion of the state is a needless violation of natural liberty, and is an instance in which constraint is always grievous. Persecution produces no sincere conviction, nor any real change of opinion: on the contrary, it vitiates the public morals, by driving men to prevarication, and commonly ends in a general though secret infidelity, by imposing, under the name of revealed religion, systems of doctrine which men cannot believe, and dare not examine: finally, it disgraces the character, and wounds the reputation, of Christianity itself, by making it the author of oppression, cruelty, and bloodshed.
Under the idea of religious toleration, I include the toleration of all books of serious argumentation: but I deem it no infringement of religious liberty to
* Would we let the name stand, we might often attract men, without their perceiving it, much nearer to ourselves, than, if they did perceive it, they would be willing to come.
restrain the circulation of ridicule, invective, and mockery, upon religious subjects; because this species of writing applies solely to the passions, weakens the judgment, and contaminates the imagination of its readers; has no tendency whatever to assist either the investigation or the impression of truth; on the contrary, whilst it stays not to distinguish between the authority of different religions, it destroys alike the influence of all.
Concerning the admission of dissenters from the established religion to offices and employments in the public service (which is necessary, to render toleration complete), doubts have been entertained, with some appearance of reason. It is possible that such religious opinions may be holden as are utterly incompatible with the necessary functions of civil government; and which opinions consequently disqualify those who maintain them from exercising any share in its administration. There have been enthusiasts who held, that Christianity has abolished all distinction of property, and that she enjoins upon her followers a community of goods. With what tolerable propriety could one of this sect be appointed a judge or a magistrate, whose office it is to decide upon questions of private right, and to protect men in the exclusive enjoyment of their property? It would be equally absurd to intrust a military command to a Quaker, who believes it to be contrary to the gospel to take up arms. This is possible; therefore it cannot be laid down as a universal truth, that religion is not, in its nature, a cause which will justify exclusion from public employments. When we examine, however, the sects of Christianity which actually prevail in the world, we must confess that, with the single exception of refusing to bear arms, we find no tenet in any of them which incapacitates men for the service of the state. It has indeed been asserted, that discordancy of religions, even supposing each -religion to be free from any errors that affect the