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religion, and the angry contentions of sects and parties, may do much to weaken the faith of the timid, the narrow-minded, and the vicious; but they are not sufficient to free the mind from all religious impressions, and allow the deluded victim of passion and prejudice to resign himself without many a struggle to the dreary depths of infidelity.
We dare not say how much of infidelity is sin, and how much is infirmity. We believe that there are some men who are predisposed to doubt upon subjects connected with religion. And why should not this be the case ? We see men around us of all possible differences of mental constitution ; those who are guided entirely by a cool exercise of judgment; and those who make no more use of that faculty than if it did not exist ; there are those who will receive statements of a very questionable character, with very little evidence, and those who seem to glory in being inaccessible by any amount of argument. This latter is a constitution which will be found to have entered very largely into the thoughts of many who have rejected revelation. They do not seem to have had a clear idea of what kind of evidence was necessary and possible in establishing the great truths of religion. They have looked for something out of the world, for evidence distinct from, and superior to, what may come within the capacities of sense and reason.
Let the number and the weight of favorable arguments, which have from time to time been recognised and received into the mind, be what they may, they make no firm stand when confronted with specious doubis. They do not even try to avoid contact with these dangerous enemies of their faith, as we should suppose a knowledge of their own infirmity would induce them to do, but, with a trembling and hurried movement, possess themselves of every pretence to an opposing argument which is put in their way, and afford such a ridiculous spectacle of foolish pusillanimity as would excite laughter, if the subject were not of so serious a nature.
Such a mental constitution is besides very strangely united often with the coolest self-sufficiency. We can readily imagine what a pliable material is here offered, upon which a confirmed, proselyting infidel may exercise his skill. One whose intellectual structure answers to this description, whether it be from natural constitution or adventitious biasses, is indeed to be pitied; but he may so yield to his
N. S. VOL. XII. NO. I.
infirmities, and neglect to use the means of cure which are ever ready at his hands, as to become an object of a less friendly affection.
We can all imagine the process by which infidelity obtains its hold on the mind. If religion (by which, we mean a belief in the divine origin of Christianity, and a sense of responsibility imposed by its teaching,) has at no period of life been an object of paramount importance, there is then some probability that a man can so bewilder bis mind, and reverse every principle of reason and judgment, as to divest himself, at once, of the restraints and privileges, the hopes and fears of the gospel. But though experience proves to us that such a siate of mind as is necessary to constitute an infidel, is a possible thing, and though we can imagine and state the process of corruption, we know that it must be a very difficult task. Indeed, it may very fairly be doubted whether any one who has been brought up under the influences of Christianity, and bound by some of its thousand associations, can, by all the force of self-delusion, sophistry, and affected indifference, so completely darken his mind, that rays of light will not at times return into it, even against his will.
But we are told that in every deliberate act whether it be mental or bodily, man must have a motive, and that there can be no possible motive why he should willingly and thinkingly involve himself in error, and sacrifice the hopes, at the same time that he does the fears, of religion. This is an argument which is often advanced in self-defence by unbelievers. They think they take an unassailable ground, when they intrench themselves behind this piece of sophistry. They say, with a show of reason, that the
a hopes of Christianity have as flattering an aspect to their view, as to that of believers, and that, if they willingly forego these hopes which are held out to them, they must be considered as at least sincere. This is entitled to some consideration; the more so, because we think that this is the union point between those whose infidelity is sin, and those whose unbelief, to a certain degree, is infirmity. At this point both of these classes arrive, but beyond it they separate, and take very different roads, though both may eventually conduct them to the same gloomy regions.
Here, then, is the point to which all, who are preparing to reject the belief of Christianity as a religion sent from heaven, must first come. We do not mean to say that all arrive at it by the same way ; on the contrary the modes of their arriving at this point are as different as those in which they depart from it, either to go on, or to retrace their steps. The want of an early religious education, or what is perhaps as bad, subjection to harsh and gloomy views of religion, may have been the primary cause of placing one man in the situation where he is to choose between belief and unbelief ; while a neglect of early and happy opportunities, coupled with the temptations of vice in after life, may have placed another in the same situation. It must be altogether unnecessary to describe the course which one of the latter class will take to fortify himself in his unbelief. His prepossessions, at least, are unfavorable to religion.
The ideas which he would form of it would be, that it was a gloomy absurdity, and an enemy to human happiness, because he thinks that happiness consists in the course of life which he for the time is leading, and that, he knows, is any thing but a religious life. The pleasures of sin, though enduring but for a moment, are to him nevertheless pleasures ; and he is glad to be told, and struggles to satisfy himself in the belief, that, since some have rejected revelation, it may not after all be a matter really of life and death. It depends altogether upon the force of such influences, and the presence or absence of opposing ones, what shall be the strength with which unbelief operates upon his mind, and affects bis conduct. But let this be as it will, if his unbelief be but the consequence of his love of sinful pleasures, and a distaste for the requisitions of a religious belief, it is nothing less than a gross and deadly sin, a sin for which no one is responsible but himself.
The causes here intimated as the probable grounds of infidelity may be mixed in all proportions, and connected with others of a less tangible nature. But when the matter comes to the test of discussion, appearances are somewhat different. Whatever may have been the means which a man may have used in convincing himself that a revelation is an impossible thing, and that all who believe they possess one, are deceived, when he is desirous of spreading his views, he finds it necessary to go through a course of selfdiscipline, to fortify himself against himself, as well as
against others. It is probable that many men, when they have placed themselves in this situation, are brought back to their senses, by a few moments of quiet thought. They may well stop and consider whether they are correct in supposing themselves so much wiser than the multitude. And it is here too that early religious impressions will return. The voice within will make many a struggle to be heard. It is certain there were moments in the life of Voltaire and Hume, (we say nothing of Paine, for it is said that he never thought at all except when under the influence of strong drink, and it would be an insult to religious feeling to suppose it could come in at such a time, as well as of most other infidels, when the thought pressed heavily upon them, that there must be something to satisfy those earnest cravings of the soul, which all but religious faith does but mock. So many are the ties by which the Creator has bound us, that reason at times resigns herself implicitly to faith, seeling that there must be a dread something in the wide range of intelligence, which it cannot but recognise, though it will in vain hope to fathom. For below all the infirmities and biasses of the mind, in its very depths, lies the germ of religious feeling, – placed there by Him of whose essence it is a part. It is a spark which can never be extinguished, though it may be kindled into a bright flame, or dimmed by an inferior principle. How he may effectually smother this divine light must be the first attempt of the infidel. We have heard an infidel of the present day describe the manner in which he freed himself from the restraints of religion, but from some cause he made no mention of the process which we here suppose so difficult.
But, when this is as nearly completed as the nature of the case admits, what remains is comparatively easy. The prospect of encouragement and support will outweigh the fears of public exposure ; and the ambition to "reign,” though it be " in hell,” will balance every deficiency. There will always be found some, likewise, who will suffer themselves to be misled by those deceitful smiles, which life may at times present, when the restraints of religion are removed. But even if an unwillingness to submit themselves to the influences of religion forms no part of their infidelity, the novelty of the doctrines, and a certain ill-defined distrust in things which they consider, if not absolutely beyond the
reach of their faculties, yet at best shadowy and mysterious, will entice many into the snare. Perhaps they may hope to learn the causes why man is still so ignorant, notwithstanding the boasted advancement of knowledge. This question at least is one which the infidel prornises to answer for him by the sweeping decision, that superstition is at the root of the matter. " It is to Christianity that he attaches the blame of cramping man's intellectual nature, impeding his progress, and placing an insuperable barrier to the attainment of the highest point which his capacities would enable him to reach. It is Christianity which creates those offensive distinctions in rank and condition, and draws the deep line of division between common interests. Thus by accusing religion, whatever be its form or origin, of being a foolish and unnecessary restraint, and by predicting an imaginary state of society, where the goddess of reason will be the idol of general worship, the specious doctrines of infidelity and atheism become powerful weapons in the hands of the deluded and the vicious.
We said that infidelity among us, had assumed a very lofty tone. Though every pretence to argument on which it depends, is but a repetition of the stale and oft-refuted objections of infidels of former times, the infidelity of the present day is characterized by a greater freedom in expressing itself, a more open manifestation of its designs, and a wider operation of its effects. A glance at one of the
numerous publications advocating the doctrines of “ Free Inquiry,” will surprise any one who has not traced its progress. Not that either wit or learning contributes to its support. We speak of that which is inculcated openly among us. Infidelity has now descended from whatever high station it may at any time have occupied, and finds its champions and advocates among the ignorant and the vicious. It deals altogether in low and scurrilous ribaldry, or in rash assertions and foolish predictions. Matters of fact are disregarded or misrepresented. “The heroes of the Revolution, the leading political characters of our country, ever since its independence, are boldly claimed as open or secret enemies of Christianity. The most distinguished literary and scientific men of our country at the present times, a late infidel writer * confidently asserts, are scoffers
* Dr. Cooper, in a late number of the “ Free Inquirer.”