Friday, August 11, 2006

Is Religion and the Worship of God Inconsistent with Truth and Justice?

It remains then unanswerable , that religion and the worship of God according to the promptings of natural light, is consistent with truth and justice; but if any one wishes to establish any new principles in religion, either new or displeasing, and that by the authority of invisible powers, it will evidently be necessary for him to show his power of reforming, unless he wishes to be considered by all an impostor. Since, not under the conclusions of natural religion, nor under the authority of special revelation, he offers opposition to the ideas of all. Moreover he should be so upright in life and character that the people may believe him worthy of being associated with so high and holy a power, who does not approve of anything impure. Nor can merely his own confession, nor the holiness of a past life, nor any miracles -- that is extraordinary deeds -- prove this; for this is common rather among the skillful and the deceivers of men, lying hypocrites who pursue their own advantage and glory in this way. For it is not worth considering that some reached such a degree of madness that they voluntarily sought death, in order that it might be supposed that they despised and conquered everything, like different ones among the ancient philosophers. Nor is it to be supposed that they were upheld by special divine powers in that which they did because of foolish fancies and fond hopes of mountains of gold, rising from a defective judgment. For they did not give the matter the proper consideration, nor did the real teachers, for in order that you may come to a fair decision about them, I have said not only is their own testimony not sufficient, but in order to reach the truth of the matter, they must be compared with one another; and other witnesses with them, and then their acquaintances and friends, and then strangers, then friends and enemies; and then after the testimony is all gathered in, that of each teacher concerning himself, and then that of others must be compared. And if we do not know the witnesses, we must consult the witnesses of the witnesses, and so on; besides instituting an investigation as to your powers of distinguishing from the true and the false involved in such or other circumstances. Especially in similar ones, inquiring, moreover, whence you desired data to learn the truth, for this purpose comparing the judgment of others, as to what they infer from such an investigation or from the testimony of witnesses. And from these data it will be permissible to infer whether he who makes this claim, is a true messenger of the revelation of divine will and whether his teachings should be gradually adopted. But at this point we must be very careful not to get into a circle. Whenever the nature of important religions may be such that one supplants another, as that of Moses, Paganism, that of Mahomet, Christianity, -- the later one may not always nor in every particular cast aside the earlier, but only in certain parts, to such an extent that the latter is founded on the former, it will be necessary to investigate carefully not only either the last, or the middle, or the first, but all, especially since the charge of imposture is brought by every sect. So the ancients were charged with it by Christ, because they corrupted the law; the Christians by Mahomet, because they corrupted the gospels, a fact not to be wondered at, inasmuch as one sect of Christians charges the other with corrupting texts of the New Testament, so that it can [not] be ascertained whether he who is offered as an example is a teacher of a true religion or how far those who claim to have been given authority, should be listened to. For in an investigation no sect must be overlooked, but each must be compared with the rest without any prejudice. For if one is overlooked, that perhaps, is the very one which is nearer the truth. Thus, those who followed Moses, have followed the truth according to the Christians also, but they ought not to have paused at that point, but should examine the truth of the Christian religion also.

Each sect maintains that its own teachers are the best and that it has had and is daily having proof of this, and that there are no better ones so that either every one must believe it, which would be absurd, or no one, which is the safer plan, until the true way is known, though no sect should be disregarded in a comparison.

There is no need of presenting the objection that it is known that all mathematicians agree that twice two is four. For it is not a similar case, since no one has been known to doubt whether twice two is four, while on the contrary religions agree neither in end, beginning nor middle. Suppose that I do not know the true way of salvation; I follow, however, the Brahmins or the Koran. Will not Moses and the rest say: What wrong have we done you that you thus reject us, though we are better and nearer the truth? What reply shall we make? I believed in Mahomet or the Gymnosophistes, [A sect of East Indian philosophers who went about almost naked, ate no flesh, renounced all bodily pleasures, and simply contemplated nature.

The "Pre-Adamite doctrine," similar to the above, was published by Isaac de Peyrere about 1655. These fanatics believed that mankind lost none of their innocence by the fall of Adam. Both men and women made their appearance in the streets of Monster, France, in puris naturalibus, as did our first parents in the Garden of Eden, before the fruit incident, which brought so much trouble into the world. The magistrates failed to put them down, and the military had some difficulty in abolishing this absurdity. -- A.N.] in whose teachings I was born and brought up, and from them I learned that your religion and that of the Christians which followed, have long since decayed and grown corrupt, and are still misleading. Will they not reply that they do not know anything about the others and that these do not know anything about the true guide to salvation, since they know that those who are corruptors of the people are impostors, feigning miracles, or by lies pulling the wool over the eyes of the people. Nor should faith be thus simply given to one man or one sect, rejecting all others without a complete and proper investigation. For with equal right the Ethiopian, who has not left his own land, says that there are no men under the sun except those of a black color.

Moreover, this precaution also should be taken in the investigation of other sects, that equal care should be used in an investigation of all, and while one is explained with great pains, the other should not be slighted, because one claim or another at first sight seems to be wrong, or because of the evil reports of gossip concerning the leader of that sect, while other reports are cast aside. For that should not be set down as doctrine or indubitable testimony, which the first vagabond that comes along asserts about a hostile religion. Indeed, with equal right on account of common gossip and the mere mention of a name, the Christian religion was to some an object of horror, and to others an object of scorn. With the latter because the Christians worshipped the head of an ass, and with the former because they ate and drank their God, so that at length the report became current that to be a Christian was to be a deadly enemy of God and men; when, nevertheless, such tales were either things which had been misunderstood or skillfully told lies, which were then confirmed, and having some foundation, spread abroad because an enemy of that religion had absolutely no intercourse, or no proper intercourse, with the Christians themselves, or the more learned among them, but believed the first ignorant person or deserter or enemy of that religion. Such a method of investigation being decided upon, it would always be a matter of great difficulty. What shall we say about women, what about children, what about the majority of the masses of the people? All children will be excluded from a feeling of security in regard to their religion, and the majority of women to whom even those matters which have been most clearly explained by the leaders of any religion, as far as can be done, are obscure: also from their manner of life you rightly perceive that with the exception of a very few superior ones, they have no accurate powers of comprehending mysteries of such a character, to say nothing of the countless numbers of insignificant persons and country people for whom the question of their own support is the most important subject for the exercise of their powers of reason, while other matters they accept or reject in good faith. Doubtless there is only a very small part of the world, who weigh all religions, compare their own carefully with others and correctly distinguish true reasons from false, in details in which deception may creep in; but the majority rather adopt the faith of others, of teachers of sacred matters especially, whose knowledge and powers of judgment in sacred matters are considered noteworthy.

And so in any religion this is done, especially by those who can not read and write or do not have anything to read. But it should have been observed that in this matter it is not sufficient that the teachers of any religion should have the power, because of very exact powers of judgment and avowed experience, of distinguishing the true from the false. Indeed it ought to be very certain to others, with powers of judgment no less exact, that those teachers have not only the ability to distinguish the true from the false, but the desire as well, and indeed we ought to be especially certain that he who professes such a knowledge and desire is neither deceived nor wishes to be.

And what choice shall we make here among so many teachers so much at variance in even one eminent sect? For when we look at our comrades and associates, who disagree on many subjects, although they are most friendly in other respects, one of the two disputants will maintain his opinion on account of some defect, either because he has not a correct understanding of the matter, and lacks the power of judgment, or because he does not wish to give up, and so does not desire to confess the truth. But although it might be matters of secondary importance in which this happened, nevertheless the result will be that they will be mistrusted in other matters also. Each doubtless is in possession of one truth, and he who gives this up in one place, either from a defect of judgment or a wrong desire is deservedly mistrusted of doing the same thing in other cases.

Therefore, that you may judge of the ability and honesty of any teacher in religion, first, it is necessary for you to be just as able as he; for otherwise he will be able to impose on you very easily, and, moreover, if he is unknown to you, he will need the testimony of others, and these again of others, and so on indefinitely; not only in regard to his truthfulness, that he really taught such doctrines, but in regard to his honesty, that he did this without deceit. And the same method must at once be employed in regard to the witnesses of his honesty and his teachings. But where will you place an end to this? It is not enough that such discussions have already taken place among others; you must consider how well this has been done. For the ordinary proofs which are set forth are neither conclusive nor manifest, and prove doubtful matters by others more doubtful, so that, like those who run in a circle, you return to the starting point.

In order that it may be manifest whether any one is a teacher of a true religion or an impostor, there is need either of personal knowledge, which we can not have in the case of the three great founders of the religions of Judaism, Christianity and Mahometanism, inasmuch as they lived in far distant places and died long before our time; or of the knowledge of others, which, if any one imparts it to you, we call testimony.

Between these, there is still another way of knowing any one, namely through his own writings, which may be called one's own testimony concerning himself. And concerning Christ, there is no such testimony; concerning Moses, it is doubtful whether there is; concerning Mahomet, there is the Koran. The testimony of others is of two classes -- that of friends and that of enemies. Between these extremes there is no third class, according to the saying, "who is not with me is against me." Mahomet in his writings assumes and attributes to himself the same divine qualities as did Moses and another. Moreover the friends of Mahomet and members of his sect wrote the same things concerning him as did the members of the sects of the others concerning their masters, and the enemies of the others wrote just as disparagingly of them as their friends did of Mahomet. As for the rest, the testimony of any one concerning himself is too unreliable to inspire implicit confidence, and is of no consequence except, perchance, to perplex a thoughtless hearer. The assertions of friends, who doubtless unanimously repeat the sayings of their masters, are of the same nature. Nor should the enemies of any one be heeded on account of their prejudices. But as it is, in spite of these facts, it is for such trivial reasons, which are confirmed only by the master's own boasts, the assertions of friends, or the calumnies of enemies, that every follower of any one of the three assumes that the claims of his enemy are based wholly on imposture, while the teachings of his master are founded wholly on truth. Nevertheless Mahomet is undoubtedly considered an impostor among us; but why? Not from his own testimony or that of his friends but from that of his enemies. Then, on the contrary, among the Mahometans he is considered a most holy prophet; but why? >From his own testimony, but especially from that of his friends. Whoever considers Moses an impostor or a holy teacher employs the same method of reasoning. And there is equal reason in the case of Mahomet as in the case of the others, either for charging him with imposture or for answering that charge, although, nevertheless, the former are considered holy, while he is considered a scoundrel, contrary to all the demands of justice. To put it in the scholastic manner, then, the following conclusions are most firmly established: Whenever there is the same reason as in the case of Mahomet for charging any person with imposture or for answering that charge, they should be placed in the same category. And for example, in the case of Moses, there is the same reason, therefore justice should be demanded just as in the case of Mahomet, nor should he be considered an impostor.

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