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"FAITH'S EMPIRE IS THE WORLD; its monarch, GOD; ITS MINISTERS, THE PRIESTS;
THOMAS PATTERSON, 8, HO£YWEL]\STREET, STRAND.
PREFACE, v. \
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The Oracle of Reason is the only exclusively Atheistical print that has appeared in any age or country—and in offering a First Volume to the public, its Editor feels the most lively and triumphant satisfaction. Its publication, in face of much difficulty and danger, constitutes a memorable epoch in the history of philosophy. In its columns, for the first time, supernaturalism has been honestly attacked, upon right principles—we say, honestly attacked, because no Atheists, with whom we are acquainted, have thought it prudent so to teach their principles that none could mistake their real import.
The ancients were far more bold than the moderns, or rather, perhaps, philosophers of old had less to fear from a free and intelligible expression of their opinions, than those who have the advantage of living under christian governments. Among the Greeks, atheism was not only tolerated, but applauded—in civilised and free Europe, down to the last century, he who dared to broach atheistical truths, did so with his life in his hand. The fact is notorious, that since the incorporation of Christianity with state policy, freedom of discussion has been uniformly prohibited, and freedom of conscience, so much boasted about, none have enjoyed. There must be something essentially detestable in a religion which has produced such results. We are gravely told, by certain apologists of Chris- tianity, that all enjoy freedom of conscience, and that the opponents of christian truth" are only denied freedom of expression—which is, no doubt, stupendously liberal on the part of infallible christians. They will allow us to think, but not to speak—our thoughts. Now, it seems to us, that permission to think is quite superfluous, as it happens no laws can possibly prevent thinking—the most stringent of them can only reach action. Freedom of conscience presupposes freedom of expression—and every one now knows that freedom of expression has never been tolerated since the establishment of that tissue of anomalies and contradictions—called Christianity. It is well known, besides, that Christians, in all ages, have been the bitterest enemies of freedom and virtue. Lccrg'.before power was ;"iii their Sou they displayed the will to omraj-i colteierTce^aud bring down right ." to Jth*e"Jow 3eVjE cf.tKsir acourced scperstiticn. If they were once meek and lowly, the reason is—they dared not be otherwise. No thanks to them for not being persecuting tyrants, when they were the powerless, aud justly despised, serfs of Rome. The apostles and their despicable followers were humble and tolerant —from necessity, not from principle. As it was, Saint Paul did not hesitate to recommend that the mouths of unruly and vain talkers should be stopped, especially they of the circumcision.* The short is, the genius and precepts of Christianity are, and, as far as their influence extended, ever have been, hostile to the highest interests of humanity.
We deny not there were isolated instances of persecution, for conscience sake, in Greece and Rome—but, he it remembered, they were isolated instances. Anaxagoras was punished for impiety, Aristotle banished for unbelief, Socrates poisoned for atheism—and here ends the short catalogue of Grecian martyrs to truth. In Rome's palmy days, its leading statesmen and warriors laughed to scorn the fanciful notions, held by certain imbecile enthusiasts, about immortal souls. Atheism was openly avowed by the most illustrious senators, and that death was an eternal rest, all philosophers then believed. Voltaire tells us, that the Roman senate, including the unequalled names of Cato, Cicero, and Caesar, was an assembly of Atheists. We are not aware that there can be found half-a-dozen
• See the Epistle of Paul to Titus, i. 10- U.
cases of purely religious persecution in the history of Rome. The " masters of the world" allowed their vanquished enemies to make public profession of any religion, or of no religion. The gods of conquered nations were, with courteous Hherality, hour- •'-''My received at Rome. The Roman rulers acted upon the principle, that it wa little consequence what sort of gods were worshipped, or if none were "orsh.uped, always providing the people could be fully amused and employed. i " the scum of cities," as Cicero styled the Roman populace, never thought the gods of their neighbours less respectable than their own. Gibbon truly says, with them, religion was an affair of habit rather than opinion—and happy would it be for us, if the scum of christian cities displayed the practical wisdom of their Roman prototypes. But, alas, no! Thousands, in these times, who can scarce read their bibles, arrogantly stand forward as infallible judges of its contents, and philosophers are compelled to conceal their thoughts, or, what is worse, timidly allow them to be seen through a distorted medium, lest plain truth should offend the prejudices, and arouse the slumbering fanaticism of stupid, opinionated Christians.
Epicurus taught atheism openly in Greece, and none molested him. He was, perhaps, the most popular, and certainly his fame was the most lasting, of Grecian philosophers. The poet Lucretius, who so luminously expoundecHjppicurean doctrine, was neither disgraced nor punished for singing the eternity of matter, the material origin of thought, and the non-existence of god. It is true, the crowd were unable to read his high-toned poetry; but the few who could, admired his freedom and genius. The short is, that what is properly opinion, was, in ancient times,'confined to the educated few, who, not at all fearing that the expedient s of the unthinking, ignorant many, would be disturbed, highly relished the ingenious and profound speculations of distinguished poets and philosophers. Now, every conventicle frequenter has "a call," and feels it as an essential part of his spiritual duty to vindicate god's honour, and maintain the ineffably divine character of the ever blessed and glorious trinity.
Priestcraft poisons all—nothing escapes its polluting—its withering touch. To destroy that monster, the Oracle of Reason was set on foot. Those who originated it, may have failed in many minor particulars, but none can charge them with lacking the essential qualities of courage and honesty. They have renounced their oracles with an energy and boldness rarely equalled—and never surpassed. From first to last there has been no attempt at subterfuge—no expediency-mongering—no rascally double doctrine—or cowardly skulking from those consequences—which, in this free country, follow,with unerring certainty, the expression of prohibited opinions. Their principle was not the better-to-be-sa/c, but the better-to-be-/ion«si—a principle which, even their bitterest enemies must allow, they have neither betrayed nor deserted—and if policy, however seemingly rash or reckless, is justified by success, why the justification of those who originated the Oracle of Reason is complete. Their success, in a commercial sense, it is true, has been but trifling,when compared with the overwhelming moral influence which their exertions have called into existence. It has not, however, been success cheaply achieved. Two of atheism's foremost and most enthusiastic champions, are now paying, in dungeons, the penalty of their glorious efforts to dig up the foundations of priestcraft, and establish the reign of reason upon earth. But let us rejoice in the reflection, that they neither fear the present nor regret the past, and would not, if they could, change places with the judges who condemned them, unless, at the same time, they changed consciences. They are men—
To stand amid the silent dungeon-depths,