Religion and Morality

Religion and Morality

James. Letter to the Editor. New Harmony Gazette, 1:27 (Mar. 29, 1826): 214. Confused by Veritas’s assertion that Robert Owen sees the belief in pure and genuine religion as essential to morality, James asks, “Have I been misinformed as to Mr. Owen’s philosophy? Is deism his philosophy? Does he actually consider god-worship to be essential to good morals? Then do he and I differ widely. So far from viewing religion as the basis of morality, I regard it, “pure and genuine” as it possibly can be, as wholly subversive of generous virtue- as absolutely incompatible with independence of thought and feeling.”

“New-Harmony Sunday Meeting for Instruction in the New-System.” New Harmony Gazette, 1:44 (July 26, 1826): 350-51. Owen contends “injustice, pride, despotism, cruelty, avarice, derangement of the rational faculties, wars, burnings, massacres, and prostration of the mind to every conceivable folly and absurdity . . . . are the unavoidable consequences of the introduction of religions of mystery into society; and yet we and our ancestors, for ages past, have been told, Sabbath after Sabbath, that this system, whether true or false, was necessary to produce virtue in the world.”

Mentor. “Truth.” The Correspondent, 1:2 (Feb. 3, 1827): 21. The author remarks, “It is also frequently asked, what we “intend to give the people if we take religion from them?” If by religion is meant those contradictory and incomprehensible systems, which no one has been able to reconcile; those dogmas which, without examination, are everywhere received as truths; I reply, that, in place of these absurdities, we recommend the cultivation of Reason, a gift undeniably conferred by the author of our being, and the study of the Code of Nature, which that same being has conferred on all the nations of the earth.”

Observator. “Religion and Morality.” The Correspondent, 1:4 (Feb. 17, 1827): 53-55. Observator argues that “A system which commands us to imitate the conduct of a despot, who delights to ensnare mankind, who is implacable in his vengeance, and who devotes to everlasting destruction all who have the misfortune to displease him, cannot be otherwise than subversive of justice, humanity, and benevolence.”

“Introductory Lecture, Delivered before the Society for Mutual Instruction in Natural Science, on the 1st of April, 1827, at Cincinnati, by a Member.” Western Tiller, 1:36-37 (Apr. 27-May 4, 1827). The lecturer asks, “Are we to be told that, in order to be moral or to be happy, we must abandon the light of reason and enlist under the banners of faith? No! It is upon the universal experience of mankind, whenever this experience is allowed to operate, that we predicate our prospect for improving society.”

 “Give us a Better Religion!” The Correspondent, 1:20 (June 9, 1827): 312-13. The author notes that “It is truly ridiculous to hear men pretending to common sense, maintaining that religion is necessary to restrain the mass of the people; and asking us, “what substitute we mean to offer in its place?”- So far from religion being a restraint on the vicious, its whole history demonstrates the contrary. Are not our criminal records lasting memorials of enormities committed by the religious?”

James W. Gazlay. “Error of Opinion.” Western Tiller, 2:5 (Sept. 28, 1827): 3. Gazlay observes “We every day hear in the streets from men of sense in most matters that although they believe nothing of hell themselves . . . . they like to have their families attend meetings on account of the moral effect” to which Gazlay asks, “Have parents no just, no tender regard for the minds of their infant children, that they will thus subject their fine sensibilities to the tortures of an imaginary hell, and an offended and wrathful deity?”

James W. Gazlay. “Reformation.” Western Tiller, 2:14 (Nov. 30, 1827): 3. Gazlay asks, “Suppose for the sake of the argument, or for the good of the human family that all the priests and desperate fanatics were sent to Botany Bay; or, what would still be better, to the plough tail or workshops- what would be the consequence? Would the world come to an end? Would virtue and piety decline? No! None of this would happen. What would happen? Wealthy hypocrites, for the want of a sanctuary at which to protect their vices, would be exposed nakedly to the world, and either be put to shame or on their own good conduct . . . .”

S. Letter to editor, followed by editor’s reply. New Harmony Gazette, 3:8 (Nov. 28, 1827): 62-63.  The author asserts that, “Religion is in the estimation of most thinking men, the only efficient sanction of moral obligation.” In reply, the editor argues that “the frame of mind incident to a belief in superhuman existences, have been productive of more evil than of good to the human race.”

Robert Dale Owen. “On the General Opinions Prevalent in Society.” New Harmony Gazette, 3:24 (Apr. 9, 1828): 190. Owen observes, “Thus it happens that the religion of the pulpit and the morality of the cabinet fall on the ear of the powerful and the wise, unbelieved indeed but yet unchallenged; conceived to be idle and absurd, yet adapted to the ignorant and the prejudiced. They know that such childish doctrines are unfit for their own strong minds; but they think them good and wholesome for the weaker minds of their less favored fellow-mortals. Religion is false, they admit, but yet it is useful- to keep the unenlightened quiet.”

 “False Reasoning.” March of Mind, 1:7 (Aug. 7, 1828): 105-07. The article begins, “If Christians have reasoned at all on the consequences of infidelity, they certainly have reasoned falsely, when they are brought to the conclusion, that the general spread of infidelity would be the general spread of evil.”

J.F. “The Influence and Effects of Christianity.” Liberal Press, 1:5 (Sept. 6, 1828): 69-71. The author begins, “It has been frequently asserted by the advocates of Christianity, that even though religion be altogether false, yet its influence in the world has been eminently beneficial; and that, therefore, it should be upheld by all who desire the happiness of mankind. . . . that religion is necessary to restrain the vulgar from the commission of crime; and that each individual unbeliever ought therefore to confine his views of the matter to himself.”

Charles Knowlton. “On Religion, as an Affection of the Human Mind.” The Correspondent, 5:19, 21 (May 30, June 13, 1829): 293-300, 329-33. Knowlton proclaims, “I consider religion and morals as two distinct things. Morals relate to our happiness in this life. They consist in precepts, and principles of conduct, which tend to promote the happiness of the human family; they are founded on experience and observation: in a word, they are taught by that universal book, which is worthy of its author, the book of Nature; whoever acts in conformity to these principles is a moral man. Religion consists in speculative notions concerning things beyond the sphere of observation, and beyond our present life.”

J.D. Coleman. “To Abner Kneeland.” Delaware Free Press, 1:10, 19 (Mar. 6, May 8, 1830). Coleman examines Kneeland’s Review of the Evidences of Christianity and contends that Christianity in no sense depends on the “historical accounts of the New Testament nor on the existence of Jesus Christ. The precepts contained in that book and said to have been taught by him are in themselves immutable and eternal.”

Abner Kneeland. “To J.D. Coleman.” Delaware Free Press, 1:18, 23 (May 1, June 5, 1830). Reprinted from the Free Enquirer. Kneeland asks, “Now I have not disputed the Truths of any precepts recorded in the New Testament that are strictly and purely moral. But why call that Christianity? What moral precept is found in the New Testament that is not to be found in the morals of other sages of still greater antiquity? That there are good morals taught in the New Testament I admit, but I see no good reason why morality should be considered, much less called, Christianity.”

R.D.O. “Religion and Morality.” The Free Enquirer, 3:32 (June 4, 1831): 252. Responding to William Lloyd Garrison’s assertion that “skepticism is immoral in its tendency,” Owen asks, “Is there no still, small voice, no monitor within the breast, that would stir up virtuous impulse within him, even though he ceased to believe that a God commanded virtue? Is there nothing in the odiousness of vice itself, nothing in the debasing nature of licentiousness, in the groveling tendency of selfish avarice, nothing in all the crooked ways and dark paths of crime, to warn back a generous nature?  or is it the fear of eternal fire alone that saves us from being brutes?”

Epictetus. “Religion and Morality.” Delaware Free Press, 2:24 (June 17, 1831): 2. The author contends that, “Religion does not found morals upon the nature of man- upon his relations with his fellow men; it is founded upon supposed relations with an unknown and incomprehensible being: thus religion has not given a sure, known and just basis to morals. Religion is the productive art and mystery of directing the attention of mankind to those subjects which they can never comprehend.”

“Supposed Connection of Morality and Religion.” The Western Examiner, (Nov. 19, 1833): 1-2. The author contends that “A man may be irreligious, and yet a virtuous, intelligent member of society; many men are religious who are neither virtuous or intelligent, and who have nothing but their religion to recommend them. Whence then has arisen the supposition that the existence of morality depends on that of religion? We shall see. The inculcation of principles of morality, alone, would necessarily be devoid of mystery; a priesthood cannot be supported without mystery, and hence the forced connection of morality with a mysterious religion.”

“A Code of Morals, Drawn up by Abner Kneeland, Which Should be Observed by Every Man, Woman and Child, That has Come to Years of Discretion.” The Boston Investigator, 151 (Feb. 14, 1834): 2. With this code, Kneeland aims to combat the “malicious falsehoods” circulated by members of the pulpit regarding the moral standards of “free enquirers.”

Prometheus. “An Essay on Morality, as Separate from, and Opposed to, Religions.” The Western Examiner, 2:1 (Jan. 4, 1835): 1-4. Prometheus pledges “to show the world that the black shadow of Religion is a stain and a blot on the peaceful ocean of Morality” adding that “As Infidels and Atheists we claim to possess, by the law of our own minds and of Universal Nature, all that Morality which Religion pretends to have bestowed upon the world.”

Julian. “Immoral Tendency of the Christian Mythology.” The Western Examiner, 2:11-14 (Mar. 26- Apr. 16, 1835): 81-82, 89-90, 97, 105-06. Julian contends in the second article in the series that the doctrine of predestination “teaches that God, before the beginning of time, allotted to each mortal that ever was to exist, his share of happiness and of misery, both in time and eternity; that though his moral conduct be unexceptionable, still, if he be not of the elect, his condition in eternity, will be no better than that of the publican, the harlot, or the murderer; that on the other hand, if he be born to be saved, no act of immorality, no crime against society, though it be of the most horrid kind can ever operate to his detriment. These are essential features of a doctrine, itself essential to a consistent belief in the Bible! What then must be its tendency?”

S.J.W.T. “Infidelity.” The Beacon (First Series), 1:7 (Dec. 17, 1836): 80-81. Tabor answers the editors of the New York Weekly Messenger who insist on equating infidelity with lasciviousness and skepticism with immorality by stating in part, “The Infidels are not immoral as you pretend, but as you well know, our prisons are filled with believers, and encouragement is in a measure held out to crime by the atonement you preach.”

“Observations on the State of Things in Western New York.” Cleveland Liberalist, 1:15 (Dec. 24, 1836): 118. Underhill points out that “Religion claims to heal all the infirmities of human nature, and the infantile mind being denounced as originally depraved, is condemned as incapable of genuine virtue until regenerated by divine power, and brought forth into a holy life. This sentiment will, as long as it lives, exercise a benumbing influence upon education. It is only when we see clearly that human nature is not depraved at birth, that we shall look to surrounding circumstances for the cause of all moral evil.”

C. “Difference between Religion and Morality.” The Beacon (First Series), 1:12 (Jan. 21, 1837): 124-25.

“On Belief and Opinions as Objects of Moral Approbation and Disapprobation, Rewards and Punishments.” The Beacon (First Series), 1:26 (Apr. 29, 1837): 241-42.

 Editor. “Biblical History,” “The Philosophy of the Bible, Exclusive, False and Absurd”, “The Morality of the Bible, Exclusive, False and Absurd” and “Rational Conviction.” The Boston Investigator, 508-11 (Jan. 20-Feb. 10, 1841). The editor concludes this series, “if [the bible] sanctioned in any part of it war and bloodshed, licentiousness, violence and lust; if, with the accession of knowledge and science, it became invalidated, so that its advocates had to continually change their ground; if it violate the principles of science by affirming things which could never take place, and which natural philosophy and universal history affirms never have; if its doctrines and precepts are not accommodated to the condition of man in his social and political capacity; if it has come down to us through an uncertain channel, tradition, age of ignorance and superstition; and finally, if it have no seal impress to convince us (of its specific difference from all other books) of its divine originality, we may well reject it. Such, in every respect, is the Bible.”

“Miscellaneous Publications, by Thomas Herttell.” The Beacon (Third Series), 1:25, 27 (May 6, 20, 1843): 193-98, 212. Vale features extracts from the following tracts authored by Herttell – The Right of Conscience and of Free Discussion, An Address to the Committee appointed by a general meeting to express their sentiments on the stoppage of the Sunday Mail, and Rights of Conscience. In the first extract, Herttell suggests that “If the object of religion be to make mankind honest, moral and benevolent; no religious man would denounce an honest, moral and benevolent man, for having no religion. If religion influenced its professors duly to appreciate morality, and correctly to estimate the merits of moral men, would they be so illiberal, uncharitable, and intolerant as to impute moral depravity to men of good moral conduct and reputation, for having no religion?”

Radclyffe. “Query: Can a Calvinist be Consistently Moral, Honorable and Humane?” The Beacon (Third Series), 1:32-35 (June 24- July 15, 1843): 250-51, 259-60, 266-67, 275-77.

“Influence of Christianity upon the Morals of the Community.” The Boston Investigator, 651 (Nov. 8, 1843): 2. The author asks, “What is the moral state of those nations to whom religion is of such importance, in order to preserve them from wickedness and licentiousness? Are they any more honest, more just, more humane, less corrupt or less depraved, than those nations whom we call Heathen, uncivilized, barbarian?”

Amos Gilbert. “Theology and Ethics.” The Regenerator, 19 (May 4, 1844): 73. Gilbert asserts, “If there were no conceptions of an infinite being, moral duties would be the same now.”

“Judge Herttell on Cruelty.” The Beacon (Third Series), 2:50 (Oct. 26, 1844): 396-99. Herttell concludes, “Until man shall be educated to know that justice and kindness to all animal creation, are the radical principles or basis of the whole science of morality, and that the knowledge and practice of those truths are essential and indispensable to the virtue, well-being and happiness of the human race, then, and not till then, will the moral condition and character of mankind be improved, and cruelty to dumb beasts cease to disgrace the human family!”

Knox. “Has Christianity Advanced Man’s Moral Worth.” The Regenerator, 91 (Sept. 20, 1847): 200. Speaking about the institution of slavery, Knox asks, “And who sanctifies this system of cruelty and oppression? Why the white brother who has been educated in Christianity, and has been taught its “holy and benevolent precepts.” Has Christianity improved his moral character?”

“Love Your Enemies.” The Regenerator, 109 (July 1, 1848): 65. Murray notes that the command to love your enemies is an absurdity, an outrage, that love cannot be compelled or forced but must be free and voluntary.

“Jesus.” Age of Reason, 2:24 (Jan. 21, 1849): 24-25. The author remarks that Jesus’ “theological dogmas, which are intolerant, arbitrary, and oppressive, have arrayed man against his fellow man, kindled the spirit of fanaticism, and deluged the earth in blood! His moral teachings, which contain many truths (borrowed from Plato, Pythagoras, and Confucius) are highly extolled but never practiced; while the explanation of his obscure and unintelligible sophisms, forms a pretence by which thousands of indolent, unscrupulous, and designing men contrive to live in idleness and luxury, upon the toil and honest but credulous and duped believers.”

“Reply to a Christian.” Age of Reason, 2:26 (Feb. 18, 1849): 57-60. Reprinted here is an editorial from the True Wesleyan in which the author argues that “Those nations are most enlightened, refined and virtuous, where the Scriptures are most circulated and read.” To which Eckler points out, “When the people have struggled for liberty against the power of their oppressors, the priests of the bible have ever exclaimed, “people obey your rulers.” When the friends of freedom war with slavery, the priests reiterate the assertion, “that it is an institution founded by God.” The gallows, war, slavery, and degrading superstition are all upheld by professors of the religion of the bible; while every improvement in science, every discovery in art, every victory of liberty, every advancement in knowledge and happiness, has been opposed by all the power and malignity of religious bigotry.”

“The Satanic Press and Pulpit.” Age of Reason, 2:28 (Mar. 18, 1849): 88-89. Responding to an article from the Christian press entitled “The Satanic Press,” Eckler remarks, “If the Satanic Press rake the gutters for accounts of revolting crimes, is it not imitated by the Satanic Pulpit? If one deals in narratives of rape, murder, incest and parricide, does not the other thrive by tales of an Omnipotent god who creates millions to be damned- who condemns innocent infants to burn forever in the torments of hell-fire- and who permitted the murder of his own son to appease his Royal anger? Is not the Bible, like the political press, filled with descriptions of rape, incest and gross- bestial licentiousness? It most assuredly is, and the influence of both is equally demoralizing.”

“The President and the Bible.” The Regenerator, 129 (June 1849): 2. Reprinted from the Newark Daily Advertiser. President Taylor was reported as saying to a delegation from the American Bible Society that “The Bible is the best of books, and I wish it were in the hands of every one. It is indispensable to the safety and permanence of our institutions; a free government cannot exist without religion and morals; and there cannot be morals without religion, nor religion without the Bible.” To which Murray remarks, “What must be thought of the intelligence of the one who can make such a declaration? The ignorance and stupidity that can make or receive it is truly pitiable.”

“Skepticism Among Young Men.” Age of Reason, 3:2 (July 29, 1849): 30-31. Commenting on an article found in the Goshen Whig and Democrat, the editor clarifies that “skeptics do not object to the morality which the bible contains. It is the immoral, vile, and obscene portions to which they object. As a class they respect morality wherever found.”

Observator. “Morality.” The Boston Investigator, 952 (Aug. 22, 1849): 1. The author points out that “The assertion, that Christianity teaches the only pure system of morality, is, moreover, disproved by the fact, that the most valuable and important maxims which its founder is said to have inculcated, are to be found in the writings of philosophers who existed many ages before him.”

J.S.W. “Whatever is, Is Right.” Age of Reason, 3:6-7 (Sept. 30- Oct. 15, 1849): 97-99, 111-12.

W.W. Swinson. “Longevity.” Age of Reason, 4:1 (Jan. 1, 1850): 1-2. Swinson remarks, “To have primitive and natural men, who would live, and die according to the dictates and laws of Nature, we should effect a revolution in the world of institutions of government: we should abolish and demolish them; and in lieu hereof institute upon their ruins a new moral world, whose institutions would be based upon the salutary laws of Nature; in which mankind would be rationalized, fraternized, and humanized; and flourish in perpetual spring- in which they would not only be taught to avoid a violation of the laws of Nature, but to preserve their health and happiness- in which they would not only be taught the art of self-government, but to dispense with kings, tyrants and governors; and to live without war- in which they would die without disease, as though relapsing in a calm, profound sleep, unaware of the approach of the “king of terrors,” from hence such would have neither the sting nor “terror,” of which mankind are now susceptible.”

“Morality.” The Boston Investigator, 980 (Mar. 6, 1850): 2. The editor opines, “Were we to believe Christians, there could have been no true morality on earth before the coming of the founder of their sect. . . . Yet morality was always necessary to mankind; for, without it, no society can exist. . . . . We find amongst heathens, innumerable instances of equity, humanity, temperance, disinterestedness, patience, and meekness, which flatly contradict the pretensions of the Christians, and prove that, before Christ was known on earth, virtues flourished, which were far more real than those he came to teach.”

 “Reflections on the Late Murder of Dr. Parkman by Prof. Webster.” Age of Reason, 4:8 (Apr. 15, 1850): 120-21. Eckler notes, “Had professor Webster, instead of being a member of a Christian church, been known as an Infidel, what an outcry of indignation and abuse would have been raised throughout the Christian community. Homily after homily, sermon after sermon, and discourse after discourse would have been delivered by the American clergy, and it would have been their endeavor to demonstrate that Infidelity necessarily leads to crime. But reverse the case and all is silence. A Christian has been convicted of murder, but no one hints that Christianity tends to make men murderers.”

“The Justice of God.” The Regenerator, 140 (May 1850): 179. Crediting Garrison with the assertion that “One thing is sure- the Justice of God,” Murray asks, “Why then is slavery suffered, which brother Garrison labors so faithfully to overthrow? If he replies that he does not know why, I ask how he knows any better about the Justice of God? If the reasons for allowing oppression are “past finding out,” how is the justice of the one who allows it any better found out?”

Thomas Herttell. “The Right of Free Discussion.” The Boston Investigator, 1109 (Aug. 25, 1852): 1. Herttell notes, “Actions are distinguished as right or wrong by their respective consequences. Those which produce the most happiness and the least misery are right, and those which occasion the most misery and the least happiness are wrong; and this is the only true criterion by which man can ascertain the merit or demerit of his conduct. How unfortunate, therefore, is it for mankind, that they are educated to believe that the mysteries of religion are paramount to the principles of morality, and threatened with punishment here and hereafter if they doubt the word or opinion of the priesthood, who teach us, as the cardinal virtue and the greatest source of human happiness, unqualified faith in their doctrines . . . ! This is called religion, and, to believe it without proof and to adopt it without examination or discussion, is to have religious faith.”

“The Moral Influence of Christianity.” The Boston Investigator, 1110 (Sept. 1, 1852): 2. The editor begins “There are two classes of people who give their support to Christianity, one consisting of those who believe in its divine origin, and the other who do not believe in its divine origin, but consider its influence upon human conduct as necessary and salutary; who support it not for its truth, but for the good it may be the means of producing.”

“What will you Substitute for Religion.” The Boston Investigator, 1189 (Mar. 8, 1854): 2. To which the editor answers, “Set nothing up as dogmatic and arbitrary, but cultivate a moral principle in the breast of man, without reference to, and totally independent of, any separate existence. Let him rely upon no superstructure that is not founded upon known facts. Instead of a long and incomprehensible creed, let his motto consist of these three words- injure no one. Whenever the question occurs with respect to the omission or commission of any act in the affairs of life, instead of referring for sanction to scripture, to the church, the ministry, to custom, or fashion, let him ask himself the simple question, “Is the thing in itself right and proper to be done, or not done?” as the case may be; and, as his best judgment shall dictate, so let him govern.”

E. Morton. “Moral Virtues and Duties.” The Boston Investigator, 1414 (June 30, 1858): 4. Morton argues that, “The difference between the views of the religionist and sceptic is this- the former is actuated by a fear to disobey the commands and requirements of his God, and the latter by a wish to promote the individual and social good of himself and his fellow men; and yet not without a fear of evil consequences from neglect or disobedience.”