The Western Examiner (1833-1835)
“Its error, only, and not truth, that shuns Investigation.”
Prospectus:There is not a periodical advocating liberal principles published west of the Allegheny. To supply this deficiency, therefore, as far as moderate abilities joined to an ardent desire to disseminate correct views of morality, may avail, the present work is designed.
Examined: Nov. 19, 1833; 1:1 (Jan. 1, 1834) – 2:46 (Dec. 10, 1835).
Editor: “An Association.” Nov. 19, 1833; 1:1 (Jan. 1, 1834) – 2:46 (Dec. 10, 1835).
Publication Information: John Bobb, St. Louis, Missouri. Nov. 19, 1833; 1:1 (Jan. 1, 1834) – 2:46 (Dec. 10, 1835).
Frequency: Fortnightly, 1:1 (Jan. 1, 1834) – 1:24 (Dec. 15, 1834); Weekly, 2:1 (Jan. 4, 1835) – 2:46 (Dec. 10, 1835).
Contributors/Correspondents: Alpha, Celsus, Julian, Palmer, Philo, Prometheus, and Vossius.
Subjects/Features: Evidences of Christianity, Religion and Morality, Atheism, and Poetry.
Reprint of: Thomas Erskine’s Defense of Thomas Paine.
Periodical reprints from: Free Enquirer (New York), Boston Investigator (Boston, Mass.), Citizen of the World (New York), Mohawk Liberal (Little Falls, N.Y.), Albany Microscope (Albany, N.Y.), Temple of Reason (Philadelphia).
Prometheus. “An Essay on the Existence, or Nonexistence of a Creative Omnipotence, called God.” 1:16-19 (Aug. 15- Oct. 1, 1834): 123-24, 131-32, 139-41, 147-48. The author pledges to “write this essay as I conceive every Atheist ought to write – as one who stands divested, as far as possible, of prejudices and prepossessions, and gazes upon nature in her simple and severe majesty – who draws his knowledge from his senses, and does not allow himself to be bewildered by philosophical vagaries or wild theories – and who therefore, in the defense of what he believes to be the truth, uses the cool and dispassionate language of reasoning, without the violence of partizan feeling – or that low abuse which helps no cause.” The editor recommends this essay to readers who wish to become better acquainted with the arguments of atheism.
Philos Kosmos. “The Duty of Skeptics.” 2:46 (Dec. 10, 1835): 364. In what was to be the last issue of the Western Examiner, the author argues that, “For centuries, Christianity has used this engine of power [the press] with but too much success, while the friends of humanity have been too idle. In no other way can one half so much be accomplished by the same expense and labor, all must be aware. Why, then, do such as are already established receive but a moiety of support; so much so that it is extremely to be feared that even those few lights that shine amid the moral darkness, will become extinct for want of patronage. . . . If so, then farewell to our country’s rescue – to Truth and Freedom – a long, long farewell!”
“Biographical Sketches of Eminent Liberal Writers. Thomas Paine.” 1:11-13 (June 1- July 1, 1834): 86-88, 93-96, 102-03.
Freedom of Conscience
“Freedom of Conscience.” 2:18 (May 14, 1835): 143-44. The author contends that, “An established church is incompatible with the institutions of a real free country. The tyranny over the conscience is the worst kind of tyranny; darken and fetter it, and send its owner abroad to roam the wide world – he is everywhere a slave – his chains are forged and riveted by the eternal constitution of things, and his mind, giving its own coloring to things around it, throws the blackness of darkness over the fair face of nature: the walls of his prison-house are limitless and insurmountable. But give the conscience freedom, and fetter the limbs and incarcerate the body, still the liberty of that man is pure, the universe is the home of his mind, and there is a light and beauty thrown around him, which comes from the genius of all freedom and truth.”
Freedom of Speech
Mr. Dunlap’s Speech in Defence of Abner Kneeland, Charged with Blasphemy Before the Municipal Court of Boston, January, 1834.” 1:16 (Aug. 15, 1834): 128-29.
“Persecution and Prosecution.” 2:15 (Apr. 23, 1835): 118-20. Reprinted from the Boston Investigator. Discussing Abner Kneeland’s blasphemy case, the author denies “that any man’s religion, that any man’s god . . . or that any man’s opinion concerning God, has, or ought to have, any exclusive protection by law. The same law that protects one opinion equally protects every opinion in relation to religion. The same law that protects any god, protects every god, or every notion concerning God, however absurd such gods, or such notions of God, may be.”
“To The Reader.” 1:1 (Jan. 1, 1834): 1-2. The editors announce, “An era is approaching when men will no longer be deceived by fables; the clouds of superstition are rapidly receding, and perhaps, ere another century, the now prevailing system of religion will be numbered among the exploded superstitions of past ages. In the latter opinion we must be thought too sanguine, but it must be obvious to every unbiased observer, that at no very distant period, Christianity must fall.”
Philo. “Credibility and General Tendencies of Christianity” and “Credibility of the Christian Religion.” 1:2-5 (Jan. 15-Mar. 1, 1834): 15-16, 18-20, 25-27, 35-37. The author examines the historical evidences of Christianity. Articles in this series cover: the Christian religion as a “fable of Egyptian origin”, and Jesus Christ as a “fictitious personage” drawn from a variety of sources, particularly the mythology of India.
Celsus. “Tendencies of the Christian Religion.” 1:4, 6, 8, 11 (Feb. 15, Mar. 15, Apr. 15, June 1, 1834): 29-30, 43-45, 62-63, 85-. Celsus observes in the fourth article in this series that, “The laws of the natural sciences are founded on principles fixed and immutable, and the more we cultivate a knowledge of them, the more do we admire the stupendous system of which they are a part. But the (so called) laws of God – those decrees which should have been as perfect as the being who is supposed to have produced them – what are they? Do they ennoble the mind as it contemplates them? Do they lead to any satisfactory conclusion as to the power and wisdom of their author? Or rather, do they not enforce conviction upon the mind, that if they can really claim other than a human origin, the author of them must indeed be a most despicable being – such an one as the honest, unprejudiced mind, finds it impossible to worship.”
Prometheus. “An Essay, on the Truth or Falsity of the Christian Religion.” 1:11-14 (June 1- July 15, 1834): 83-85, 91-93, 99-102, 107-09. Prometheus remarks, “Take the faith of the Mormons. Why not believe that? You scrutinize the evidence and it is wanting. Look around then, and think. Have you not more reason for believing that faith – have you not more evidence, than you have of the Christian religion? Is not the testimony of twelve men, who say they are inspired, better than any testimony produced in favor of the Gospels? While then you disbelieve this doctrine, do not blame me for examining the Christian creed and its evidence.”
R.D. ““Safest to Believe” or, the Balance Struck.” 1:21 (Nov. 1, 1834): 169-70. The author asks, “Are the chances all in favor of the religionists and against the skeptic? Is there nothing to be thrown into the opposite scale? Surely, much. If religion is a fallacy, it is a fallacy pregnant with mischief. It excites fears that are without foundation; it fosters feelings of separation between the believer and the unbeliever . . . . it turns our thoughts from the things of the world, where alone true knowledge is to be found; . . . worse than all, it chains us down to antiquated orthodoxy, and forbids the free discussion of those very subjects which it most concerns us to discuss. If religion be a fallacy, its votaries are slaves.”
“Further Queries for Christians.” 1:23 (Dec. 1, 1834): 180-81. The author asks, “If God knew originally that man would become so sinful as to require the meditorial agency of Jesus Christ, why did he attempt to banish sin from the world by drowning man out of it? Why did he not resort to the most efficient plan at once?”
Philo. “Credibility of the Christian Religion.” 2:2-3 (Jan. 11-18, 1835): 9-12, 17-19. Philo examines the evidence which supposedly proves the actual existence of Jesus of Nazareth, including the writings of Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny, Macrobius, Lucinus, and the testimony of Pilate.
Philo. “Credibility of the Christian Religion.” 2:4-5, 15-16, 42-45 (Jan. 25- Feb. 1, Apr. 23-30, Nov. 12-Dec. 3, 1835): 28-29, 34-36, 116, 123-24, 329-30, 337-38, 345-46, 353. The author examines the “testimony of those writers commonly called the Fathers of the Church,” including Justin Martyr, Melito of Sardis, Irenaeus, Pantaenus, Tertullian, Origen, Gregory of Neocaesarea, Cyprian of Carthage, Constantine, and Eusebius; and concludes that they, “relative to any historical fact, cannot be relied upon, as they were, with a few solitary exceptions, much too ignorant to give unexceptionable testimony, or too much given to lying to be believed.”
Religion and Morality
“Supposed Connection of Morality and Religion.” (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.”
Prometheus. “An Essay on Morality, as Separate from, and Opposed to, Religions.” 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.” 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?”
Law and Government
A.H.M. “Law.” 2:38 (Oct. 15, 1835): 297-99. The author states “I have long entertained a belief our . . . machinery of Law, is as much a species of craft and humbug, and as little necessary to the happiness of our nature, as the idle foolery of the Christian priest, or the shallow monkey shines of the mountebank. . . . The priest strives to enslave the mind, and the lawyer the body, each to the private interest of his own pocket.”
Indexes for volumes 1-2 were issued Dec. 31, 1834 and Dec. 31, 1835 respectively.
“A Journal Embodying a Full and Impartial History into the Truth or Falsity of the Christian Religion; Whether Philosophical or Historically Viewed.” 2:1 (Jan. 4, 1835).
The Western Examiner had agents in the following states and territories: Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia.