Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
The Commonplaces of Scepticism
By Richard Bentley (16621742)
From Remarks on Collinss Discourse of Freethinking
AND now we come to a new argument, from the conduct of the priests; which by a tedious induction is branched out into ten instances, and takes up half a hundred pages. And what will be the grand result?
Nae iste hercle magno jam conatu magnas nugas dixerit.
The sum of it is no more than this: the priests cannot agree among themselves about several points of doctrine, the attributes of God, the canon of Scripture, etc.; and therefore I will be of no religion at all. This threadbare obsolete stuff, the most obvious surmise that any wavering fool catches at when he first warps towards atheism, is dressed up here as if it was some new and formidable business.
What great feats can our author now promise himself from this; which, after it has been tried age after age, never had influence on mankind either in religious concerns or common life? Till all agree, Ill stand neuter. Very well; and till all the world speaks one language, pray be you mute and say nothing. It were much the wiser way, than to talk as you have done. By this rule, the Roman gentry were to learn no philosophy at all, till the Greeks could unite into one sect; nor make use of any physician, till the empirics and methodists concurred in their way of practice. How came Christianity to begin, since the objection now brought to pull it down was as visible and potent then as now? or how has it subsisted so long, since all the present discord in opinions does not near amount to the sum of what Epiphanius alone collected above a thousand years ago? Nay, how came our authors new sect to be rising and growing, since the atheists are as much at variance among themselves, and can settle and centre in nothing? Or, if they should resolve to conspire in one certain system, they would be atheists indeed still, but they would lose the title of free-thinkers.
This is the total of his long induction; but let us see his conduct in the parts of it. Some fathers thought God to be material; this he has said, and I have answered before in remark the 10th. Several ancient Christian priests of Egypt were so gross as to conceive God to be in the shape of a man. If they did so, they were no more gross than his master Epicurus, who was of the very same opinion. But it is fatal to our author ever to blunder when he talks of Egypt. These priests of Egypt were all illiterate laymen; the monks or hermits of those days, that retired into the desert, the fittest place for their stupidity. But several of your English divines tax each other with atheism, either positively or consequently. Wonderful! and so because three or four divines in your island are too fierce in their disputes, all we on the great continent must abandon religion. Yes; but the Brahmins, the Mahometans, etc., pretend to Scriptures as well as we. This, too, has come once already, and is considered in remark the 22nd; but, being so great a piece of news, deserved to be told twice. And who, without his telling, would have known that the Romish church received the Apocrypha as canonical? Be that as it will, I am sure it is unheard-of news, that your church receives them as half-canonical. I find no such word in your articles, nor ever saw a such-like prodigy before. Half-canonical? what idea, what sense has it? tis exactly the same as half-divine, half-infinite, half-omnipotent. But away with his Apocrypha; hell like it the worse while he lives, for the sake of Bel and the Dragon.