Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Captious Arguments answered
By Richard Bentley (16621742)
From Remarks on Collinss Discourse of Freethinking
TO show his good taste and his virtuous turn of mind, he praises two abuses upon James I.; that he was a doctor more than a king, and was priest-ridden by his archbishop; as the most valuable passages in Father Pauls Letters; and yet, as I have been told, those passages are spurious and forged. Well, but were they genuine and true, are those the things he most values? Oh, the vast love and honour he bears to the crown and the mitre! But his palate is truly constant and uniform to itself: he drudges in all his other authors, ancient and modern, not to find their beauties, but their spots; not to gather the roses, but the thorns; not to suck good nutriment, but poison. A thousand bright pages in Plutarch and Tully pass heavy with him, and without relish; but if he chances to meet with a suspicious or sore place, then he is feasted and regaled, like a fly upon an ulcer, or a beetle in dung, and with those delicious scraps put together, he has dressed out this book of free-thinking.
But have a care of provoking him too much, for he has still in reserve more instances of your conduct; your declamations against reason; such false reason, I suppose, as he and his tribe would put off for good sterling: your arts and method of discouraging examination into the truths of religion; such truths, forsooth, of religion as this, that religion itself is all false: and again, your encouraging examination when either authority is against you (the authority, he means, of your late King James, when one of his free-thinking doctors thought himself into popery), or when you think that truth is certainly on your side: he will not say that truth is certainly on your side, but only that you think so; however, he allows here you are sometimes sincere; a favour he would not grant you in some of his former instances.
But the last and most cutting instance is, your instilling principles into youth: no doubt he means those pernicious principles of fearing God, honouring the king, loving your neighbour as yourselves; living soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world. Oh, the glorious nation you would be, if your stiff parsons were once displaced, and free-thinkers appointed tutors to your young nobility and gentry! How would arts, learning, manners, and all humanity flourish in an academy under such preceptors! who, instead of your Bible, should read Hobbess Leviathan; should instil early the sound doctrines of the mortality of the soul, and the sole good of a voluptuous life. No doubt such an establishment would make you a happy people, and even a rich; for our youth would all desert us in Germany, and presently pass the sea for such noble education.
The beginning of his third section, where (as I remarked before) free-thinking stands for no more than thinking, may pass in general for truth, though wholly an impertinence. For who in England forbids thinking? or who ever made such objections as he first raises, and then refutes? He dare not, sure, insinuate as if none of your clergy thought, nor examined any points of doctrine, but took a system of opinions by force and constraint, under the terror of an inquisition, or the dread of fire and faggot. So that we have twenty pages of mere amusement, under the ambiguity of a word. Let your clergy once profess that they are the true free-thinkers, and you will soon see the unbelieving tribe renounce their new name.
However, in these sapless pages he has scattered a mark of his great learning. He says, the infinite variety of opinions, religions, and worships among the ancient heathens, never produced any disorder or confusion. What! was it no disorder when Socrates suffered death for his opinions; when Aristotle was impeached, and fled; when Stilpo was banished; and when Diagoras was proscribed? Were not the Epicureans driven out from several cities, for the debaucheries and tumults they caused there? Did not Antiochus banish all philosophers out of his whole kingdom; and for any one to learn of them, made it death to the youth himself, and loss of goods to his parents? Did not Domitian expel all the philosophers out of Rome and whole Italy? Did the Galli, the vagabond priests of Cybele, make no disturbances in town and country? Did not the Romans frequently forbid strange religions and external rites that had crept into the city, and banish the authors of them? Did the Bacchanals create no disorders in Rome, when they endangered the whole state, and thousands were put to death for having been initiated in them? In a word, was that no disturbance in Egypt, which Juvenal tells of his own knowledge (and which frequently used to happen), when in two neighbouring cities their religious feuds ran so high, that, at the annual festival of one, the other, out of zeal, went to disturb the solemnity; and after thousands were fighting on both sides, and many eyes and noses lost, the scene ended in slaughter, and the body slain was cut into bits, and eaten up raw by the enemies? And all this barbarity committed, because the one side worshipped crocodiles, and the other killed and ate them.