Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XIV.: ESTABLISHED RELIGION—NONE. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 9 (Constitutional Code)
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CHAPTER XIV.: ESTABLISHED RELIGION—NONE. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 9 (Constitutional Code) 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 9.
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No power of government ought to be employed in the endeavour to establish any system or article of belief on the subject of religion.
If any such power be thus employed, it will be, in respect of the immediate application made of it, to the purpose of producing or confirming belief to the effect in question, by furnishing appropriate inducement of the nature of remunerative power, or of the nature of punitive power, or a conjunction of both. In a word, power thus employed will be either remunerative or punitive, or both.
The belief thus endeavoured to be inculcated will be either true or false. The observation applies to the whole system, taken in the aggregate, and to each distinguishable article.
Consider, in the first place, every application that can be made of remunerative power, to this purpose.
Let the system be supposed true. On this supposition, the application of remunerative power is needless. Say, establishment needless.
But it is only by coercion, applied in the way of taxation, that the matter of reward, whatever it be, that is applied to this purpose, can be collected. Such application is therefore burthensome, and as such, pernicious. Say, establishment pernicious: viz. by needless and useless burthen imposed in a pecuniary shape.
Let the supposition of the truth be still continued. The system say, is true, as before. But, by a number more or less considerable, it will not be believed to be true: and by another number more or less considerable, it will be believed to be false. For if this were not the case, the application made of the matter of reward, to this purpose, would be needless, and thence, as above, pernicious. An effect, of the production of which, by means of the matter of reward, no assurance can by any possibility be obtained, is the existence of the act of judgment, termed belief, to any subject whatsoever. But an effect, of the production of which the fullest assurance may be obtained is, in relation to such belief, an allegation of the party affirming the existence of it in his own mind. This allegation may, with equal ease and safety, be made whether it be true or false. So far as such allegation, if made, would be true, so far the application thus made of the matter of reward is to the effect in question, needless and useless: so far as the allegation would, if made, be false, so far the application thus made, is an act of subornation, applied to the procurement of false and mendacious assertions: in a word, subornation of falsehood, wanting nothing but the ceremony called an oath to be subornation of perjury. Say, establishment pernicious, by corruption of morals, viz. by production of insincerity and mendacity.
The manner in which belief is thus endeavoured, or pretended to be endeavoured, to be produced, is exactly that in which, for the purpose of procuring a judicial decision, false witnesses are hired. Declare what you saw and whatever it be, you will be paid so much: this is the way in which witnesses are hired to give true testimony. Declare that you saw so and so, and you shall be paid so much: this is the language by which witnesses are hired to give false testimony. The language by which the matter of reward is applied to the purpose of producing allegation of belief, in the case here in question, is exactly the language by which, in a judicial case as above, false witnesses are hired.
The matter of reward is capable of being applied to this purpose in either or both of two modes. Mode the first: To each individual, in relation to whom it is your desire that the belief in question should be professed, offer and give so much money—say one shilling—immediately upon and after his pronouncing or signing a declaration to the effect required: call this the direct mode, or mode by hiring believers. Mode the second: To certain individuals, to the purpose of causing that same belief to be entertained or professed, pay at stated periods so much money, on their entering into an engagement to use endeavours, at times stated or not stated, to cause, by means of argument, others to entertain or profess a belief to the effect required: call this the indirect mode, or mode by hiring teachers. This, too, is subornation of insincerity and mendacity.
If the direct mode of procuring profession of belief is bad, the indirect mode is much worse. In the direct mode, the only part of the mental frame vitiated and corrupted, is the moral part: in this indirect mode, the moral part is much more thoroughly vitiated and corrupted, and the intellectual part is vitiated likewise. In the direct mode, the formulary is pronounced or signed, and the next moment it has fled out of the mind. In the indirect mode, the individual hired to teach must, if he earns his hire, be continually brooding over the falsehood he has committed: perpetually engaged in the endeavour to cause others to believe to be true that which he himself does not believe to be true, but believes to be false: continually occupied in the endeavour to deceive. To the character of liar for hire, he adds the character of deceiver for hire—or, at least, would—be deceiver for hire.*
In this case, in so far as his consciousness of the falsehood of the belief he advocates, extends, his case is the same with that of the professional lawyer, in the situation of advocate. But the advocate is sure, for a great part of his professional life, to be on the right side: on the average, about half. Not so the priest: to him it may happen not to have been for any one moment of his professional life, on any other than the wrong side. This is what, by each of two sets of priests, priests of the Christian religion, and priests of the Mahometan religion, for example, is universally and constantly said of the other.
Now, as to the intellectual corruption: and first, as to the teacher of that which, in his eyes, is falsehood. So long as he believes to be false that which he asserts to be true, the poison remains in his moral frame, and goes no further. But what may happen, and to a certain extent probably does happen, is—that finding this state of mind more or less irksome, he uses his endeavours to get out of it. That which he believes to be false, he endeavours to believe to be true. For this purpose there is one, and but one course. This is on every occasion to call off his attention from all considerations tending to cause the belief in question to be regarded as false, and at the same time to apply his attention to all considerations tending to cause it to be believed to be true: not omitting to set and keep his invention at work in the search after new ones: call this the self-deceptive process. In the here supposed case, the system is supposed to be true; therefore, no vitiation of the intellectual frame is among the consequences of this process. But in the meantime, in this endeavour to believe to be true that which is believed to be false, a habit has been acquired by him, by which the intellectual frame is vitiated in its application to all subjects: the habit of partiality: the habit of wilful blindness: the habit from which a man derives a propensity to embrace falsehood and error in preference to truth, whatsoever be the subject.
Look again to the Westminster Hall witness, with the straw in his shoe. The side on which he has been engaged has happened to be the right side: in this there is nothing extraordinary: for a fact which in itself is true, is not rendered false by the death of a witness, who, if alive, would have proved it. The side in favour of which he has given his testimony is the right side; but the act by which his moral character has been stained is not the less gross. So in the case of the true system in regard to religion, is it with the priest, who when hired believed it to be false.
Meantime by those, by whose power the religion has been thus established, or continues to be thus supported, a virtual certificate has been given, and continues to be given, that in their eyes the system thus supported is false. The side on which the witness with the straw in his shoe has been hired, is the right side; but subornation of perjury is not less the act by which the hiring has been performed: nor are the actors the less suborners of perjury. Moreover of such subornation, the natural tendency and natural effect, is to cause the side, though by the supposition, the right one, to be looked upon in the eyes of those to whom the fact of the hiring is known as the wrong one. In vain would the hirers exclaim,—our side is the right one—we know it to be so. The answer in every mouth would be,—were this allowed, the wrong side, if it had money enough on its side, would, in every case, be the gainer.
Of no direct assurance, given by the hiring individual, would the probative force given of his belief be rendered so great, as the disprobative force of the circumstantial evidence of unbelief, afforded by this hiring: by no protestations, oral or written, public or private.
In no case in which it is a man’s interest that the truth, on whatever side it be, should be embraced, does he take this method for the discovery of it: for causing discovery to be made of it, and the belief of it, when discovered, entertained. In no case, if it really be a man’s desire that a true and correct map of a country should be made and purchased, does he, without having ever seen the country, draw a map of his own, and say,—copy and publish this map, you will have so much money: make and publish a map of the country from an actual survey of it made by yourself, you shall have nothing.
In vain would any one say,—of such importance is the subject in our eyes, and such the sad probability, that notwithstanding its importance, it will, unless the course in question be taken, be unattended to, or unbelief, or false belief in relation to it be inculcated and embraced,—that to avoid so great an evil, it is in our eyes necessary to take this course.
Happiness, you yourselves insist upon, is at stake: happiness not in this life only, but in another,—the difference between the extreme of felicity, and the extreme of misery: not of this or that individual only, but of all without exception. What!—and are we then to believe one and all, that there are so many individuals, to no one of whom is his own happiness so dear to himself as it is to you?—his own happiness in this life and in another?
Oh! but he will be deceived if the matter be not laid before him in the manner we prescribe: no notion on the subject will he entertain, or if he does, his notions will be erroneous, and in such sort erroneous as to be noxious: noxious to himself, and in an indefinite number to others.
No notions!—what, on a subject on which, in your own eyes, or at least according to your own lips, the difference between the extreme of happiness and the extreme of misery in every man’s case depends—not only will he himself be indifferent, but so will every one else? Is it then to be supposed that in this case, no one will rise up to state to him the peril he is in, and with or without pay, offer to show him how he may deliver himself from it?
All this notwithstanding,—notwithstanding the proof thus afforded of your own disbelief of that which you inculcate, you pay to a set of men under the notion of their inculcating it, money in so immense a mass, imposing on the whole community, poor as well as rich, the correspondent burthen. Of all this vast mass of the matter of wealth, you yourselves have the patronage, they the immediate use. The hope of deriving benefit from such patronage is, in vain would you deny it, an inducement, and that a most powerful one, on their part, to do your will in all things, and give their support to your power. Under these circumstances, can any reasonable man look for the cause of the hire you pay, in any other circumstance than the profit, which, in the shape of power and money, you and yours derive from it: and not in any belief on your part that that which you so cause to be inculcated, is true or useful?
Another proof given to the world that you yourselves believe that it has no truth or usefulness is, that it is no object of your care or your endeavour that the benefit of it should be reaped. What is the course you take? The alleged service, of which you would have it thought the benefit is so great, is anything effectual done by you to cause it to be performed? The connexion between the alleged service and the reward, is any care taken to keep it up?—the obvious course, no service, no pay, is it in any way applied by you to practice? When it is really among your wishes that the alleged service should be performed, effectual care on your part is not wanting, witness the arrangement in regard to soldiers.
But in truth, in no instance has a system in regard to religion been ever established, but for the purpose, as well as with the effect of its being made an instrument of intimidation, corruption, and delusion, for the support of depredation and oppression in the hands of governments.
If it be so clearly contrary to the greatest happiness of the greatest number, even in the present life, that a system of opinions on the subject of religion, admitting it to be true, be thus established, as clearly is it true in regard to the religion of Jesus in particular, that the affording such establishment to the religion of Jesus is inconsistent with his will, as evidenced by his own declarations as well as by his own practice. Nowhere is he stated to have directed that to the religion delivered by himself, any such establishment should be given. Nowhere, either in terms or in substance, has he said—give money to those who say they believe in what I have said, or give money to those who teach others to believe what I have said. Nowhere has he said—apply punishment to those who will not say they believe what I have said, or to those who say they believe that what I have said is false.
And yet, repugnant to the known will of the then constituted authorities, was everything done and said that was done and said by him. By argument so irresistible as to carry with it the effect of ridicule, he opposed the sanctity of the Sabbath as taught by those same constituted authorities.
By the Sidmouths and the Castlereaghs of the time were set on him the Olivers and Castles, by whom he was at length entrapped.
The corruptive effect of opulence, as herein above displayed, was neither unperceived by him nor unproclaimed. No denunciations more severe than those made by him against those who put their trust in riches. Wallowers in wealth and luxury, greater than any to which he could ever have been witness, are now to be seen,—men who, pretending to be preachers of his doctrine, and enjoying their wealth and luxury on that false pretence, never cease to say—take from our order any of the wealth it enjoys or may enjoy—set limits to our riches, and the religion of Jesus is at an end.
If such be the mischief where the religion is true, what must it be where it is false? Happily, the supposition is not necessary.
[* ]Once upon a time, in Westminster Hall, a man whose object was to be hired to give false testimony, used (says a current story) to make known his purpose, by walking to and fro with a straw in his shoe. In every established church, the sacerdotal habit of a priest, is the straw in the shoe.