Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number XXXIX.: Priests afraid of Ridicule. - The Independent Whig, vol. 2 (7th ed. 1743)
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Number XXXIX.: Priests afraid of Ridicule. - Thomas Gordon, The Independent Whig, vol. 2 (7th ed. 1743) 
The Independent Whig: or, a Defence of Primitive Christianity, And of Our Ecclesiastical Establishment, against The Exorbitant Claims and Encroachments of Fanatical and Disaffected Clergymen. The Seventh Edition, with Additions and Amendments (London: J. Peele, 1743). Vol. 2.
Part of: The Independent Whig, 4 vols.
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Priests afraid of Ridicule.
WednesdayOctober 12. 1720.
REligion, as the Popish Priests have disfigured it, is only a wicked and ambitious Scheme, contrived by them, to set themselves above the People. This is so true, that where-ever the Priests have the most Power, Religion has the least. Being neither appointed by the Law of Nature, nor the Law of Christ, they are only Intruders into the Affairs of Religion; which is therefore under an Usurpation, while it is under them. So that their Foundation being false, they are in most Countries reduced to support it by false Facts, and deceitful Appearances. And as they are thus obliged to cover Fraud with Fraud, and support one Violence by another, it is no Wonder, that we find it often so carefully hidden under Inventions, and deformed by Absurdities; and all those Inventions and Absurdities defended by Cruelty, and a strong Hand.
This strange Jumble of Fictions they have the Front to call by the holy Name of Religion, and gravely to create Faith out of Lyes: And with the groveling Multitude, whose Eyes are in the Earth, all this passes off well enough; They have fearful Hearts, and simple Heads, and so stand always prepared to be frightened or deluded at the priestly Word of Command. But because the Craft lies subject to daily Detection from rational and discerning Men, its Champions have raised loud Cries, and strong Prejudices, against the two principal Weapons by which their Cause is most annoyed; I mean the Weapons of Reason and Ridicule; the former of which discovers Truth, and the latter exposes Fraud.
What civil Treatment these Reverend Seers afford to Reason, I have shewn elsewhere; and shall handle, in this Paper, the Business of Ridicule, which they always represent as impious and profane, when ever it meddles with the Cassock; and yet always exercise it according to their Talents, without Mercy, when the waggish grave Creatures are pleased to be arch upon Dissenters or Free-Thinkers.
To them is no doubt owing, that frequent, but false Saying, now in the Mouth of every Ignorant; namely, that it is an easy Matter to make a Jest upon Religion or the Priesthood; which, whether they are aware of it or not, is saying that their Religion and its Priests are a Jest. For he, upon whom the Jest is made, does, in Effect, make the Jest; otherwise it is none. Religion and Virtue cannot be ridiculed; and whoever attempts it, by shewing himself a Villain, raises Horror instead of Laughter, which is the End of Ridicule. But the vending of Grimace for Religion, and setting up for Piety without Virtue, are the natural Subjects of Jeet and Merriment.
Whoever fears Ridicule, deserves Ridicule. He is conscious of a weak Side, and knows that he cannot stand a Laugh. This is the Case of sacred Grimace, or Gravity, which Men of Sense see to be only a studied Restraint laid upon the Muscles of the Face, and the Joints of the Body, and teaching them to move, not by the Impulses of Nature, and the Motions of the Heart, but by Design, either to attract Admiration, or obtain Credit, or gain Followers. And therefore sacred Grimace dreads Men of Sense. However, it is never to be set aside; for this same affected Demureness, ridiculous as it is in itself, is a solemn Bait to catch the Mob, whose Respect always follows their Wonder. The Vulgar are caught, like Woodcocks, by the Eyes; and led, like Calves, by the Ears; Shew and Sound lead their fat Heads captive. It is therefore no Wonder, that in Popish Countries, a shewy Chancel, a curious tall Steeple, gilded Organs, and a delicate Ring of Bells, keep the Many on the Parson’s Side, make them all good Churchmen; and always get the better of a plain Religion, that has its Abode only in the Heart, and wants all the above-mentioned Marks of the true Church. Besides all this, there is more Mirth, and more Holy Days, in their Orthodox Faith, than in the contrary Scheme, which obliges Men to earn Heaven with the Sweat of their Brows, and take Pains to be saved.
These, however, are but small Instances of Ridicule, taken from the Force and Grimace of an external Religion. I shall here give Instances much more considerable, as well as much more ridiculous. Do we not see the pretended Successors of the Apostles, at home and elsewhere, instead of making Tents, or converting the World, living voluptuously, and promoting the Excise? Do we not frequently see the Embassadors of God, sent to promote Virtue and Peace, and the Observance of his Laws, promoting Strife, frequenting debauched Houses, rooking after Wealth, and plaguing and reviling their Neighbours? Do we not see holy Men, who have the Call of the Spirit, rioting in all the Works of the Flesh? Do they not buy Livings with Money, and then claim them by Divine Right? Do they not chop and jockey away poor Parishes for such as are richer, and yet pretend to have upon their Hands the Cure of Souls; though, by such vile Bargaining, they shew that they value as little those Souls which they have just bought, as they do those which they have lately sold? Do not many of them, though they are void of all Merit, yet demand great Respect; and though ignorant, pretend to teach, and to reveal God’s Will, which is already revealed, and yet live as though there were no God? And do they not, without obeying God, set up to command Men? Do they not seek Honour from their Cloth, which yet they dishonour? And do they not, for the blackest Crimes, claim Sanctuary from the Church, which Church is the People, which People they abuse and deceive? Do they not pretend to mend others, without being better than others, but in Truth more idle and proud than all others; two Qualities neither suited to the Welfare of Religion, nor of human Society? Do they not flatter and support the worst of Tyrants, plague and distress, and often destroy, the best of Kings; and in both Cases do they not belye the Holy Ghost, and pervert his Meaning? Do they not pretend to be appointed for the Good of Mankind, and yet always make Mankind, where-ever they have Power, thoroughly miserable, base, poor, ignorant, and wicked? And finally, do they not invent vile Lyes for vile Ends, and then blasphemously make God Almighty to father them?
Here is such a motley Mixture of opposite Principles and Practices, as will always render those, who are chargeable with them, the Contempt or Abhorrence of all Men who have Eyes and Understanding. Jest and Scorn will subsist as long as their Causes subsist; and Clergymen, of all others, will be most exposed to them, while they continue to deserve them; because more Modesty, Truth, and Consistency, may be expected from them than from any others. It is but a Piece of Justice due to Religion, to ridicule those, who, as far as they can, ridicule Religion, though they set up for its Defenders. Ridicule, when it has no longer Matter to feed on, will die of itself; and the Clergy, to avoid it, have no more to do, but not to deserve it: But to go on complaining, without amending, is to nourish Raillery and Satire, by their own Actions. But as the reforming themselves is a Practice seldom known among High-Churchmen; Clamour, Lyes, and Oppression, are the constant Remedies they apply to the great Grievances of Wit and Ridicule, as often as they meddle, or seem to meddle, with the Cloth. This will abundantly appear from the following Instance, which will also shew the wonderful Vigilance and Jealousy of Churchmen, in Behalf of the Trade.
moliere, having, in his Plays, brought upon the Stage Characters from the highest Quality and Professions in France, without offending either, drew, in his Tartuffe, an excellent and strong Picture of a Hypocrite, who, though carefully distinguished from a Man sincerely religious, yet happened to resemble the Churchmen so much, that they raised a terrible Outcry against the Play; and, according to their laudable Custom, drew Heaven, Head and Shoulders, into their Quarrel. Tartuffe was, it seems, their Representative General, and in ridiculing his godly Grimaces, and Stoical Devotion, Moliere, they said, ridiculed them. In fine, by exposing the concealed Villain and Debauchee, the whole Posse of the Priests thought themselves exposed.
Zealous therefore for the Dignity of the Cassock, and justly apprehending, that a Contempt upon Hypocrisy would bring a Contempt upon the Order, they applied to the Court; I say to the Court, where, by a religious Subserviency to the Ambition, Lust, and all the Rogueries of the Great, this Sort of Creature always finds Friendship and Countenance. That arbitrary and debauched Court could refuse the Priests nothing; and the Play was forbid. Thus the Tartuffes of the Church redeemed from Scorn the Tartuffe of the Stage: The Picture was secured from being shewn, by the Number, Clamour, and Interest of the Originals.
Not content to rail with all due clerical Bitterness against this Comedy, and curse the ingenious Author by Word of Mouth; they detached one from their Body to curse him in Print. This Christian Author, without ever having seen the Play, pronounced it Diabolical: He affirmed, that Moliere had a Devil, that he was a Devil incarnate, a Devil in Man’s Shape, a Libertine, an Atheist, and one who ought to be burned in this World, as he would assuredly be damned in the next. For the Vengeance of these Messengers of Peace never stops at the Death of their Victim, nor will they allow their Maker to have more Mercy than themselves.
To shew how justly these holy Persons were alarmed on this Occasion, I shall here give a Sketch of Tartuffe’s Character, as drawn in that Play. He is a Fellow, who, from his godly Outside, and great Poverty, is taken by an honest Gentleman, credulous and devour, into his Family, and permitted to govern it. He is a great Glutton, and a great Pretender to Fasting; a great Despiser of Money, but rooks all he can from his deluded Patron. He will not speak to my Lady’s Maid, till he has covered her Bubbies with his Handkerchief, so afraid is the Saint of Temptation; but at the same time he tempts my Lady herself to Adultery, and endeavours to debauch his Benefactor’s Wife with Heaven in his Mouth. The Gentleman’s Son discovers to his Father these Solicitations of the Hypocrite, which he had overheard; and the Lady owns and confirms them; but neither of them is believed: The poor bewitched Man cries, You are all Enemies to the godly Tartuffe; and tells him, that to make him Amends, he will give him his Daughter, and settle his House and Estate upon him. The Will of the Lord be done, says the Hypocrite. Accordingly, by an instant Deed, to the apparent Ruin of his Family, he makes this godly Villain Heir of all he has, with a Right of present Possession. The Lady, not knowing what was done, does, by putting her Husband under a Table, make him a Witness of the holy Lecher’s Designs and Importunity. He is by this convinced; but when ashamed of himself, and enraged at the Ingrate, he bids him get out of his House: No Sir, says Tartuffe: It is your Turn to get out; the House is mine, and you shall know it; I will be revenged on you on Behalf of Heaven, which you would wound through my Sides. Behold an Orthodox Pattern of the usual Claim of Divine Right to the Wages of Villainy and Delusion!
All this Behaviour, and these Speeches, were such manifest Marks of the Church, that all its genuine Sons dreaded their coming upon the Theatre. Their Rogueries are all sacred, and must not be set to View.
moliere, to take away, as much as was possible, all reasonable Ground of Clamour from the Ecclesiastics, had not so much as suggested in the Play, that Tartuffe was a Priest; and only called his Comedy, The Impostor, in general. Besides all this, he had dressed up his Rogue like a Man of the World. He had not given him so much as a flapping Bever, but a smart secular Cock, with a Sword, a good Head of Hair, a Cravat, and a gaudy Coat. But all this Precaution of Moliere’s availed not; Tartuffe had the Conduct, Craft, and Spirit of a Priest, though disguised like a Layman; and the Clergy found themselves whipped upon Tartuffe’s Back.
Eight Days after Tartuffe was forbid to be acted, the Court was entertained with a very irreligious Play, called Scaramouch. After it was over, the King told a certain Prince, that he wondered why those People, who were so scandalized at Moliere’s Comedy, did not say a Word of this. O Sir, answered the Prince, the Reason is plain; the Play of Scaramouch only makes a Jest of God and Religion, in which these Gentlemen are no wise concerned: But Moliere has dared to bring the Priests upon the Stage; which is not to be suffered.