Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number XLVI.: Of High-Church Atheism. Part 5. - The Independent Whig, vol. 2 (7th ed. 1743)
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Number XLVI.: Of High-Church Atheism. Part 5. - 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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Of High-Church Atheism.Part 5.
Wednesday,November 30. 1720.
SPeculative Atheists exist but in few Places, and have never been numerous any-where; even though all those be accounted such, upon whom Atheism has ever been charged. But where they do exist, they seem to me to owe their Rise principally to Superstition and Priestcraft; and the higher the Church and Priests have been, the more numerous have been the Atheists: Nay, there seems to me more just Cause to suspect the High-Church Priests of Atheism, than any other Men.
1.Whoever reasons himself into Atheism, undoubtedly reasons very wrong, and either proceeds on false Principles, or makes wrong Conclusions from true ones. But among the several false Arguments, by which the Atheists and loose People impose on themselves, and endeavour to seduce others; there is none more frequently urged, than that the current Absurdities and Superstitions taught by Priests, and the Priests Hypocrisy and Villainies, are sufficient Reasons to make all Religion be deemed a Cheat, and Priests of all Religions to be deemed the same. The Poet says, in the Person of a Libertine,
This indeed is pitiful Reasoning, and ought to be extended no farther than to those Doctrines and Priests, against whom the Objections lie. But so it is Men reason; and Experience will prove, that ’tis the High-Church Priest, and his Proceedings, which make the Atheist. But before I proceed to that Experience, I will say this in Behalf of this Argument for Atheism, that the Evil apparent in the World (which some urge as an Argument against the Existence of a Deity) seems to me most visible in the Actions of Priests, who do, in my Opinion, create the greatest Disorder among Men.
The late Bishop of Sarum tells us, in his Travels, “That a Man of Quality at Rome, and an eminent Churchman, said to him, That it was a horrible Scandal to the whole Christian World, and made one doubt of the Truth of the Christian Religion, to see more Oppression and Cruelty in their Territories, than was to be found even in Turkey. He says, some Physicians in Naples are brought under the Scandal of Atheism: And it is certain, that in Italy Men of searching Understandings, who have no other Idea of the Christian Religion, but that which they see received among them, are very naturally tempted to disbelieve it quite; for they believing it all alike in gross, without Distinction, and finding such notorious Cheats as appear in many Parts of their Religion, are, upon that, induced to disbelieve the Whole.” And it is an Observation of Dr. geddes, that there are more People of no Religion in Italy, than in all the World besides (Tracts, Vol. 3.). England is also said, by our High-Church Priests, to abound with Atheists, no less than Italy. But if there be such People among us, they are intirely owing to the Conduct of some of our Priests, who, I will be so bold as to affirm, are as impudent in their Pretences to Power and Authority, as the Italian Priests dare to be. This, though at first Sight it may seem matter of Admiration, that they should be so in such an enlightened Country as England, where so many understand right Reasoning, and true Christianity; yet is natural enough, if it be considered, that it is the last Struggle of Priests for Popery and Slavery: They contend for the most ridiculous Things, as necessary to Salvation; and by their Prevarications about Oaths, and Shiftings about Doctrines, according to their Interest, dispose Men to make the same Inference, as the Men of Quality, and Men of searching Understandings, do in Italy. And some among us may, perhaps, make that Atheistical Inference, considering how the Nation had been managed in the High-Church Reign of King charles the Second, when the Design, according to the late Bishop of Sarum, seemed to be to make us first Atheists, that we might more easily be Papists.
Dr.hickes tells us, that the Practices of the Swearing Clergy, since the Revolution, who had preached Passive Obedience before, “have tempted loose and unprincipled Men to turn Atheists; and that those Clergy have set open the Flood-Gates to that Deluge of Atheism and Impiety, that now overflow the Nation.” And he cites another Author with Approbation, for saying, “This Change has made many sober Men sceptical, and gone farther towards eradicating all the Notions of a Deity, than all the Labours of Mr. hobbes. I have been ready to suspect, that Religion itself was a Cheat; and others, of my own Knowledge, have the same Temptations to question Religion itself.”
Mr.Lesley says, “The Carriage of the Clergy in the Revolution, has given greater Occasion to the Enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, and turned more Men from the Church of England, to the Church of Rome, and even to Atheism; has overturned, ruined, divided, and dishonoured our Church more, than if that Persecution, which some feared or pretended, had fallen upon them. He says, The Clergy banter and mock God to his Face; and that Atheism is a smaller Sin than this, since it is better to have no God at all, than to set up one, to laugh at him; and that the greatest Danger to which we are now exposed, by the Defect of so many of our Clergy, is a Contempt of all Religion, which is now spread over the Land, in a Manner unheard of in former Ages.”
Lastly, The late Bishop of Sarum tells us, “That since his Conversation with Wilmot Earl of Rochester, he had had many Occasions to discourse with People tainted with wicked Principles: And, says he, I do affirm, that the greatest Prejudice those Persons have at Religion, at the Clergy, and at the public Worship of God, is this, That they say they see Clergymen take Oaths, and use all Prayers, both ordinary and extraordinary, for the Government; and yet in their Actings and Discourses, and of late in their Sermons, they shew visibly, that they look another Way; from whence they conclude, that they are a mercenary Sort of People, without Conscience.”
2.Atheism being, in my Opinion, a most unnatural Thing, and a Crime, which, for its Madness, as well as Guilt, ought to shut a Man out of civil Society, I am not disposed to lay it to any Man’s Charge, though a vicious Person; much less to any sober Man’s, without his open Profession of it, or an evident Proof of it upon him. But if, consistently with Charity, we may suspect any Men of Atheism, who deny themselves to be Atheists, we may certainly suspect such Priests, who live viciously; who play with Oaths; who, though swearing to the Government, are Jacobites in their Hearts (as Dr. Hickes says, I hope falsely, the main Body of the Clergy, God be thanked, are); who are uncharitable in their Censures, and are Persecutors; who defend plain Absurdities; who dispute against the Reasonableness of Reason; who contend for human Authority, that is, their own, in Matters of Religion; and argue for the Belief of unintelligible Propositions or Mysteries (For Men of common Sense, and common Honesty, can hardly be supposed to join real Belief and such Things together). And above all, those Priests are to be suspected as Atheists, who are constantly charging others with Atheism, and those oftentimes the most learned, best, and most religious Men, as Cudworth, Tillotson, and Locke. Upon such we may justly return the Charge of Atheism, in the Words of a modern Philosopher: “How, says be to a High Presbyterian Priest, could you think me an Atheist, unless it were, because finding your Doubts of the Deity more frequent than other Mens are, you are thereby the apter to fall upon that kind of Reproach? Wherein you are like Women of poor and evil Education, when they scold; amongst whom the readiest disgraceful Word is Whore. Why not Thief, or any other ill Name, but because, when they remember themselves, they think that Reproach the likeliest to be true?”
And, as many Priests give such Cause of Suspicion, so I would fain know what Mr. lesley must esteem the Priests of our Church to be, when he says, “That the Parliament cannot make an Oath which the Clergy will not take? And whether many of our Clergy must not be esteemed Atheists, according to the Saying of the late Bishop of Worcester, It was a great Providence of God, that so many of the Clergy refused the Oaths to the Government, lest People should think there was no such thing as Religion, and incline to Atheism?” And lastly, wha can be thought of the Majority of a Lower House of Convocation, who, in their Representation of the present State of Religion, with regard to the late excessive Growth of Infidelity, Heresy, and Profaneness, fell upon the truly religious (though erroneous) Books of Mr. Whiston and others, but passed over the Tale of a Tub, a Book of a Reverend Brother; tho’ that Book was the sole open Attack that had been made upon Christianity since the Revolution, except the Oracles of Reason; and was not inferior, in Banter and Malice, to the Attacks of celsus, or julian, or porphyry, or lucian! And what can we think of the Majority of another Convocation, which a worthy Member spoke to in these Words? “With what Face or Conscience, Mr. Prolocutor, can we offer to complain of the Licentiousness taken by Lay-Writers, and yet connive at the like Offences given by the Ministers of our Church; I doubt, greater Offences? For if all the ill Books against Religion, Scripture, &c. were here packed up together, I would undertake to pick out the worst of them, by pointing at those written by Clergymen, even of the most profane Drollery, as well as the most serious Heresy?” So that, upon the Whole, the High-Church Priests seem to me to derive a mighty Benefit from Atheism. They have it chiefly among themselves, and protect one another in it, and thereby have the Profit of Atheism, arising from taking false Oaths, and from doing many things without Scruple of Conscience, as also the Pleasure, as some of them esteem it, (see Dr. Atterbury’s Sermon at Bennet’s Funeral) arising from the Practice of Vice. And at the same time they themselves stand clear of the Imputation of Atheism, and brand with it those whom they do not like, and such as aro oftentimes the best Men, and best Christians.
P. S. The Author of this Paper, having received two very modest and religious, though anonymous Letters, which take Offence at an Expression in the Independent Whig, No. XXXVIII. about Godly Sorrow, returns for Answer, That Sorrow for our Sins is not there opposed, but mechanic Sorrow, and such as proceeds from wrong Causes; and the Author only supposes, that such enthusiastic People, as he has before mentioned, knew not the true Principles of Repentance, which he himself has described.
In fine, as to Godly Sorrow, Sorrow for Sin; I know it to be so much a religious Duty, that I know there can be no Religion without it.