Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number LV.: Of Blasphemy. - The Independent Whig, vol. 3 (2nd ed. 1741)
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Number LV.: Of Blasphemy. - Thomas Gordon, The Independent Whig, vol. 3 (2nd ed. 1741) 
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 Second Edition (London: J. Peele, 1741). Vol. 3.
Part of: The Independent Whig, 4 vols.
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BLASPHEMY is like Heresy, a big Word, which they, who make the loudest Noise about it, rarely define, and indeed rarely can. From hence it comes to pass, that this Sound is greatly abused, in proportion as it is little understood: And from the Uncertainty of its Signification are derived certain Advantage to some Men, and as certain Terror to others; for all false Reverence, and false Power, and all groundless Fears, arise from deceitful Sounds on one Side, and real Ignorance on the other Side, and from Words not defined, or ill defined. As long as the Meaning of Names is unrestrained, the Use and Abuse of Names will continue unrestrained. The Instances of this are infinite, evident, and universal; Pope, Priest, Power, Monarch, Mystery, Zeal, Loyalty, are but a few of these Instances.
Blasphemy is a Word of the same sort, a Word which passionate and crafty Men throw at one another in their religious Quarrels; and, if you will believe either Side, both Sides are Blasphemers. And thus it will ever be, as long as Anger or Interest are left to make or measure Crimes, and to explain Names by their own partial Spirit. Men, under the Biass of Passion, and known Pre-engagements, can never be calm and unbiassed Judges: And he is a mad Man who would trust his Fortune or his Soul to the Conduct of one who is manifestly biassed, and has avowed Demands of Money or Authority upon both, or upon either.
We have a Right to expect the same Satisfaction to our Understanding from a Professor and Decider of Words, as from a Professor of the Mathematicks; that is to say, a Right to examine their Propositions, and be convinced before we assent; and if we pay both, he who satisfies us best, ought to be best paid. Mathematicians take nothing upon Trust; and therefore amongst Mathematicians there are no Disputes, because there are no Uncertainties. If their Propositions be not made Demonstrations, they are not mathematical Propositions; and before a Theorem, which deserves Proof, be proved, he is a simple Man that believes it.
So that in mathematical Discoveries, if you will be at the Pains to inquire, your Inquiry will end in Conviction; but if you want the Capacity or Diligence to inquire, the Discovery is still an Uncertainty to you, and nobody pretends to constrain you.
A Compulsion into Persuasion and Assent would be reckoned monstrous Madness and Contradiction in Mathematicks, or in any Science which has any Foundation in common Sense. You may still believe, if you please, that this little Earth stands still, as the important Centre of all Things; that the mighty Sun, two hundred thousand times bigger than the Earth, and all the immense Hosts of Heaven, were created, and are employed, to patrol about it, and to carry Links and Tapers to this little dirty Speck, scarce distinguishable in the boundless and glorious Realms of Space; and that the human Pigmy is not only Lord of this little Globe, but of Millions of mighty Worlds, of no Use to him, few of them visible to him.
This Persuasion against Truth and Demonstration, will always make Part of the Religion of Bigots, who will always be the Bulk of Mankind; and it would be Cruelty to punish them for Folly, which affects not the Peace of Society, though it is certain, that did not the Laws with-hold them, they would punish and kill as Atheists and Blasphemers all those who bring the noblest natural Truths to Light. I have heard very lately of a Scotch Presbyter, who found a Multitude of Texts against the astronomical System, and told his Hearers a World of angry Things which God Almighty said against it: He asserted, that the Earth stood still, and the Sun travelled round it, in spite of all the mathematical Demonstrations that could come from Hell; and, with a Thus saith the Lord, added terrible Threatenings against the Philosophers and Free-Thinkers of the Age, whom he christened Blasphemers, and doomed to divine Wrath, without any Hesitation. This poor mad Monk was in earnest; his Nonsense and Fury were conscientious; and all the Hardship that should be put upon him, is to keep Vengeance out of his Hands, which, without Doubt, he would execute cruelly, and be merciless for the Glory of the God of Mercy.
With the Bigot, every Truth that exposes his devout Dreams is Blasphemy; which is a Greek Word, that signifies Detraction, or Evil-speaking in general; but, as it is used and understood amongst Christians, it means speaking Evil of the Deity; Maledictio Supremi Numinis. And as it is a Crime that implies Malice against God, I am not able to conceive, how any Man can commit it. A Man who knows God, cannot speak Evil of a Being, whom he knows to be blessed and beneficent, the Author and Giver of all Good, with whom no Evil can dwell: And a Man who knows him not, and reviles him, does therefore revile him, because he knows him not: He therefore puts the Name of God to his own Misapprehensions of God. This is so far from speaking Evil of the Deity, that it is not speaking of the Deity at all. It is only speaking Evil of a wild Idea, of a Creature of the Imagination, and existing nowhere but there.
If a Man say, with the Fool in the Psalms, that there is no God, he speaks falsly, but does not blaspheme; for he cannot blaspheme what he thinks is not; and Ignorance is not Blasphemy. If a Man say, that God is cruel and revengeful, and subject to Passion and Change, as the heathen Deities were; this also is Ignorance, and not Blasphemy. He only abuses a false Character, to which he ignorantly applies the Name of God, and speaks maliciously of a Being which he mistakes for God, and which has no Resemblance of God, but is applicable only to Satan, who is an Enemy to God, or to Jupiter and Saturn, and the other like fickle and sanguinary Divinities of Paganism.
We cannot blaspheme that which we honour: An ancient Pagan could not blaspheme Jupiter, while he really believed him what he called him, Jovem optimum maximum, All-good and Almighty: Neither could one who had contrary Sentiments concerning Jupiter, blaspheme the Great God in speaking contumeliously of Jupiter, in whom he found none of the Marks of the Great God. If the Priests and Followers of Baal really believed their God to be the true God, as they seem to have believed, it would have been Blasphemy in them to have spoken contumeliously of him; or rather, they could not have blasphemed him, while they retained that high and awful Opinion of him. If they conceived him cloathed with infinite Perfections and Loveliness, they could not possibly have mocked or hated that which to them appeared perfect and lovely. But if they conceived of him in a different and a meaner Manner, their speaking of him as they conceived of him was no Blasphemy, because they only spake meanly or contemptuously of a Being, which was wholly different from the Almighty Being, who could not be abused by the ill Names bestowed upon an Idol.
It would indeed seem scarce possible in common Sense, that the bitterest Language against Baal-Peor could be Blasphemy, either in those who believed, or in those who believed not in him. It is manifest, that his Priests esteemed him a barbarous and bloody Spirit, by their inhuman Manner of imploring him to vindicate their Credit and his own against the God of Israel, in pursuance of a Challenge given them by Elijah the Prophet; And they cut themselves, after their Manner, with Knives and Lancets, till the Blood gushed out upon them, 1 Kings xviii. 28. They represented him as delighting in human Blood, and in human Tortures and Misery; and the worst they could have said of him could hardly have been Blasphemy. But as Enthusiasm is really capable of believing Contradictions, and of sanctifying the worst Nonsense and Barbarity, it is probable enough, that these fanatick Priests did sincerely believe this abominable and wretched Idol to be the true God; and even then the true God could not be blasphemed by Obloquies thrown upon a Being so utterly unlike him; though Elijah must have appeared to them a great Blasphemer, when he mocked their stupid Image, and ridiculed their God, as engaged in Discourse, or in a Journey, or perhaps taking a Nap, Ver. 27.
All this shews, that it is impossible to commit the Sin of Blasphemy, as it is commonly understood. If we know God, we must necessarily love him; if we love him, we cannot blaspheme him: And if we defame something which we take for God, but which is not God, the true God cannot be displeased with an Indignity offered to a false God. If I honour a false God, I cannot hate or calumniate, nor consequently blaspheme him; or, if I do, I do it under an Idea which appertains not to the true God; and therefore nothing that appertains to God is blasphemed, though I may ignorantly annex that Name to that Idea. Much less can another, who owns not my false God, be a Blasphemer in exposing him, though I, who have more Devotion, and less Judgment, may call him a Blasphemer: For where there is no Divinity, there can be no Blasphemy; and the Divinity will not be blasphemed, where it is owned and adored; nor is it known, where it is not adored.
So that to be able to blaspheme God, Malice against God must be added to the Knowledge of God; which I have shewn to be impossible. Men in Despair, who no longer expect any Mercy from God, do sometimes tack terrible Imprecations to his Name, and in Words are Blasphemers; but they are so only in Words. They have no Knowledge of God; if they had, they would not despair. They therefore revile they know not what, a horrible Image created by an inflamed and distracted Brain, and more opposite to the Image of God, than a sober Man is to a mad Man.
Despair is Madness; and Madness is no more a Crime than a Pleurisy, which is an Inflammation in the Side, as the other is in the Brain. Nor are the Words of a Man in Despair, the worst he can utter, criminal, no more than a Man is indictable for a Blow that he gives to his Nurse, or his Physician, in the Rage of a Fever. I have heard much Treason, and many blasphemous Words, uttered in Bedlam: But no Lunatick is tried from thence for a Traitor, or Blasphemer. The most unhappy Lunaticks are Men in Despair: Nor are Men Sinners for being unhappy, nor answerable to God for the mechanical Operations of a Distemper.
The same Defence may be made for the profane Ravings of Enthusiasm, which is only a Distemper in the Head. Those Ravings are the Operations and Overflowings of a Distemper; and it would be a barbarous Thing to turn a Misfortune into Sin, and to punish for a Disease. The Effects of Madness are neither moral nor immoral; and a mad Man can no more be guilty of Blasphemy, than an Idiot or a Parrot can. Wind cannot blow Blasphemy; and the wild Words of a Fanatick are only Wind modulated by a distempered Head. No Man knows himself to be an Enthusiast, or thinks his Enthusiasm foolish or criminal; and what is not voluntary, is no Crime. A Man cannot sin in his Sleep, nor in his sleeping or waking Dreams; and Enthusiasm is a pious Dream.
St.Paul, while he was yet a Persecutor of the Christian Church, and an Enthusiast against Jesus Christ, could not blaspheme him before he knew him; and afterwards he could not, because he knew him: So that at first he only defamed him through Ignorance of him; and this was Rashness, but not Blasphemy, in any other Sense than as all Evil-speaking of any one is Blasphemy. But I here speak of Blasphemy in the usual Sense of the Word; and, in this Sense, neither a Turk, nor an Indian, nor an Atheist, nor any Man, can be a Blasphemer. The Jews deny Jesus Christ: But this is Blindness, and not Blasphemy; and it would be a great Barbarity to kill or punish Men for their Blindness, and equally disingenuous and uncharitable to make Blasphemy of Blindness.
When our Arguments for Christianity prevail not with Men, as often they do not; and when the Spirit of Christ is with-held from them, as we see it often is, we are not to grow uncharitable because they are inflexible, and to call Incredulity Blasphemy. No Means are effectual to bring Men to Christ without the Spirit of Christ, which none but he can give. Will any Man say, that all Unbelievers are Blasphemers? or that a sincere Declaration of Unbelief is Blasphemy? Did any of the Apostles tell any People or Nation, to whom they went, that they were all Blasphemers? or that as many as they could not convert, they and their Converts would treat as Blasphemers; that is, persecute, imprison and kill them? Or would such Men find Admission into any Country, who are apprised of their Spirit?
It is dissolving human Society to distress Men for involuntary Mistakes, to which all Men in all Societies are subject: Nor do we see any sort of Men upon Earth, or that ever were upon Earth, differ more about the sublime and metaphysical Notions of God, than those Men who would reduce all Men to a perfect and impossible Unity in Notions, and boldly pretend to do that which omnipotent Wisdom, and omnipotent Power, has not thought fit to do, and which nothing but Omnipotence can do. This is a monstrous Doctrine, against Nature and Christianity; and thought it be not Blasphemy in my Sense, yet it is Blasphemy ad hominem; since they that hold it, bring under the Head of Blasphemy a thousand Notions and Things, that, compared with this, are innocent and wise.
So much for Blasphemy against God, which I have shewn to be impossible. I shall now say something of Blasphemy against Men; for it is indeed against them that it is generally, if not only, committed; and the holy Name of God is called down to screen and sanctify the Bigotry and Pride of Men. They sometimes annex a religious Reverence to Actions, Names, and Opinions, which have nothing to do with Religion, and perhaps are ridiculous, and then make it Blasphemy to contradict them. Hence Sounds become first sacred, and the more absurd and equivocal, the more sacred; and then in proportion as they are easily ridiculed, Blasphemy is like to grow more frequent, and consequently more criminal and dangerous.
Thus in the Church of Rome, the Apostolick Succession, Infallibility, and the Power of the Keys, Purgatory, and Prayers to Saints, that is, Prayers to dead Men for living Men, or for other Men who are dead too, Transubstantiation, the indelible Character, the unbloody Sacrifice, Dominion over Consciences, the Divine Right to Tythes, the Inquisition, and no Salvation in any other Church; are all Words, and Doctrines, and Practices, utterly destitute of all common Sense, utterly opposite to the New Testament, and to all Religion and common Honesty, and big with all Mischief, and all spiritual and temporal Tyranny: But they are all most sacred in that Church, and it is the highest Blasphemy to reason against them; and Death is due to Blasphemy, nay, Damnation is due to it.
Imposture is supported by Terror; and by this means the Popish World is become the Spoils of Popish Priests. And indeed, whereever Priests make Reasoning upon or against their System, a Crime against Religion, they bring their System under the Suspicion of Craft or Weakness, and will in time make all Men, and the Property of all Men, submit to their System, as the Romish Priests have done, and as all who have the same Pretensions would do. With them every Defence of Truth against Craft and Lyes, is Blasphemy; and indeed, all Men of different Religions, or of different Opinions in the same Religion, are Blasphemers to one another. They draw false and doubtful Deductions from Scripture, and call the plainest Propositions, and the most rational Objections against their Guesses, Blasphemy against Scripture; though it is impossible for any Man to blaspheme the Scripture, by denying that to be Scripture, which he is persuaded is not Scripture.
It would be profane in any Man to make a Mockery of Sounds, in which he finds any Reverence; but I believe it to be impossible upon the Principles which I have before laid down: No Man can mock and reverence the same Thing; much less can a Man be profane in ridiculing what he thinks really ridiculous: He may, indeed, he unmannerly; but ill Manners to Men are not profane in the Sight of God: The more Reverence Men place in little and ridiculous Things, the more ridiculous they become. When the Law of a Country gives a Sanction to Words and Fashions, and reckons them religious, though they be not a bit more so for the Law, yet the Law is to be respected; and if I treat them with Contumely, I may be ill-bred, but am no Blasphemer; for they are not religious to me.
To conclude: Those who would discover Blasphemers with any Certainty, must do three Things: First, They must settle and ascertain all the Ideas of God; which none but God can do. Secondly, They must make all Men capable of judging of those Ideas with Certainty; a Task which no human Spirit can perform, and which therefore must be also the Work of God. Lastly, They must be able to see and to judge infallibly the Hearts of Men: A Province which the Almighty hath also reserved to himself; and which none but the Almighty is fit for, no, not the Angels. Till they can do all this, they had best take care, that, by their common Charge of Blasphemy, they do not mean Blasphemy against their own Pride and Mistakes.