Front Page Titles (by Subject) 7.: FREE DISCUSSION, LETTER III MORNING CHRONICLE, 12 FEB., 1823, P. 3 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I
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7.: FREE DISCUSSION, LETTER III MORNING CHRONICLE, 12 FEB., 1823, P. 3 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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FREE DISCUSSION, LETTER III
For the context, heading, and entry in Mill’s bibliography, see No. 5.
I shall now endeavour to prove that persecution is not necessary for the preservation of Christianity.
The Christian Religion may be contemplated in two points of view. We may direct our attention to those peculiar characteristics which distinguish it from all other doctrines, true or false; or we may consider it with reference to those properties which it has in common with all true doctrines, as contradistinguished from false ones.
Not one, but many, arguments might be adduced to prove that Christianity, considered merely as a true doctrine, could not, under the influence of free discussion, fail of prevailing over falsehood. This ground, however, has already been gone over by far abler pens than mine; and a truth which has been maintained (not to speak of other writers) by Divines so eminent as Tillotson, Taylor, Chillingworth, Campbell, Lardner, Lowth, Warburton, Paley, Watson, and more recently by Hall, cannot stand in need of such feeble support as I can afford.1
In the present Letter I shall therefore confine myself to the consideration of those qualities peculiar to Christianity, which render persecution even less necessary for its support than for that of any other true doctrine.
And first, let me observe, that the only supposition on which persecution can be defended—by such of its advocates, I mean, as are Christians—is that of the utter incapacity and incorrigible imbecility of the people. That infidels should think persecution essential to the being of Christianity, can be matter of no surprise; but one who believes in the truth of the doctrine he supports, can not for a moment entertain any such opinion, unless he believes what no man, whose judgment is not biassed by interest, can believe, that the people are incapable of distinguishing truth from falsehood.
The fact, that the utility of persecution rests on such a basis, would alone induce every reasonable man to scout the idea of it; but, even though we were to allow the incapacity of the people, to admit the truth of all which their worst calumniators have ever imputed to them; it would not be less true that Christianity can support itself without persecution, nor, consequently, would the arguments in favour of toleration be a whit less conclusive.
If a true proposition, and the false one which is opposed to it, are presented at the same time to the mind of a man who is utterly incapable of distinguishing truth from error, which of the two is he most likely to embrace? This question will be found to admit of an easy answer. If he was before prepossessed in favour of either opinion, that one he will still continue to hold. If both were equally new to him, he will choose that which is most flattering to his prevailing passion.
All the prepossessions of those whom it is wished to protect by persecution from the danger of becoming infidels are uniformly and confessedly favourable to religion. No where is education, even partially, in the hands of infidels. There is no place where religion does not form one of the most essential parts of education. It is not, therefore, upon this ground, that persecution can be justified.
To counteract the effect of early impressions, it will, no doubt, be affirmed that infidelity is peculiarly flattering to the passions, and that those who wish to throw off the shackles of morality will be glad, in the first instance, to emancipate themselves from the salutary restraint which religion imposes.
It was partly with the intention of obviating this objection that my last letter was penned. There is no use in representing the evils of infidelity as greater than they really are: nor does a disposition to do so evince, on the part of him who shews it, any very great anxiety to vindicate either himself or his religion from the imputation of want of candour. That infidelity excludes us from the blessings of a future life, would surely be a sufficient reason to induce every reasonable man to reject it. I have endeavoured to shew that even if (which God forbid) all sense of religion were to die away among men, there would still remain abundant motives to ensure good conduct in this life. The passions, therefore, are not interested in throwing off religious belief, or all our ethical writers have been employing their labour to very little purpose.
Nor is this all. Infidel doctrines are peculiarly ill fitted for making converts among that portion of mankind who are most in danger of mistaking falsehood for truth. They bear a greater analogy to general abstract propositions in metaphysics than to any thing which can immediately affect the sensitive faculties. Besides, they superinduce what, to all men not convinced of the necessity of it by the habit of scientific disquisitions, is the most painful of all states of mind, a state of doubt. On the other hand, one of the strongest feelings in every uneducated mind is the appetite for wonder, the love of the marvellous. Witness the rapid progress of so many religious, which we now think so unutterably absurd that we wonder how any human being can ever have given credit to them. This passion is gratified in the most eminent degree by the Christian religion; for what is there in Christianity which is not in the highest degree sublime and mysterious?
Against so general and so powerful a feeling, what has scepticism to oppose? It is not peculiarly fitted to take hold of the imagination; on the contrary, it is eminently and almost universally repelled by it. If, then, it had not been evident before, I trust that the considerations I have adduced will suffice to make it so, that of all the doctrines which the invention of man ever devised, none is so little likely to prevail over the contrary doctrine as religious infidelity.
Doctrines which, if left to themselves, have no chance of prevailing, may be saved from oblivion by persecution. The advocates of infidelity are active and fearless: no persecution can daunt, no ignominy can restrain them. By persecution they are raised to an importance which they could never otherwise have attained: by ignominy they are only advertised that it is impossible for them to retreat. To prevent them from diffusing infidelity through the whole kingdom, what has been done by our well-paid divines? I am not aware that they have yet employed any other weapon than vague and declamatory abuse. Books indeed there are; but, alas! what avails a mass of ponderous volumes, written in a style as little suited to the capacity, as the price at which they are sold is to the purses, of those for whose use they are principally required? It is true abuse is far easier, and requires less time and application than argument. But unless my knowledge of the duties of Christian Clergymen is very imperfect, they do not receive one-tenth of the produce of the soil in order that they may attack infidels by coarse and disgusting abuse, but that they may bring them back by gentle persuasion within the pale of the Church.
[1 ]John Tillotson (1630-94), Archbishop of Canterbury (1691); Jeremy Taylor (1613-67); William Chillingworth (1602-44); George Campbell (1719-96); Nathaniel Lardner (1684-1768); Robert Lowth (1710-87), Bishop of Oxford (1766-77) and of London (1777-87); William Warburton (1698-1779), Bishop of Gloucester (1760-79); William Paley (1743-1805), Archdeacon of Carlisle (1782-1805); Richard Watson (1737-1816), Bishop of Llandaff (1782-1816); and Robert Hall (1764-1831).