Front Page Titles (by Subject) 367.: ENLIGHTENED INFIDELITY UNPUBLISHED LETTER TO THE REASONER [AFTER 2 JUNE, 1847] - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
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367.: ENLIGHTENED INFIDELITY UNPUBLISHED LETTER TO THE REASONER [AFTER 2 JUNE, 1847] - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III, 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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George Jacob Holyoake (1817-1906), secularist, libertarian, promoter of cooperatives, and social reformer, in 1845 founded and edited the weekly Herald of Progress, which became, on 3 June, 1846, the Reasoner and Herald of Progress. It was mainly an outlet for Holyoake’s secular views, and always had financial problems. In “Propagandism,” Reasoner, 2 June, 1847, pp. 299-301, Holyoake appealed for subscriptions; this letter in response, clearly intended for publication, but not published, is undated. The holograph MS in Mill’s hand is in the British Library of Political and Economic Science, Mill-Taylor Collection, Vol. XLI, No. 4, on East India Co. paper watermarked 1845. In view of the opinions expressed in Harriet Taylor’s letter to Mill of 25 July, 1848, one may infer that this is a joint production (see F.A. Hayek, John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor [London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1951], pp. 124-7). The draft is headed “To the Editor of the Reasoner.” As the letter was not published, it is not listed in Mill’s bibliography.
Observing that a subscription has been opened in aid of your publication, I send a small contribution towards it. I should much regret that the flag of avowed unbelief, unfurled by the Reasoner alone among English periodical writings, should be lowered for want of the support necessary to keep it flying. When you commenced writing, some courage was still required for the public profession and dissemination of infidel opinions, and although we may now hope that the time for legal persecution, such as that which you have undergone,1 has passed away, the willingness to defy, in behalf of what is sincerely believed to be truth, even the idle talk of the multitude is unhappily sufficiently rare in all classes, to be entitled not only to honorable recognition, but to such positive assistance as the case admits of.
It would however be a bad compliment to writers whom I am commending for speaking out their whole mind to the public, were I to be less free in expressing to them, my opinion of their performances. And I am compelled to say that my good will to the Reasoner does not arise from my thinking it at all an adequate representative of either the argumentative or the moral strength of enlightened infidelity. I give its writers credit for being partly aware of this, and I trust that they may become fully so, and may succeed in making the Reasoner a more valuable organ, than I think it has yet been, of the opinions it professes.
The strongest point of your writers is certainly the metaphysical argument on the existence of Deity, though even there they offer, I think, great hold to any dexterous adversary, and might learn, for example, from Hume’s Dialogues on Natural Religion, far more conclusive modes of stating their argument.2 But this part of the subject, though it ought not to be neglected, is neither the best suited for popular effect, nor in itself the most important. Whether the world has had a creator, is a matter of hypothesis and conjecture on which, in the absence of proof, people’s judgment will vary according to the particular bias of their imagination: but the mischievous superstition consists in identifying this Creator, with the ideal of abstract perfection, and making him, as such, an object of adoration and imitation. Any one who considers the course of nature, without the usual predetermination to find all excellent, must see that it has been made, if made at all, by an extremely imperfect being; that it can be accounted for on no theory of a just ruler, unless that ruler is of extremely limited power, and hemmed in by obstacles which he is unable to overcome. Mankind can scarcely chuse to themselves a worse model of conduct than the author of nature. None but a very bad man ever manifested in his conduct such disregard not only of the sufferings of sentient creatures, but of the commonest principles of justice in the treatment of them, as is manifested by the Creator of the World if we suppose him to be omnipotent.
It is by treating such topics as these that infidel writers would strike the most effective blow at superstition while they would, by the same effort, plant something better in its place. On the subject of revealed religion there is room for a similar exposure; setting forth the essential wickedness of the character of the Deity, as Christian writers have been forced, often against their own better feelings, to conceive it: the atrocious conception (for example) of a Being who creates on the one hand thousands of millions of sentient creatures foreknowing that they will be sinners, and on the other a hell to torture them eternally for being so. With regard to the question of Evidences, I am sorry to see that after all the light which has been thrown upon the origin and history of the Christian and other religions by many authors in the last and present age, your writers have not got beyond the crude guesses and fanciful theories which were current a century ago, when historical criticism, or any real sense of historical truth, had not yet come into the world.
On the subject of morals, I regret to observe that you do not even aim at any improvement of the common notions, but give in an apparently unqualified adhesion to them, exactly as they stand. This is a retrograde step on the part of infidel writers. Mankind have, as a race, hitherto grounded their morality mainly on religion, and if their religion is false it would be very extraordinary that their morality should be true. For my part I hold that the philosophy of morals is still in its infancy; that in its practical doctrines there is as much room for improvement, as in any other department of human thought; and that even now it is easy to lay down a far better, juster, nobler set of moral principles and rules than those generally received: the maxims of the Gospel though admirable in much of their spirit being both vague and most incomplete, while the attempts to supply their deficiencies by St. Paul and others amount, in my opinion, to very much worse than nothing.
[1 ]On 24 May, 1842, Holyoake made a flippant reference to the deity in replying to a question after a lecture to the Cheltenham Mechanics’ Institute. He was arrested on 1 June, tried on 15 Aug. for blasphemy, and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment. See The Trial of George Jacob Holyoake (London: Anti-persecution Union, 1842).
[2 ]David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779), in Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects, new ed., 2 vols. (London: Cadell, 1793), Vol. II, pp. 472-597.