Worship and Church Bells
A Letter to Camille Jordan
As everything in your Report, relating to what you call worship, connects itself with the books called the Scriptures, I begin with a quotation therefrom. It may serve to give us some idea of the fanciful origin and fabrication of those books, II Chronicles xxxiv, 14, etc. "Hilkiah, the priest, found the book of the law of the Lord given by Moses. And Hilkiah, the priest, said to Shaphan, the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord, and Hilkiah delivered the book to Shaphan. And Shaphan, the scribe, told the king, (Josiah), saying, Hilkiah, the priest, hath given me a book."
This pretended finding was about a thousand years
after the time that Moses is said to have lived. Before this pretended
finding, there was no such thing practiced or known in the world as that
which is called the law of Moses.
This being the case, there is every apparent evidence
that the books called the books of Moses (and which make the first part
of what are called the Scriptures) are forgeries contrived between a
priest and a limb of the law, Hilkiah, and Shaphan the scribe, a
thousand years after Moses is said to have been dead.
Thus much for the first part of the Bible. Every other
part is marked with circumstances equally as suspicious. We ought
therefore to be reverentially careful how we ascribe books
as his word, of which there
is no evidence, and against which there is abundant evidence to the
contrary, and every cause to suspect imposition.
In your Report you speak continually of something by
the name of worship, and you confine yourself to speak of one kind only,
as if there were but one, and that one was unquestionably true.
The modes of worship are as various as the sects are
numerous; and amidst all this variety and multiplicity there is but one
article of belief in which every religion in the world agrees. That
article has universal sanction. It is the belief of a God, or what the
Greeks described by the word
Theism, and the Latins by that of
Upon this one article have been erected all the
different superstructures of creeds and ceremonies continually warring
with each other that now exist or ever existed. But the men most and
best informed upon the subject of theology rest themselves upon this
universal article, and hold all the various superstructures erected
thereon to be at least doubtful, if not altogether artificial.
The intellectual part of religion is a private affair
between every man and his Maker, and in which no third party has any
right to interfere. The practical part consists in our doing good to
each other. But since religion has been made into a trade, the practical
part has been made to consist of ceremonies performed by men called
priests; and the people have been amused with ceremonial shows,
processions, and bells.
By devices of this kind true religion has been
banished; and such means have been found out to extract money even from
the pockets of the poor, instead of contributing to their relief.
No man ought to make a living by religion. It is
dishonest so to do. Religion is not an act that can be performed by
proxy. One person cannot act religion for another. Every person must
perform it for himself; and all that a priest can do is to take from
him; he wants nothing but his money and then to riot in the spoil and
laugh at his credulity.
The only people who, as a professional sect of
Christians provide for the poor of their society, are people known by
the name of Quakers. Those men have no priests. They assemble quietly in
their places of meeting, and do not disturb their neighbors with shows
and noise of bells. Religion does not unite itself to show and noise.
True religion is without either. Where there is both there is no true
The first object for inquiry in all cases, more
especially in matters of religious concern, is TRUTH. We ought to
inquire into the truth of whatever we are taught to believe, and it is
certain that the books called the Scriptures stand, in this respect, in
more than a doubtful predicament.
They have been held in existence, and in a sort of
credit among the common class of people, by art, terror, and
persecution. They have little or no credit among the enlightened part,
but they have been made the means of encumbering the world with a
numerous priesthood, who have fattened on the labor of the people, and
consumed the sustenance that ought to be applied to the widows and the
It is a want of feeling to talk of priests and bells
while so many infants are perishing in the hospitals, and aged and
infirm poor in the streets, from the want of necessaries. The abundance
that France produces is sufficient for every want, if rightly applied;
but priests and bells, like articles of luxury, ought to be the least
articles of consideration.
We talk of religion. Let us talk of truth; for that
which is not truth, is not worthy of the name of religion.
We see different parts of the world overspread with
different books, each of which, though contradictory to the other, is
said by its partisans to be of divine origin, and is made a rule of
faith and practice.
In countries under despotic governments, where inquiry
is always forbidden, the people are condemned to believe as they have
been taught by their priests. This was for many centuries the case in
France: but this link in the chain of slavery is happily broken by the
revolution; and, that it may never be riveted again, let us employ a
part of the liberty we enjoy in scrutinizing into the truth.
Let us leave behind us some monument, that we have
made the cause and honor of our Creator an object of our care. If we
have been imposed upon by the terrors of government and the artifice of
priests in matters of religion, let us do justice to our Creator by
examining into the case. His name is too sacred to be affixed to
anything which is fabulous; and it is our duty to inquire whether we
believe, or encourage the people to believe, in fables or in facts.
It would be a project worthy the situation we are in,
to invite an inquiry of this kind. We have committees for various
objects; and, among others, a committee for bells. We have institutions,
academies, and societies for various purposes; but we have none for
inquiring into historical truth in matters of religious concern.
They show us certain books which they call the Holy
Scriptures, the word of God, and other names of that kind; but we ought
to know what evidence there is for our believing them to be so, and at
what time they originated and in what manner. We know that men could
make books, and we know that artifice and superstition could give them a
name, -- could call them sacred. But we ought to be careful that the
name of our Creator be not abused. Let then all the evidence with
respect to those books be made a subject of inquiry. If there be
evidence to warrant our belief of them, let us encourage the propagation
of it; but if not, let us be careful not to promote the cause of
delusion and falsehood.
I have already spoken of the Quakers -- that they have
no priests, no bells -- and that they are remarkable for their care of
the poor of their Society. They are equally as remarkable for the
education of their children. I am a descendant of a family of that
profession; my father was a Quaker; and I presume I may be admitted an
evidence of what I assert.
The seeds of good principles, and the literary means
of advancement in the world, are laid in early life. Instead, therefore,
of consuming the substance of the nation upon priests, whose life at
best is a life of idleness, let us think of providing for the education
of those who have not the means of doing it themselves. One good
schoolmaster is of more use than a hundred priests.
If we look back at what was the condition of France
under the ancien regime, we
cannot acquit the priests of corrupting the morals of the nation. Their
pretended celibacy led them to carry debauchery and domestic infidelity
into every family where they could gain admission; and their blasphemous
pretensions to forgive sins encouraged the commission of them. Why has
the Revolution of France been stained with crimes, which the Revolution
of the United States of America was not? Men are physically the same in
all countries; it is education that makes them different. Accustom a
people to believe that priests or any other class of men can forgive
sins, and you will have sins in abundance.
I come now to speak more particularly to the object of
You claim a privilege incompatible with the
constitution and with rights. The constitution protects equally, as it
ought to do, every profession of religion; it gives no exclusive
privilege to any. The churches are the common property of all the
people; they are national goods, and cannot be given exclusively to any
one profession, because the right does not exist of giving to any one
that which appertains to all.
It would be consistent with right that the churches be
sold, and the money arising therefrom be invested as a fund for the
education of children of poor parents of every profession, and, if more
than sufficient for this purpose, that the surplus be appropriated to
the support of the aged poor. After this, every profession can erect its
own place of worship, if it choose -- support its own priests, if it
choose to have any -- or perform its worship without priests, as the
As to bells, they are a public nuisance. If one
profession is to have bells, and another has the right to use the
instruments of the same kind, or any other noisy instrument, some may
choose to meet at the sound of cannon, another at the beat of drum,
another at the sound of trumpets, and so on, until the whole becomes a
scene of general confusion. But if we permit ourselves to think of the
state of the sick, and the many sleepless nights and days they undergo,
we shall feel the impropriety of increasing their distress by the noise
of bells, or any other noisy instruments.
Quiet and private domestic devotion neither offends
nor incommodes anybody; and the Constitution has wisely guarded against
the use of externals. Bells come under this description, and public
processions still more so. Streets and highways are for the
accommodation of persons following their several occupations, and no
sectary has a right to incommode them. If anyone has, every other has
the same; and the meeting of various and contradictory processions would
Those who formed the Constitution had wisely reflected
upon these cases; and, whilst they were careful to reserve the equal
right of every one, they restrained everyone from giving offence, or
Men who, through a long and tumultuous scene, have lived in retirement as you have done, may think, when they arrive at power, that nothing is more easy than to put the world to rights in an instant; they form to themselves gay ideas at the success of their projects; but they forget to contemplate the difficulties that attend them, and the dangers with which they are pregnant.
Alas! nothing is so easy as to deceive one's self. Did
all men think as you think, or as you say, your plan would need no
advocate, because it would have no opposer; but there are millions who
think differently to you, and who are determined to be neither the dupes
nor the slaves of error or design.
It is your good fortune to arrive at power, when the
sunshine of prosperity is breaking forth after a long and stormy night.
The firmness of your colleagues, and of those you have succeeded -- the
unabated energy of the Directory, and the unequalled bravery of the
armies of the Republic, -- have made the way smooth and easy to you.
you look back at the difficulties that existed when the Constitution
commenced, you cannot but be confounded with admiration at the
difference between that time and now. At that moment the Directory were
placed like the forlorn hope of an army, but you were in safe
retirement. They occupied the post of honorable danger, and they have
merited well of their country.
You talk of justice and benevolence, but you begin at
the wrong end. The defenders of your country, and the deplorable state
of the poor, are objects of prior consideration to priests and bells and
You talk of peace, but your manner of talking of it
embarrasses the Directory in making it, and serves to prevent it. Had
you been an actor in all the scenes of government from its commencement,
you would have been too well informed to have brought forward projects
that operate to encourage the enemy.
When you arrived at a share in the government, you
found everything tending to a prosperous issue. A series of victories
unequalled in the world, and in the obtaining of which you had no share,
preceded your arrival. Every enemy but one was subdued; and that one,
(the Hanoverian government of England,) deprived of every hope, and a
bankrupt in all its resources, was suing for peace. In such a state of
things, no new question that might tend to agitate and anarchize the
interior ought to have had place; and the project you propose tends
directly to that end.
While France was a monarchy, and under the government
of those things called kings and priests, England could always defeat
her; but since France has RISEN TO BE A REPUBLIC, the GOVERNMENT OF
ENGLAND crouches beneath her, so great is the difference between a
government of kings and priests, and that which is founded on the system
But, could the Government of England find a way, under
the sanction of your report, to inundate France with a flood of emigrant
priests, she would find also the way to domineer as before; she would
retrieve her shattered finances at your expense, and the ringing of
bells would be the tocsin of your downfall.
Did peace consist in nothing but the cessation of war,
it would not be difficult; but the terms are yet to be arranged and
those terms will be better or worse, in proportion as France and her
counsels be united or divided. That the government of England counts
much upon your Report, and upon others of a similar tendency, is what
the writer of this letter, who knows that government well, has no doubt.
You are but new on the theatre of government, and you
ought to suspect yourself of misjudging; the experience of those who
have gone before you, should be of some service to you. But if, in
consequence of such measures as you propose, you put it out of the power
of the Directory to make a good peace, and force them to accept of terms
you would afterwards reprobate, it is yourself that must bear the
You conclude your report by the following address to
"Let us hasten, representatives of the people! to
affix to these tutelary laws the seal of our unanimous approbation. All
our fellow-citizens will learn to cherish political liberty from the
enjoyment of religious liberty: you will have broken the most powerful
arm of your enemies; you will have surrounded this assembly with the
most impregnable rampart -- confidence, and the people's love.
my colleagues, how desirable is that popularity which is the offspring
of good laws! What a consolation it will be to us hereafter, when
returned to our own firesides, to hear from the mouths of our
fellow-citizens these simple expressions --
Blessings reward you, men of
peace! you have restored to us our temples, our ministers, the liberty
of adoring the God of our fathers: you have recalled harmony to our
families -- morality to our hearts: You have made us adore the
legislature and respect all its laws!”
it possible, citizen representative, that you can be serious in this
address? Were the lives of the priests under the
ancien regime such as to
justify anything you say of them? Were not all France convinced of their
immorality? Were they not considered as the patrons of debauchery and
domestic infidelity, and not as the patrons of morals? What was their
pretended celibacy but perpetual adultery? What was their blasphemous
pretention to forgive sins but an encouragement to the commission of
them, and a love for their own?
you want to lead again into France all the vices of which they have been
the patrons, and to overspread the republic with English pensioners? It
is cheaper to corrupt than to conquer; and the English Government,
unable to conquer, will stoop to corrupt. Arrogance and meanness, though
in appearance opposite, are vices of the same heart.
Instead of concluding in the manner you have done, you
ought rather to have said:
"O my colleagues! we are arrived at a glorious period
-- a period that promises more than we could have expected, and all that
we could have wished. Let us hasten to take into consideration the
honors and rewards due to our brave defenders. Let us hasten to give
encouragement to agriculture and manufactures, that commerce may
reinstate itself, and our people have employment. Let us review the
condition of the suffering poor, and wipe from our country the reproach
of forgetting them.
“Let us devise means to establish schools of
instruction, that we may banish the ignorance that the
ancien regime of kings and
priests had spread among the people. Let us propagate morality,
unfettered by superstition. Let us cultivate justice and benevolence,
that the God of our fathers may bless us. The helpless infant and the
aged poor cry to us to remember them. Let not wretchedness be seen in
our streets. Let France exhibit to the world the glorious example of
expelling ignorance and misery together.
"Let these, my virtuous colleagues, be the subject of
our care that, when we return among our fellow-citizens they may say,
Worthy representatives! you have
done well. You have done justice and honor to our brave defenders. You
have encouraged agriculture, cherished our decayed manufactures, given
new life to commerce, and employment to our people.
“You have removed from our the reproach of forgetting the poor -- You have caused the cry of the orphan to cease -- You have wiped the tear from the eye of the suffering mother -- You have given comfort to the aged and infirm -- You have penetrated into the gloomy recesses of wretchedness, and have banished it.
“Welcome among us, ye brave and virtuous
representatives, and may your example be followed by your successors!"
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