THOUGHTS ON RELIGION
BY JONATHAN SWIFT
I am in all opinions to believe according to
my own impartial reason; which I am bound to
inform and improve, as far as my capacity and
opportunities will permit.
It may be prudent in me to act sometimes by
other men's reason, but I can think only by
If another man's reason fully convinceth me,
it becomes my own reason.
To say a man is bound to believe, is neither
truth nor sense.
You may force men, by interest or punishment,
to say or swear they believe, and to act as if
they believed: You can go no further.
Every man, as a member of the commonwealth,
ought to be content with the possession of
his own opinion in private, without perplexing
his neighbour or disturbing the public.
Violent zeal for truth hath an hundred to one
odds to be either petulancy, ambition, or pride.
There is a degree of corruption wherein some
nations, as bad as the world is, will proceed
to an amendment; till which time particular men
should be quiet.
To remove opinions fundamental in religion is
impossible, and the attempt wicked, whether
those opinions be true or false; unless your
avowed design be to abolish that religion
altogether. So, for instance, in the famous
doctrine of Christ's divinity, which hath been
universally received by all bodies of Christians,
since the condemnation of Arianism under
Constantine and his successors: Wherefore the
proceedings of the Socinians are both vain and
unwarrantable; because they will be never able
to advance their own opinion, or meet any other
success than breeding doubts and disturbances
in the world. Qui ratione sua disturbant
The want of belief is a defect that ought to
be concealed when it cannot be overcome.
The Christian religion, in the most early
times, was proposed to the Jews and heathens
without the article of Christ's divinity;
which, I remember, Erasmus accounts for, by
its being too strong a meat for babes. Perhaps,
if it were now softened by the Chinese missionaries,
the conversion of those infidels would be
less difficult: And we find by the Alcoran,
it is the great stumbling-block of the Mahometans.
But, in a country already Christian, to bring
so fundamental a point of faith into debate,
can have no consequences that are not pernicious
to morals and public peace.
I have been often offended to find St. Paul's
allegories, and other figures of Grecian
eloquence, converted by divines into articles
God's mercy is over all His works, but divines
of all sorts lessen that mercy too much.
I look upon myself, in the capacity of a
clergyman, to be one appointed by Providence
for defending a post assigned me, and for
gaining over as many enemies as I can. Although
I think my cause is just, yet one great motive
is my submitting to the pleasure of Providence,
and to the laws of my country.
I am not answerable to God for the doubts
that arise in my own breast, since they are
the consequence of that reason which He hath
planted in me; if I take care to conceal
those doubts from others, if I use my best
endeavours to subdue them, and if they have
no influence on the conduct of my life.
I believe that thousands of men would be
orthodox enough in certain points, if divines
had not been too curious, or too narrow, in
reducing orthodoxy within the compass of
subtleties, niceties, and distinctions, with
little warrant from Scripture and less from
reason or good policy.
I never saw, heard, nor read, that the clergy
were beloved in any nation where Christianity
was the religion of the country. Nothing can
render them popular but some degree of persecution.
Those fine gentlemen who affect the humour of
railing at the clergy, are, I think, bound in
honour to turn parsons themselves, and shew us
Miserable mortals! Can we contribute to the
honour and glory of God? I wish that expression
were struck out of our Prayer-books.
Liberty of conscience, properly speaking, is
no more than the liberty of possessing our
own thoughts and opinions, which every man
enjoys without fear of the magistrate: But
how far he shall publicly act in pursuance
of those opinions, is to be regulated by the
laws of the country. Perhaps, in my own thoughts,
I prefer a well-instituted commonwealth before
a monarchy; and I know several others of the
same opinion. Now, if, upon this pretence, I
should insist upon liberty of conscience, form
conventicles of republicans, and print books
preferring that government and condemning what
is established, the magistrate would, with
great justice, hang me and my disciples. It
is the same case in religion, although not so
avowed, where liberty of conscience, under the
present acceptation, equally produces revolutions,
or at least convulsions and disturbances in a
state; which politicians would see well enough,
if their eyes were not blinded by faction, and
of which these kingdoms, as well as France,
Sweden, and other countries, are flaming instances.
Cromwell's notion upon this article was natural
and right; when, upon the surrender of a town
in Ireland, the Popish governor insisted upon
an article for liberty of conscience, Cromwell
said, he meddled with no man's conscience; but,
if by liberty of conscience, the governor meant
the liberty of the mass, he had express orders
from the Parliament of England against admitting
any such liberty at all.
It is impossible that anything so natural, so
necessary, and so universal as death, should
ever have been designed by Providence as an evil
Although reason were intended by Providence to
govern our passions, yet it seems that, in two
points of the greatest moment to the being and
continuance of the world, God hath intended our
passions to prevail over reason. The first is,
the propagation of our species, since no wise
man ever married from the dictates of reason.
The other is, the love of life, which, from the
dictates of reason, every man would despise,
and wish it at an end, or that it never had a