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[146] wish or the courage to know on what ground they have formed their opinion! They have been taught that, to allow a doubt to arise in their minds on this point, would be sacrilegious, and to put in peril their salvation. They must believe in the plenary inspiration of the “sacred volume,” or they are “infidels,” who will justly deserve to be “cast into the lake of fire and brimstone.” Imposture may always be suspected when reason is commanded to abdicate the throne; when investigation is made a criminal act; when the bodies or spirits of men are threatened with pains and penalties if they do not subscribe to the popular belief; when appeals are made to human credulity, and not to the understanding.

Now, nothing can be more consonant to reason than that the more valuable a thing is, the more it will bear to be examined. If the Bible be, from Genesis to Revelation, divinely inspired, its warmest partisans need not be concerned as to its fate. It is to be examined with the same freedom as any other book, and taken precisely for what it is worth. It must stand or fall on its own inherent qualities, like any other volume. To know what it teaches, men must not stultify themselves, nor be made irrational by a blind homage. Their reason must be absolute in judgment, and act freely, or they cannot know the truth. They are not to object to what is simply incomprehensible—because no man can comprehend how it is that the sun gives light, or the acorn produces the oak; but what is clearly monstrous, or absurd, or impossible, cannot be endorsed by reason, and can never properly be made a test of religious faith, or an evidence of moral character.

To say that everything contained within the lids of the1 Bible is divinely inspired, and to insist upon the dogma as fundamentally important, is to give utterance to a bold fiction, and to require the suspension of the reasoning faculties. To say that everything in the Bible is to be believed, simply because it is found in that volume, is equally absurd and pernicious. It is the province of reason to “search the scriptures,” and determine what in them is true, and what false—what is probable, and what incredible—what is historically true, and what fabulous—what is compatible with the happiness of mankind, and what ought to be rejected as an example or rule of action—what is the letter that killeth, and what the spirit that maketh alive. When the various books of the Bible were written, or by whom they were written, no man living can tell. This is purely a matter of conjecture; and as conjecture is no

1 Cf. Lib. 18.186.

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