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tant and momentous questions ? Suppose it to adopt Christianity as its standard of reli gious truth ; still there are degrees and differences in Christianity * Will the state or will it not admit any one to be a Christian who does not be * lieve the doctrine of the Divinity of Jesus Christ without any qualification ? If ' it does not , the Socinian , the Pelagian , and many more professing Christians * are declared to be out of the pale of this law of the state . If , on the other
hand , they are admitted , two sorts of truth are recognized as legal ; the door is open to all kinds of dissent ; and the end sought to be attained , is altogether missed . Take another supposition . Let there be a line drawn thus : say that only the Atheist and the Materialist shall be proscribed , because it may be assumed that there is not a particle of truth contained in their doctrines . ' Still this would be saying in other words , that the state not being able to decide what is the true religion , authorizes and establishes all , on consideration that every body shall profess some religion ; but that those who refuse
to profess any shall be punished . But are Materialists and Atheists the only persons who neglect the outward conformities of religion ? There may be , for instance , a Deist who professes what is in accordance with all the great moral truths of Christianity ; must he , unless he conforms to some ceremonial of worship , be persecuted or proscribed ? Would you protect the Jew or the Armenian , or even the Indian who worships a God under nobody knows what absurd incarnation , while the man who thinks with Plato or Marcus Aure-Hus should be put out of the protection of the laws ? Nothing could be more absurd .
There is then no medium . The state , if it would not outrage common sense , must make no difference between differing opinions on matters of religion or philosophy , whatever they may be . It must grant equal liberty , equal protection , to all sorts of belief or disbelief , as matters of opinion . What , it maybe said , is the Atheist then to be protected ? M . Vinet says , Yes
and here the honesty of his conviction is put to the test . An Atheist is in his eyes a monster , and he calls him so involuntarily , yet he claims for him toleration and protection ; and it is only in the event of his seeing such a person practising , by overt acts , what we may consider the consequence of his principles , and committing actions destructive of the peace and order of society , that he would consider himself justified in departing from his neutrality , and
then only to restrain the acts , not the opinions . In short , M . Vinet contends , that the nature of religious opinion precludes the possibility of the state ' s determining , with certainty and justice , which is the . best , and can , therefore , adopt no one form of worshi p in preference to another ; and secondly , that , if it had the power , liberty of conscience would forbid the right to exercise it .
This is the theory from which M , Vinet proceeds to the policy of its application . He supposes that it may be asked , admitting that social morality and forms of religion are distinct , Is there not a necessary connexion between civil order and religion ? The state is not an abstract existence without passions or prejudices ; it is an assembly of men who , as men , have their opinions . How then , it may be said , can it be expected that when , possessed of power * they should not and ought not to employ it to protect the faith which
they adopt ? Besides , in so doing , they may be actuated by the best motives ; among governments there may , perhaps , be some who consult the good of the governed . May not , therefore , one who is convinced of the efficacy of religion on the morals of men , and who is convinced that the religion he professes is pure , mild , and full of good fruits , give it his encouragement . Drotect it . and seek to make it prevail over all others ?
Review . —Vinet on Religious Liberty . 281
VOL . I . U
Monthly Repository (1806-1838) and Unitarian Chronicle (1832-1833), April 2, 1827, page 281, in the Nineteenth-Century Serials Edition (2008; 2018) ncse.ac.uk/periodicals/mruc/issues/vm2-ncseproduct1795/page/49/