Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
A Sceptic in Religion
By John Earle (1601?1665)
IS one that hangs in the balance with all sorts of opinions, whereof not one but stirs him and none sways him. A man guiltier of credulity than he is taken to be; for it is out of his belief of every thing that he fully believes nothing. Each religion scares him from its contrary: none persuades him to itself. He would be wholly a Christian, but that he is something of an atheist, and wholly an atheist, but that he is partly a Christian; and a perfect heretic, but that there are so many to distract him. He finds reason in all opinions, truth in none: indeed the least reason perplexes him, and the best will not satisfy him. He is at most a confused and wild Christian, not specialised, by any form, but capable of all. He uses the lands religion, because it is next him, yet he sees not why he may not take the other, but he chooses this, not as better, but because there is not a pin to choose. He finds doubts and scruples better than resolves them, and is always too hard for himself. His learning is too much for his brain, and his judgment too little for his learning, and his over-opinion of both spoils all. Pity it was his mischance of being a scholar: for it does only distract and irregulate him and the world by him. He hammers much in general upon our opinions uncertainty, and the possibility of erring makes him not venture on what is true. He is troubled at this naturalness of religion to countries, that Protestantism should be born so in England and Popery abroad, and that fortune and the stars should so much share in it. He likes not this connexion of the Common-weal and divinity, and fears it may be an arch-practice of state. In our differences with Rome he is strangely unfixt, and a new man every day, as his last discourse-books meditations transport him. He could like the grey hairs of Popery, did not some dotages there stagger him; he would come to us sooner, but our new name affrights him. He is taken with their miracles but doubts an imposture; he conceives of our doctrine better, but it seems too empty and naked. He cannot drive into his fancy the circumscription of truth to our corner, and is as hardly persuaded to think their old legends true. He approves well of our faith, and more of their works, and is sometimes much affected at the zeal of Amsterdam. His conscience interposes itself betwixt duellers, and whilst it would part both, is by both wounded. He will sometimes propend much to us upon the reading a good writer and at Bellarmine recoils as far back again; and the fathers jostle him from one side to another. Now Socinus and Vorstius afresh torture him, and he agrees with none worse than himself. He puts his foot into heresies tenderly, as a cat in the water, and pulls it out again, and still something unanswered delays him, yet he bears away some parcel of each, and you may sooner pick all religions out of him than one. He cannot think so many wise men should be in error, nor so many honest men out of the way, and his wonder is doubled, when he sees these oppose one another. He hates authority as the tyrant of reason, and you cannot anger him worse than with a Fathers dixit, and yet that many are not persuaded with reason, shall authorise his doubt. In sum, his whole life is a question, and his salvation a greater, which death only concludes, and then he is resolved.