S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
After having treated of these false zealots in religion, I cannot forbear mentioning a monstrous species of men, who one would not think had any existence in nature, were they not to be met with in ordinary conversationI mean the zealots in atheism. One would fancy that these men, though they fall short, in every other respect, of those who make a profession of religion, would at least outshine them in this particular, and be exempt from that single fault which seems to grow out of the imprudent fervours of religion. But so it is, that infidelity is propagated with as much fierceness and contention, wrath and indignation, as if the safety of mankind depended on it.
Atheism, by which I mean a disbelief of a Supreme Being, and consequently of a future state, under whatsoever titles it shelter itself, may likewise very reasonably deprive a man of this cheerfulness of temper. There is something so particularly gloomy and offensive to human nature in the prospect of non-existence, that I cannot but wonder, with many excellent writers, how it is possible for a man to outlive the expectation of it.
A wise man, that lives up to the principles of reason and virtue, if one considers him in his solitude, as in taking in the system of the universe, observing the mutual dependence and harmony by which the whole frame of it hangs together, beating down his passions, or swelling his thoughts with magnificent ideas of Providence, makes a nobler figure in the eye of an intelligent being, than the greatest conqueror amidst all the pomps and solemnities of a triumph. On the contrary, there is not a more ridiculous animal than an atheist in his retirement. His mind is incapable of rapture or elevation. He can only consider himself as an insignificant figure in a landscape, and wandering up and down in a field or a meadow, under the same terms as the meanest animals about him, and as subject to as total a mortality as they; with this aggravation, that he is the only one amongst them who lies under the apprehension of it!
In distresses, he must be of all creatures the most helpless and forlorn; he feels the whole pressure of a present calamity, without being relieved by the memory of anything past, or the prospect of anything that is to come. Annihilation is the greatest blessing that he proposes to himself, and a halter or a pistol the only refuge he can fly to. But, if you would behold one of these gloomy miscreants in his poorest figure, you must consider him under the terrors or at the approach of death.
Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele: Tatler, No. 111.
I had rather believe all the fables in the legend, and the Talmud, and the Alcoran, than that this universal frame is without a mind: and therefore God never wrought miracles to convince atheism, because his ordinary works convince it. It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth mans mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth mens minds about to religion: for while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no farther; but when it beholdeth the chain of them confederate, and linked together, it must needs fly to providence and Deity.
They that deny a God destroy a mans nobility; for certainly man is of kin to the beasts by his body; and if he be not of kin to God by his spirit, he is a base and ignoble creature. It destroys, likewise, magnanimity, and the raising human nature.
There are several topics used against atheism and idolatry; such as the visible marks of divine wisdom and goodness in the works of the creation, the vital union of souls with matter, and the admirable structure of animate bodies.
Whatsoever atheists think on, or whatsoever they look on, all do administer some reasons for suspicion and diffidence, lest possibly they may be in the wrong; and then it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!
It is well known, both from ancient and modern experience, that the very boldest atheists, out of their debauches and company, when they chance to be surprised with solitude or sickness, are the most suspicious, timorous, and despondent wretches in the world.
All creatures ignorant of their own natures, could not universally in the whole kind, and in every climate and country, without any difference in the whole world, tend to a certain end, if some overruling wisdom did not preside over the world and guide them: and if the creatures have a Conductor, they have a Creator; all things are turned round about by his counsel, that they may do whatsoever he commands them, upon the face of the world in the earth. So that in this respect the folly of atheism appears. Without the owning a God, no account can be given of those actions of creatures, that are an imitation of reason.
For the first, every atheist is a grand fool. If he were not a fool, he would not imagine a thing so contrary to the stream of the universal reason of the world, contrary to the rational dictates of his own soul, and contrary to the testimony of every creature, and link, in the chain of creation: if he were not a fool, he would not strip himself of humanity, and degrade himself lower than the most despicable brute.
As when a man comes into a palace, built according to the exactest rule of art, and with an unexceptionable conveniency for the inhabitants, he would acknowledge both the being and skill of the builder; so whosoever shall observe the disposition of all the parts of the world, their connection, comeliness, the variety of seasons, the swarms of different creatures, and the mutual offices they render to one another, cannot conclude less, than it was contrived by an infinite skill, effected by infinite power, and governed by infinite wisdom. None can imagine a ship to be orderly conducted without a pilot; nor the parts of the world to perform their several functions without a wise guide; considering the members of the body cannot perform theirs, without the active presence of the soul. The atheist, then, is a fool to deny that which every creature in his constitution asserts, and thereby renders himself unable to give a satisfactory account of that constant uniformity in the motions of the creatures.
History doth not reckon twenty professed atheists in all ages in the compass of the whole world: and we have not the name of any one absolute atheist upon record in Scripture: yet it is questioned, whether any of them, noted in history with that infamous name, were downright deniers of the existence of God, but rather because they disparaged the deities commonly worshipped by the nations where they lived, as being of a clearer reason to discern that those qualities, vulgarly attributed to their gods, as lust and luxury, wantonness and quarrels, were unworthy of the nature of a god.
An atheist, if you take his word for it, is a very despicable mortal. Let us describe him by his tenet, and copy him a little from his own original. He is, then, no better than a heap of organized dust, a stalking machine, a speaking head without a soul in it. His thoughts are bound by the laws of motion, his actions are all prescribed. He has no more liberty than the current of a stream or the blast of a tempest; and where there is no choice there can be no merit.
Settle it therefore in your minds, as a maxim never to be effaced or forgotten, that atheism is an inhuman, bloody, ferocious system, equally hostile to every useful restraint and to every virtuous affection; that leaving nothing above us to excite awe, nor round us to awaken tenderness, it wages war with heaven and with earth: its first object is to dethrone God, its next to destroy man.
The atheist, in case things should fall out contrary to his belief or expectation, hath made no provision for this case; if contrary to his confidence it should prove in the issue that there is a God, the man is lost and undone forever.
The system, then, of reasoning from our own conjectures as to the necessity of the Most High doing so and so, tends to lead a man to proceed from the rejection of his own form of Christianity to a rejection of revelation altogether. But does it stop here? Does not the same system lead naturally to Atheism also? Experience shows that that consequence, which reason might have anticipated, does often actually take place.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacons Essay, Of Atheism.