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His Controversy With An Infidel

Irish Humour Home

Some time in the year 1775, a book was published, the title of which
was--Thoughts on Nature and Religion, which contained much gross
blasphemy. Its author, a Scottish physician of the name of Blair,
residing in Cork, undertook to be the champion of free-thinking in
religion; and, under the plausible pretext of vindicating the conduct of
Servetus in his controversy with Calvin, this writer boldly attacked
some of the most universally received articles of the Christian Creed.
The work attracted some share of public attention. A poetical effusion
in verse was addressed to Blair in reply by a minister of the Protestant
Church; and an Anabaptist minister also entered the lists with a
pamphlet nearly as sceptical as the one he professed to answer.

Father O'Leary's friends thought his style of controversy better suited
to silence the Doctor than that of either of the tried opponents, and
persuaded him to enter the lists. They were not disappointed. His reply
crushed Blair; while his wit and logic and grand toleration raised him
to the esteem and gratitude of his fellow-men. His first letter opens
with this beautiful introduction:

Sir--Your long expected performance has at length made its appearance.
If the work tended to promote the happiness of society, to animate our
hopes, to subdue our passions, to instruct man in the happy science of
purifying the polluted recesses of a vitiated heart, to confirm him in
his exalted notion of the dignity of his nature, and thereby to inspire
him with sentiments averse to whatever may debase the excellence of his
origin, the public would be indebted to you; your name would be recorded
amongst the assertors of morality and religion; and I myself, though
brought up in a different persuasion from yours, would be the first to
offer my incense at the shrine of merit. But the tendency of your
performance is to deny the divinity of Christ and the immortality of the
soul. In denying the first, you sap the foundations of religion; you cut
off at one blow the merit of our faith, the comfort of our hope, and the
motives of our charity. In denying the immortality of the soul, you
degrade human nature, and confound man with the vile and perishable
insect. In denying both, you overturn the whole system of religion,
whether natural or revealed; and in denying religion, you deprive the
poor of the only comfort which supports them under their distresses and
afflictions; you wrest from the hands of the powerful and rich the only
bridle to their injustices and passions, and pluck from the hearts of
the guilty the greatest check to their crimes--I mean this remorse of
conscience which can never be the result of a handful of organized
matter; this interior monitor, which makes us blush in the morning at
the disorders of the foregoing night; which erects in the breast of the
tyrant a tribunal superior to his power; and whose importunate voice
upbraids a Cain in the wilderness with the murder of his brother, and a
Nero in his palace with that of his mother.

Deploring the folly of him who thinks his soul is no more than a
subtile vapor, which in death is to be breathed out in the air, he
holds that such a person should conceal his horrid belief with more
secrecy than the Druids concealed their mysteries. * * In doing
otherwise, the infidel only brings disgrace on himself; for the notion
of religion is so deeply impressed on our minds, that the bold champions
who would fain destroy it, are considered by the generality of mankind
as public pests, spreading disorder and mortality wherever they appear;
and in our feelings we discover the delusions of cheating philosophy,
which can never introduce a religion more pure than that of the
Christian, nor confer a more glorious privilege on man than that of an
immortal soul.

Next: His Interview With Dr Mann

Previous: Arthur O'leary

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