His Controversy With An Infidel

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 m
st 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.