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iii. 15.--Author.] this foolish
story, I say, has been made into a prophecy, a type, and a promise to
begin with; and the lying imposition of Isaiah to Ahaz, 'That a virgin
shall conceive and bear a son,' as a sign that Ahaz should conquer,
when the event was that he was defeated (as already noticed in the
observations on the book of Isaiah), has been perverted, and made to
serve as a winder up.

Jonah and the whale are also made into a sign and type. Jonah is Jesus,
and the whale is the grave; for it is said, (and they have made Christ
to say it of himself, Matt. xii. 40), "For as Jonah was three days and
three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of man be three days
and three nights in the heart of the earth." But it happens, awkwardly
enough, that Christ, according to their own account, was but one day
and two nights in the grave; about 36 hours instead of 72; that is, the
Friday night, the Saturday, and the Saturday night; for they say he was
up on the Sunday morning by sunrise, or before. But as this fits quite
as well as the bite and the kick in Genesis, or the virgin and her son
in Isaiah, it will pass in the lump of orthodox things.--Thus much for
the historical part of the Testament and its evidences.

Epistles of Paul--The epistles ascribed to Paul, being fourteen in
number, almost fill up the remaining part of the Testament. Whether
those epistles were written by the person to whom they are ascribed is
a matter of no great importance, since that the writer, whoever he was,
attempts to prove his doctrine by argument. He does not pretend to
have been witness to any of the scenes told of the resurrection and the
ascension; and he declares that he had not believed them.

The story of his being struck to the ground as he was journeying to
Damascus, has nothing in it miraculous or extraordinary; he escaped with
life, and that is more than many others have done, who have been struck
with lightning; and that he should lose his sight for three days, and be
unable to eat or drink during that time, is nothing more than is common
in such conditions. His companions that were with him appear not to have
suffered in the same manner, for they were well enough to lead him the
remainder of the journey; neither did they pretend to have seen any
vision.

The character of the person called Paul, according to the accounts
given of him, has in it a great deal of violence and fanaticism; he had
persecuted with as much heat as he preached afterwards; the stroke
he had received had changed his thinking, without altering his
constitution; and either as a Jew or a Christian he was the same zealot.
Such men are never good moral evidences of any doctrine they preach.
They are always in extremes, as well of action as of belief.

The doctrine he sets out to prove by argument, is the resurrection of
the same body: and he advances this as an evidence of immortality.
But so much will men differ in their manner of thinking, and in the
conclusions they draw from the same premises, that this doctrine of
the resurrection of the same body, so far from being an evidence of
immortality, appears to me to be an evidence against it; for if I have
already died in this body, and am raised again in the same body in which
I have died, it is presumptive evidence that I shall die again. That
resurrection no more secures me against the repetition of dying, than an
ague-fit, when past, secures me against another. To believe therefore in
immortality, I must have a more elevated idea than is contained in the
gloomy doctrine of the resurrection.

Besides, as a matter of choice, as well as of hope, I had rather have a
better body and a more convenient form than the present. Every animal
in the creation excels us in something. The winged insects, without
mentioning doves or eagles, can pass over more space with greater ease
in a few minutes than man can in an hour. The glide of the smallest
fish, in proportion to its bulk, exceeds us in motion almost beyond
comparison, and without weariness. Even the sluggish snail can ascend
from the bottom of a dungeon, where man, by the want of that ability,
would perish; and a spider can launch itself from the top, as a playful
amusement. The personal powers of man are so limited, and his heavy
frame so little constructed to extensive enjoyment, that there is
nothing to induce us to wish the opinion of Paul to be true. It is too
little for the magnitude of the scene, too mean for the sublimity of the
subject.

But all other arguments apart, the consciousness of existence is the
only conceivable idea we can have of another life, and the continuance
of that consciousness is immortality. The consciousness of existence, or
the knowing that we exist, is not necessarily confined to the same form,
nor to the same matter, even in this life.

We have not in all cases the same form, nor in any case the same matter,
that composed our bodies twenty or thirty years ago; and yet we are
conscious of being the same persons. Even legs and arms, which make up
almost half the human frame, are not necessary to the consciousness of
existence. These may be lost or taken away and the full consciousness
of existence remain; and were their place supplied by wings, or other
appendages, we cannot conceive that it could alter our consciousness of
existence. In short, we know not how much, or rather how little, of our
composition it is, and how exquisitely fine that little is, that creates
in us this consciousness of existence; and all beyond that is like the
pulp of a peach, distinct and separate from the vegetative speck in the
kernel.

Who can say by what exceeding fine action of fine matter it is that a
thought is produced in what we call the mind? and yet that thought
when produced, as I now produce the thought I am writing, is capable
of becoming immortal, and is the only production of man that has that
capacity.

Statues of brass and marble will perish; and statues made in imitation
of them are not the same statues, nor the same workmanship, any more
than the copy of a picture is the same picture. But print and reprint
a thought a thousand times over, and that with materials of any kind,
carve it in wood, or engrave it on stone, the thought is eternally
and identically the same thought in every case. It has a capacity of
unimpaired existence, unaffected by change of matter, and is essentially
distinct, and of a nature different from every thing else that we know
of, or can conceive. If then the thing produced has in itself a capacity
of being immortal, it is more than a token that the power that produced
it, which is the self-same thing as consciousness of existence, can
be immortal also; and that as independently of the matter it was first
connected with, as the thought is of the printing or writing it first
appeared in. The one idea is not more difficult to believe than the
other; and we can see that one is true.

That the consciousness of existence is not dependent on the same form
or the same matter, is demonstrated to our senses in the works of
the creation, as far as our senses are capable of receiving that
demonstration. A very numerous part of the animal creation preaches to
us, far better than Paul, the belief of a life hereafter. Their little
life resembles an earth and a heaven, a present and a future state; and
comprises, if it may be so expressed, immortality in miniature.

The most beautiful parts of the creation to our eye are the winged
insects, and they are not so originally. They acquire that form and
that inimitable brilliancy by progressive changes. The slow and creeping
caterpillar worm of to day, passes in a few days to a torpid figure, and
a state resembling death; and in the next change comes forth in all the
miniature magnificence of life, a splendid butterfly. No resemblance of
the former creature remains; every thing is changed; all his powers
are new, and life is to him another thing. We cannot conceive that the
consciousness of existence is not the same in this state of the animal
as before; why then must I believe that the resurrection of the same
body is necessary to continue to me the consciousness of existence
hereafter?

In the former part of 'The Agee of Reason.' I have called the creation
the true and only real word of God; and this instance, or this text, in
the book of creation, not only shows to us that this thing may be so,
but that it is so; and that the belief of a future state is a rational
belief, founded upon facts visible in the creation: for it is not more
difficult to believe that we shall exist hereafter in a better state and
form than at present, than that a worm should become a butterfly, and
quit the dunghill for the atmosphere, if we did not know it as a fact.

As to the doubtful jargon ascribed to Paul in 1 Corinthians xv., which
makes part of the burial service of some Christian sectaries, it is
as destitute of meaning as the tolling of a bell at the funeral; it
explains nothing to the understanding, it illustrates nothing to the
imagination, but leaves the reader to find any meaning if he can. "All
flesh," says he, "is not the same flesh. There is one flesh of men,
another of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds." And what
then? nothing. A cook could have said as much. "There are also," says
he, "bodies celestial and bodies terrestrial; the glory of the celestial
is one and the glory of the terrestrial is the other." And what then?
nothing. And what is the difference? nothing that he has told. "There
is," says he, "one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and
another glory of the stars." And what then? nothing; except that he says
that one star differeth from another star in glory, instead of distance;
and he might as well have told us that the moon did not shine so bright
as the sun. All this is nothing better than the jargon of a conjuror,
who picks up phrases he does not understand to confound the credulous
people who come to have their fortune told. Priests and conjurors are of
the same trade.

Sometimes Paul affects to be a naturalist, and to prove his system of
resurrection from the principles of vegetation.



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