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Dear Joseph

I have just recieved your letter. I delivered the enclosed immediately. Whatever
fault is imputable to you, or on whomsoever censure may justly fall in this affair, I am
well perswaded that a continuance of this Correspondence of yours with Stella, can answer
no good end.

I have advanced but little way in any useful tract: but have read far more
than I have written. Another instance thou wilt suppose of my instability; by this
time I ought to have finished the design that I had contemplated, but Alas! it is
very remote from a conclusion, and know not when I shall arrive at it. The epistolary
and narrative forms of Composition have each their respective advantages, but I have
no doubt about the superiority of the former if it were well executed; but the latter is in
itself, an easier task, though abundantly difficult, and one to which, I approach very
near to the discovery, that my powers are absolutely inadequate. It being however easier
than the other whatever I write with a view to the amusement of the world, will cer-
-tainly be in the form of the narrative.

I listen with respect to your advice on the subject of Christianity, but, my
friend, we are far from well understanding each other on this subject. How ambiguous
is the meaning of that word.? How difficult to ascertain its true meaning? You talk
of it as if you thoroughly understood it; You are aware that there are a thousand sects
in the world, who call themselves Christians, who differ essentially from each other
in their practical and speculative creed, that their are sects who [gap] affirm the
humanity of Christ, and denye the eternity of future punishment, and whose religion
justifyes every freak of fickleness, and and caprice of the passions. Have you determined
which of these is the true? Are you qualified, by your present ignorance of languages and
history, to decide those intricate and obscure questions? If you are, I am not

Then the question between is, not whether I condemn christianity, but whether
I condemn your system of Christianity: What is it? You have more than once assured me
that our Morality agrees. If so I fight not against it. I am supporting and confirming
it. If the moral precepts of Christs are good they are mine, because they are true, if
bad nothing can induce me to esteem them good, and there can be no question about the
propriety of endeavouring to exterminate pernicious and erronious doctrines, but that which,
in truth, denominates any system of belief religious, and which probably makes a part
of your creed, relates to the authority of the lawmaker and the sanction of the law.

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If Christ was no more than Pythagoras or Socrates, the acceptance of his doctrines, moral
or metaphysical, must depend upon their intrinsic evidence, nor according to the common
acceptation of that term, can his system be termed a Religion; but if he was of nearer
kin than other men to the deity, and the effect of that relationship be, a readier
submission to his injunctions, and if our compliance or non compliance with his instructions
be rewarded or punished hereafter, the case is materially altered: Are these tenets Christianity
Are they necessary parts of it? And in Attacking these tenets, in reducing Christ to the
rank of the Greican Sages, do I assail the bulkwarks of Christianity, in your opinion?
I suppose you will answer yes. If so I can make no scruple to answer all your questions
in the affirmative “I really think Christianity, that is the belief of the divinity of
Christ and future retribution, have been pernicious to mankind? That it has and does
destroy friendship and benevolence? That it has created war and engendered hatred, ‸ & Entailed
inexpressible calamities on Mankind—You tell me that these effects have flowed
from the errors and ignorance of mankind, from their misconception of the gospel precpts
which enjoin universal love and concord: the return of good for evil, and Succour of
the needly and benificence to all, and that it is wrong to impute that to the
doctrine which is to be imputed only to the ignorance or passions of its followers?”
I answer that these effects have flowed from the belief of the divinity of Christ
and of a belief of future retribution. It is for you to determine whether these be parts
of Christianity. Whether the religion of Constantine and the Roman Empire; Of the
Subjects of Charlemagne, the Crusaders; the men of Italy and Spain and France and
Germany and Russia and G. Britain was and is Christianity or not. If these be not parts
of Christianity then, in opposing these, I am only the friend of genuine christianity

I am almost affraid of that angry and contemptuous frown which is at this
moment sitting on your brow. You imagine I overlook the most obvious distinctions, and
exhibit the strangest example of absurdity and inconsistency; Your heart is eloquent
in praise of boundless love and universal beneficence: This in your opinion is the christi
=an doctrine, and you wonder how any can imagine these to be apologies for vice, and warrants
of injustice. I despair of banishing this cloud. I write on this subject without that
energy and perspicuity which are the surest means of conviction while they arise
mearely from the perswasion that it is practicable to impart conviction

This divine teacher enjoins us to adhere to truth and do justly. He that acts thus

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and who at the same time believes that he who thus enjoins is commissioned by
God, shall be rewarded hereafter with happiness: ‸ he who acts contrary and denies this
shall be punished hereafter with misery. The hope of future and blissful existance
must be a powerful incitement to adhere to truth and do justly: the dread of future
misery, equally lasting and exquisite, must be ‸ a cogent motive for abstinence from ill.
What can be urged against this conclusion? Can any thing be nearer demonstration?
And ‸ why would you endeavor to shake the confidence of men from a System of morality
which enlarges all the amiable affections of the heart, consoles the afflicted and
elevates the soul to the sublimest contemplations?”

This last my friend, is a droll question: It would indeed be a subject of curiosity
why one men should consume his time and pains in making others unhappy and my
unjust; but it would be a strange question to ask, because it implies a concession
in the Questioned, that he is really busy to an evil purpose. I for my own part
cannot answer your enquiry; it poses me, I must own. I can conceive no earthly
reason why I should employ myself only in injuring mankind, but I am at no loss
to justify the purpose which I, in reality cherish, that of confirming the confidence
of men in a System of Morality which renders boundless the amiable affections of
the heart, annihilates affliction, and dedicates the soul exclusively and wholly to the
sublimest contemplations. This purpose you will not require from me laboriously to
justify. I shall always recieve, for doubtless I shall merit your applause, by endeavouring
to enforce on Mankind the observance of their duty, and by demonstrating the connection
between their duty and their happiness. It is not the rational business of men to settle
what is the creed of Moses, of Christ, of Mahomet of Confucius, of Pythagoras or Solon.
It is indeed not without use: it is, in a certain degree, properly the theme of histori
=cal curiosity, but the chief business is to ascertain the dictates of moral duty, by
consulting his Understanding; and measuring the opinions of others, whatever may be
their pretensions, by the standard of his own judgement.—You say I have mistaken the
christian tenets. It is of little moment: I denye that religious sanctions are friendly to
morality: I denye the superhuman Authority of any teacher; and a future retribution:
Were these affirmed by Jesus Christ or merely by you.? It is indiferent: The truth is the same
independantly of any ones assertion or Authority. The deity is said to have commanded men, through
the mouth of one prophet, to hate their enemies and to shed the blood of him by whom
blood has been shed, and to th‸rough the mouth of another, to love their enemies and benefit
those by whom we are injured: now in my opinion hatred and killing are just [gap] or unjust
and that of consequence it is, or is not our duty to hate and kill as if it had never been enjoined

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in one case or prohibited in the other, and that truth is immutable

But what is the extent of my mistake? Let us dismiss what have been termed the
doctrinal points of Christianity; and discend to the practical. Have I been guilty of mistake
with respect to these? So far as others differ from you, You must esteem them in an error, that is
they annex the sanctions of the Christian religion to modes of conduct and opinion to which you
think it is inapplicable: in other words they err in their estimate of that which will entitle
them to favour and reward from the deity, or which ‸ will expose them to his displeasure and
punishment: This is an error of no little importance. Is it not my friend? Is it not with respect
to these enormously pernicious? for bad actions, in these circumstances, will be as powerfully
prompted as good actions would in other circumstances: I need not send your curiosity
gadding into antcent times and remote regions: I need not enumerate the errors (you
will unquestionably deem them such) of the millions that have lived, and the millions
that live at present: You have affirmed that the hope ‸ of eternal reward or the fear of
eternal punishment are powerful motives to actions. Jesus Christ has annexed these sanctions
to a certain mode of action: from unfortunate contingences [gap] a part of mankind has
mistaken the application and imagined rewards and punishments hereafter prepared for
these actions respectively, of which the real allotment is exactly different. It is not requi
sate to point out the consequences of this error. They are sufficiently and dreadfully manifest

I fear my friend you will number me among the erring; I doubt whether my apprehen-
sions of moral duty can be reconciled with any natural and obvious construction to be
put ‸ upon all the precepts of Christianity. I mean the moral or practical precepts; With respect
to some, indeed, I am sure they can not: but you will probably be of a different opinion
In some cases you will think my own tenets eronious, and in others, easily reconcilable
with what You will esteem a just and natural construction of the language of the
New testament. But I cannot help this difference between us: It will be an additional
Argument with me that religious sanctions are unfriendly to morality: The Construction of
one of us only can be true: One of us must commit actions positively w‸rong; with the
additional incitement that they are sanctioned by Heaven: And what shall I think of
the Utility of motives which may operate with equal force with respect to opposite actions
and which are infinitely more in danger of being applied erroniously than rightly, of
inciting to evil than to good.

It is only when the precepts of Christ are rightly enterpreted, that you will allow
the Utility of the hopes and fears which this religion imparts. By whomsoever they are
misinterpreted, injury and not benefit must follow. The sanctions of a positive law being alto-
=gether arbitrary in [gap] ‸ their connection with practice

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“Do you admit then that the precepts of Christ constitute, when rightly under-
stood, a System of true Virtue, and that the christian premises are powerful
incitements to virtue; Or do ‸ you still more liberally admit with Archdeacon Papley
the necessity of a Revelation to point out to men their duty, and enforce their
performance of it.”

I would speak with moderation, my good friend, upon this Subject. I know
your opinions on this subject, and that such, in your eyes, is the importance, that
of Religion that you find it difficult to tolerate reasoning, much less
ridicule when aimed at religion. I should hurt you by uttering my real
Sentiments on this strange concession of the necessity of revelation to enligh-
=ten our Understanding or invigorate our fortitude. A Concession on which your
favourite authour has built all his arguments in defence of Christianity,
and without which all that he has said is vague and superfluous.

But why have I dwelt this long on this unprofitable subject? Your
letter has betrayed me into it. Truth is, doubtless preferable to error. It is but
a slight effort of virtue to desire or endeavour the Conversion of our friend
The obligation must be equally incumbent on us both: yet there is unfor-
=tunately wanting in one or both of us the prevalence of that temper
which would make epistolary or conversational discussion a sure means of
discovering truth.

Reflexion is sufficient for all purposes: if the machine of reflex
-ion can once be set going: but to this, is not the belief of the possible
erroniousness of our present conclusions necessary? I cannot pretend to produce
this doubt in you, and yet I can not help desiring you to reflect upon the
foundations of your present opinions, and to give a deliberate and impartial
reperusal to one authour, to whom, in my present mode of thinking, I unto
appeal, as to an Oracle.

I once think thought, as, possibly, you now think that religious
belief were desirable, even if it were erronious. I am now of a different opi=

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=nion, and believe that utility must always be coincident to truth:

I shall not scruple to practice that which I recommend to you: profound
and impartial reflexion upon these subjects. But I can safely affirm that
I can listen with candour and calmness to the Advocate of religion; and that
you cannot speak or write upon a subject on which I can listen with
more attention and complacency. Too much cannot be said this subject
and if you can have patience to enter into formal defences of that
which you perhaps think too clear to admit of a moments doubt
among disingenuous and impartial people I shall thank you for it

It is useless to lament the irreparable past. If the belief did not
influence me that the benefits and pleasures of our future intercourse
would counterbalance the evils occasioned by the past, I should sincerely
execrate the hour and the instrument that brought me to the knowledge
of Stel[gap] No good end can be answered by enquiring who has been blameless
or culpable in this affair: yet I am irresistably impelled to comment on
your remarks respecting it.

Supposing Stella’s insinuation to be unjust, I should not suspect
it capable of inciting in the breast of one far inferior to you in good
sence and generosity, a sensation of asperity. You assure me, my friend
that it did not excite it in you. As one acquainted with Stellas Charac-
=ter, with the value, to such an one, of reputation, and the anguish
that must flow from the supposed loss of it; as one capable for a moment
of assuming the person of another, the evidence of such a Sensation would
indeed be wonderful.

In this belief I read your answer; will you allow me to say that it
did not answer my expectations, and that the last sentence appeared to
flow from a Sentiment too near akin to that which you have imputed
to her?

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This is a most mournful topic: My heart bleeds whenever I reflect upon
the consequences of your unfortunate Conversation, and letter to her. No event could
be more disastrous in its effects to me, to her and to Timothy: I was decieved
by ‸ her momentary magnanimity, and thought the predictions of misery to them
both which my heart uttered when you informed me of your promise to be
more explicit with her and of your ingagement t that effect in the Sunday
evening conversation, were not to be fulfilled, but I fear they are now
to be accomplished in their full extent.

But no more of this: Forgive me Joseph if this affecting subject
has betrayed me into an appearance of acrimony. And, depend upon it, it is
acrimony in appearance merely. Present my affectionate devoirs to Miss F.
and her Sister, and all best wishes for your own health and happiness. You
and Laura, I trust, the path of love, are treading, and marching, [gap]ly
perhaps, but certainly to the fane of Matrimony; I can discern [gap]
=ion in that path, but such as arise from Considerations the va[gap]
which you would not allow, and which you would think sprung [gap]
a propensity to fastidious and phantastical refinement.

I have heard from Elihu: He and the rest of them are well. He presents
to you his respects. I shall comply with your wishes respecting books.
C. B. B~

P.S. Mr Volney has arrived from France. He has endeavoured to procure the
use of the library apartment for the delivery of the lecture, on history
this winter, which you know he delivered as professor in the Lyceum
at Paris: This you will think an event, interesting to all men of liberal
curiosity. I sincerely hope it may take place. I have been to Woodbury
and spent some hours with Amos Pierce. He is a better mind than I expected to
find him~~

Octobr. 24. 1795~

The only new books of value that I have met with are Dr. Moores view of the causes
and progress of the french Revolution, and Mrs. Radcliffes journey in holland and
the Netherlands. A judicious and valuable work Mrs. R. the Novellist.

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Joseph Bringhurst Junr
Wilmington (Delaware)