The excerpt explains how religion fails when it is taught as a superstition, attended by bigotry, instead of as a rational, evidence-based truth that embraces examination. Some might find it astonishing to realize that this was written over 200 years ago. It reads as if it could have been written yesterday. It is congruent with the Church's emphasis on family-centered, Church supported gospel learning, and it has application to M2C and other issues.*
One key passage: "Strive to comprehend the evidence for the divine authenticity of the sacred scriptures yourselves."
As you read this, recall that for Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, and their contemporaries and successors, the New York Cumorah was a key component of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
Respecting the unfaithfulness of parents preparing the way for the reign of infidelity, and the
importance of religiously educating children as a barrier against it.
One of the most deplorable consequences attending a neglect of parental duty, is the prevalence of infidelity. The professed friends of religion have contributed, indirectly, to raise up a formidable enemy against it [i.e., against religion]. It is evident that the unfaithfulness of parents, in the government and religious education of their children, has prepared the way for the reign of this pernicious evil.
Fifty years ago, there was perhaps fifty times the attention paid to the government and religious education of children in this country, in proportion to the number of inhabitants, that there has been for some years past. At that period there was scarcely an infidel to be found. If there were any who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ and the sacred scriptures, they were obliged to be silent ; for such characters were held in universal abhorrence. But now infidelity triumphs over shame, appears entirely without a mask, and often enters our temples, dedicated to the worship of that God and Saviour, whom it does not hesitate publicly to blaspheme without a blush....
But the popular cry is, that period was the reign of superstition and religious bigotry. And that superstition and bigotry served as blinders to their eyes, and prevented people from acting rationally. They disposed people to take things for granted on their parents' testimony, and place such an implicit confidence in their veracity, as forbid inquiry. But the present is the reign of reason, they say, a time for rational inquiry. These blinders are removed, and the human mind is rising above these prejudices, and people now see how much they have been imposed upon by their ancestors.
And here it must be observed, that we have no objection against having religion come to the light. We believe it will bear the most critical investigation. And notwithstanding it has been to some a stumbling block, and to others foolishness, yet to every honest, unbiassed [sic] heart, to every one that believes, it is to their abundant satisfaction, the wisdom and the power of God. It does not stand in any need of such supports as superstition and bigotry, and we pointedly disavow them as necessary in the least to support religion. But they have often, Judas-like, betrayed it into the hands of its enemies.
That there is a period, in which it is proper and necessary for children, on account of the weakness of their own mental powers, to place confidence in the judgment and opinion of parents, must be admitted. But that they should to old age, continue to be children, without making any inquiry after the reason on which, those opinions were founded, is an abuse of their rational powers.
That this was too much the case with people formerly, we are disposed to grant. And with regard to the impropriety of it, we are pleased to see people's eyes opened, and their prejudices removed. Error is error, let it be found when or where it may, and we wish to have it detected.
But there is that weakness, or imperfection, attached to human nature, that leads mankind, when they have discovered errors on one extreme, not to rest satisfied with correcting the error, and stopping at a medium, but like the vibration of a pendulum, rush into the opposite extreme.
This has ever been the case. And although it has been observed by the wise and prudent, and the observation has been common, yet people in general have never been disposed to improve in this respect, by the failings of others.
There is a medium between a superstitious, bigoted attachment to religion, and a bold, presumptuous renunciation of it.
That medium, we conceive to be, a rational attachment to religion, founded on a conviction of its troth, reality and importance, produced by the most convincing, satisfactory evidence.
This rational attachment to religion, we profess; and we do earnestly recommend it to mankind. We believe it is the only source of true, solid enjoyment for them.
But it is not surprising, that people who have never studied the evidences of Christianity, nor felt its enlightening influence on their hearts; who are disposed to think freely, when they come to see the influence which superstition and bigotry have had on their own, and the minds of others, and see what a restraint they have laid upon their rational powers; should be offended, and turn from religion with a degree of disgust.
It is just like depraved human nature. This has led many in this day, profanely to say, what is the Almighty that we should serve him ? and what profit should we have if we should pray unto him? It is vain to serve God.
But it is observable in this case, that religion is not so much the object of disgust, as the manner in which people adhere to it, and are influenced by it.
But it is denied that a superstitious bigoted attachment is a rational one, or that religion in such cases has its genuine influence.
When the great Jehovah made the rational soul of man, he designed it should be happy in the enjoyment of himself, without laying restraint upon his rational powers. And when man had sinned, and fallen under the curse, and God entered into a covenant of grace for his redemption from sin, he ordained that religion, and what is implied in it, should be the only thing that should make men happy, without laying the least restraint upon the free, unbiassed exercise of reason. And this religion certainly does, whilst it forbids, and even mocks at that false reasoning, and vain philosophy, which is used as a shelter for vice,
The scriptures inform us, that the carnal mind is enmity against God. That the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, that he cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned. We grant that there is something in religion, as it respects the heart, that appears mysterious, or unaccountable to natural men. But it appears so, not because it is irrational, but because their understandings are darkened, through the moral blindness of their hearts.
And here we observe, that it is not uncommon for very loose, wicked men, when taking a view of their own characters, to despair of ever enjoying the blessings which religion promises its friends. In this situation, human nature has been disposed to fly to some shelter, to screen it from those curses which it denounces upon its enemies. And this has commonly been, to renounce religion, and deny its divine authenticity. And they take occasion from every unfavourable circumstance, connected with religion, to justify themselves for doing it.
But with respect to superstition, and what is commonly called religious bigotry, it is evident that they are not the natural, legitimate offspring of religion. They have their origin in the weakness and depravity of human nature. And we grant that religion has been the occasion of the depravity of the human heart discovering itself, or operating in these particular ways.
But this we conceive affords no ground, or colour of objection against religion. And we farther grant, that on these accounts religion has often been made a tool of state, and has been improved by the aspiring arid ambitious, to obtain the most abominable purposes ; yet we conceive this affords no ground of objection against it. As well might people be prejudiced against money, because it was improved by a Judas to betray his Lord, as to object against religion on these accounts.
And it is further observable, that superstition and bigotry are not the natural, or necessary fruits of a religious education. These evils do not necessarily follow, as unavoidable consequences upon the religious education of children. We grant, however, that they follow, as consequences of a certain improper method of religious instruction.
When parents religiously educate their children, under the influence of superstition or bigotry, these consequences commonly follow. These evils produce their own likeness. When children are taught their creed, or what they ought to believe, and what they ought to do, and their mouths are shut against any inquiry, and they are taught that it is criminal to make inquiry, because it may imply
doubt, and this, enforced by awful considerations suggested to the imagination; it commonly makes such an impression as leads children to think they must never inquire, that to inquire will be sinful ; and in this opinion they grow to manhood. In this manner children have taken things for granted, on their father's testimony. This is the principal fountain from whence these evils flow.
This, as our Saviour said of the phairisees, is taking away the key of knowledge. This method of instruction is to be deplored. We have reason to believe that it has carried, and is carrying thousands of stupid mortals blinded to destruction....
These neglects of parents, and their slothfulness in the religious education of their children, have contributed to aid the cause of infidelity in our country. An affecting, lamentable consideration ! Yes, parents, your unfaithfulness to your children has contributed, indirectly, to raise up enemies against religion, and to strengthen their cause....
It is a fact, parents, and one that ought to alarm you, that the discerning among the enemies of religion are highly gratified with your inattention to your children. They know how subject the minds of children and youth are to the influence of education. And they have been mortified to see, that where a faithful attention has been paid to their religious education, their own sentiments have generally been held in abhorrence.
And this very consideration has led the enemies of religion to educate young men with their sentiments, and send them out into the world as teachers of schools, and instructors of children and youth, to disseminate their own pernicious opinions, in order to prevent the religious education of children, and counteract its influence. These enemies of religion see, and they are pleased ts see, that where parents neglect their duty to their children, they indirectly aid their cause. A garden neglected will soon be full of noxious weeds ; so the youthful mind, that is not instructed in the principles of the Christian religion, nor impressed with its truths, falls an easy prey to those false reasonings, and foul sentiments, which, like unclean spirits from the mouth of the dragon, or the bottomless pit, are destroying the souls of men, and hurrying them down to their own native regions.
Friends of Zion, these considerations are truly alarming. This subject is truly interesting, it demands your serious, prayerful attention. It demands your vigorous exertions. The enemies of Christianity, you see, are bold and enterprising. They have raised their stance and are officiously busy to enlist people unto it....
Study, therefore, to know your duty in all its branches... educate your children rightly, point out to them forbidden paths, show them their danger, and train them up in the way they should go.
And be particular, as their minds expand, to impress them with the consideration, that religion is a rational thing, and that it lays no restraints upon their rational powers. Instruct them in the great doctrines of the Christian religion. Strive to understand them yourselves, and whatever you inculcate, as matter of faith, as soon as your children are able to make the inquiry, let them know you have reason for believing it ; and that if they are not able now to comprehend it, express your hope that they will be able, when their understandings are more enlarged. Strive to comprehend the evidence for the divine authenticity of the sacred scriptures yourselves, and as soon as your children are able, help them to understand it. Teach them their duty, and make it as plain as possible, and help them as far as you can, to see the propriety and reasonableness of it....
And by doing this you may erect a hedge around your vineyard, which it will be difficult for your enemies to break over. God in his providence, is calling upon you to be more faithful in this branch of your duty. And we press it upon you as the most prudent measure, to stop a dreadful torrent, and the contaminating influence of those pernicious sentiments, which threaten to overwhelm our country.
But in recommending the religious education of children, we do not expect the approbation of that class of men, who avow infidelity, in opposition to the sacred scriptures. We expect to incur their displeasure. And you may expect it and their opposition too. But this, Christians, we must beat.
*This has obvious application to the ongoing censorship being practiced by Book of Mormon Central and other M2C organizations.