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Autobiography and Selected Essays

Moral Influences In Early Youth. My Father's Character
And Opinions
In my education, as in that of everyone, the moral influences, which are so much more
important than all others, are also the most complicated, and the most difficult to specify
with any approach to completeness. Without attempting the hopeless task of detailing the
circumstances by which, in this respect, my early character may have been shaped, I shall
confine myself to a few leading points, which form an indispensable part of any true
account of my education.
I was brought up from the first without any religious belief, in the ordinary acceptation of
the term. My father, educated in the creed of Scotch Presbyterianism, had by his own
studies and reflections been early led to reject not only the belief in Revelation, but the
foundations of what is commonly called Natural Religion. I have heard him say, that the
turning point of his mind on the subject was reading Butler's Analogy. That work, of
which he always continued to speak with respect, kept him, as he said, for some
considerable time, a believer in the divine authority of Christianity; by proving to him
that whatever are the difficulties in believing that the Old and New Testaments proceed
from, or record the acts of, a perfectly wise and good being, the same and still greater
difficulties stand in the way of the belief, that a being of such a character can have been
the Maker of the universe. He considered Butler's argument as conclusive against the
only opponents for whom it was intended. Those who admit an omnipotent as well as
perfectly just and benevolent maker and ruler of such a world as this, can say little
against Christianity but what can, with at least equal force, be retorted against
themselves. Finding, therefore, no halting place in Deism, he remained in a state of
perplexity, until, doubtless after many struggles, he yielded to the conviction, that
concerning the origin of things nothing whatever can be known. This is the only correct
statement of his opinion; for dogmatic atheism he looked upon as absurd; as most of
those, whom the world has considered Atheists, have always done. These particulars are
important, because they show that my father's rejection of all that is called religious
belief, was not, as many might suppose, primarily a matter of logic and evidence: the
grounds of it were moral, still more than intellectual. He found it impossible to believe
that a world so full of evil was the work of an Author combining infinite power with
perfect goodness and righteousness. His intellect spurned the subtleties by which men
attempt to blind themselves to this open contradiction. The Sabaean, or Manichaean
theory of a Good and an Evil Principle, struggling against each other for the government
of the universe, he would not have equally condemned; and I have heard him express
surprise, that no one revived it in our time. He would have regarded it as a mere
hypothesis; but he would have ascribed to it no depraving influence. As it was, his
aversion to religion, in the sense usually attached to the term, was of the same kind with
that of Lucretius: he regarded it with the feelings due not to a mere mental delusion, but
to a great moral evil. He looked upon it as the greatest enemy of morality: first, by setting
up fictitious excellences--belief in creeds, devotional feelings, and ceremonies, not
connected with the good of human-kind--and causing these to be accepted as substitutes
for genuine virtues: but above all, by radically vitiating the standard of morals; making it