The practice of persecution, said the defenders of Pole's opinion, is the scandal of all religion; and the theological animosity, so fierce and violent, far from being an argument of men's conviction in their opposite sects, is a certain proof, that they have never reached any serious persuasion with regard to these remote and sublime subjects. Even those, who are the most impatient of contradiction in other controversies, are mild and moderate in comparison of polemical divines; and wherever a man's knowledge and experience give him a perfect assurance in his own opinion, he regards with contempt, rather than anger, the opposition and mistakes of others. But while men zealously maintain what they |neither clearly comprehend, nor entirely believe, they are shaken in their imagined faith, by the opposite persuasion, or even doubts of other men; and vent on their antagonists that impatience, which is the natural result of so disagreeable a state of the understanding. They then easily embrace any pretence for representing opponents as impious and profane; and if they can also find a colour for connecting this violence with the interests of civil government, they can no longer be restrained from giving uncontrouled scope to vengeance and resentment. But surely never enterprize was more unfortunate than that of founding persecution upon policy, or endeavouring, for the sake of peace, to settle an entire uniformity of opinion, in questions which, of all others, are least subjected to the criterion of human reason. The universal and uncontradicted prevalence of one opinion in religious subjects, can be owing at first to the stupid ignorance alone and barbarism of the people, who never indulge themselves in any speculation or enquiry; and there is no expedient for maintaining that uniformity, so fondly sought after, but by banishing for ever all curiosity and all improvement in science and cultivation. It may not, indeed, appear difficult to check, by a steady severity, the first beginnings of controversy; but besides that this policy exposes for ever the people to all the abject terrors of superstition, and the magistrate to the endless encroachments of ecclesiastics, it also renders men so delicate, that they can never endure to hear of opposition; and they will some time pay dearly for that false tranquillity, in which they have been so long indulged. As healthful bodies are ruined by too nice a regimen, and are thereby rendered incapable of bearing the unavoidable incidents of human life; a people, who never were allowed to imagine, that their principles could be contested, fly out into the most outrageous violence, when any event (and such events are common) produces a faction among their clergy, and gives rise to any difference in tenet or opinion. But whatever may be said in favour of suppressing, by persecution, the first beginnings of heresy, no solid argument can be alleged for extending severity towards multitudes, or endeavouring, by capital punishments, to extirpate an opinion, which has diffused itself among men of every rank and station. Besides the extreme barbarity of such an attempt, it commonly proves ineffectual to the purpose intended; and serves only to |make men more obstinate in their persuasion, and to encrease the number of their proselytes. The melancholy, with which the fear of death, torture, and persecution inspires the sectaries, is the proper disposition for fostering religious zeal: The prospect of eternal rewards, when brought near, overpowers the dread of temporal punishments: The glory of martyrdom stimulates all the more furious zealots, especially the leaders and preachers: Where a violent animosity is excited by oppression, men naturally pass, from hating the persons of their tyrants, to a more violent abhorrence of their doctrines: And the spectators, moved with pity towards the supposed martyrs, are easily seduced to embrace those principles, which can inspire men with a constancy that appears almost supernatural. Open the door to toleration, mutual hatred relaxes among the sectaries; their attachment to their particular modes of religion decays; the common occupations and pleasures of life succeed to the acrimony of disputation; and the same man, who, in other circumstances, would have braved flames and tortures, is induced to change his sect from the smallest prospect of favour and advancement, or even from the frivolous hope of becoming more fashionable in his principles. If any exception can be admitted to this maxim of toleration, it will only be where a theology altogether new, nowise connected with the ancient religion of the state, is imported from foreign countries, and may easily, at one blow, be eradicated, without leaving the seeds of future innovation. But as this exception would imply some apology for the ancient pagan persecutions, or for the extirpation of Christianity in China and Japan; it ought surely, on account of this detested consequence, to be rather buried in eternal silence and oblivion.