Quotations about:
    religious persecution


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You may force men, by interest or punishment, to say or swear they believe, and to act as if they believed; you can go no farther.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) English writer and churchman
“Thoughts on Religion” (1726)
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Added on 17-Jan-23 | Last updated 17-Jan-23
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I love to see a Man zealous in a good Matter, and especially when his Zeal shews it self for advancing Morality, and promoting the Happiness of Mankind: But when I find the Instruments he works with are Racks and Gibbets, Gallies and Dungeons; when he imprisons Mens Persons, confiscates their Estates, ruins their Families, and burns the Body to save the Soul, I cannot stick to pronounce of such a one, that (whatever he may think of his Faith and Religion) his Faith is vain, and his Religion unprofitable.

Joseph Addison (1672-1719) English essayist, poet, statesman
Joseph Addison, The Spectator, #185 (2 Oct 1711)
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Added on 15-Jun-22 | Last updated 15-Jun-22
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To many white Americans, President Obama must have been corrupt, because his very occupation of the White House was a kind of corruption of the traditional order. When women attain positions of political power usually reserved for men — or when Muslims, blacks, Jews, homosexuals, or “cosmopolitans” profit or even share the public goods of a democracy, such as healthcare — that is perceived as corruption.

Jason Stanley (b. 1969) American philosopher, epistemologist, academic
How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, ch. 2 (2018)
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Added on 16-Dec-21 | Last updated 16-Dec-21
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You can stand with the lash over a man, or you can stand by the prison door, or beneath the gallows, or by the stake, and say to this man: “Recant, or the lash descends, the prison door is locked upon you, the rope is put about your neck, or the torch is given to the fagot.” And so the man recants. Is he convinced? Not at all. Have you produced a new argument? Not the slightest. And yet the ignorant bigots of this world have been trying for thousands of years to rule the minds of men by brute force. They have endeavored to improve the mind by torturing the flesh — to spread religion with the sword and torch. They have tried to convince their brothers by putting their feet in iron boots, by putting fathers, mothers, patriots, philosophers and philanthropists in dungeons. And what has been the result? Are we any nearer thinking alike to-day than we were then?

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Speech to the Jury, Trial of C. B. Reynolds for Blasphemy, Morristown, New Jersey (May 1887)
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Added on 8-Sep-21 | Last updated 8-Sep-21
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No one gets upset about the belief that rocks fall down as opposed to up, because all sane people can see it with their own eyes. Not so for the belief that babies are born with original sin or that God exists in three persons or that Ali was the second-most divinely inspired man after Muhammad. When people organize their lives around these beliefs, and then learn of other people who seem to be doing just fine without them — or worse, who credibly rebut them — they are in danger of looking like fools. Since one cannot defend a belief based on faith by persuading skeptics it is true, the faithful are apt to react to unbelief with rage, and may try to eliminate that affront to everything that makes their lives meaningful.

Steven Pinker (b. 1954) Canadian-American cognitive psychologist, linguist, author
The Better Angels of Our Nature, ch. 4 (2011)
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Added on 26-May-21 | Last updated 26-May-21
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Errors and mistakes, however gross, in matters of opinion, if they are sincere, are to be pitied, but not punished nor laughed at. The blindness of the understanding is as much to be pitied as the blindness of the eye, and there is neither jest nor guilt in a man’s losing his way in either case. Charity bids us set him right if we can, by arguments and persuasions; but charity, at the same time, forbids, either to punish or ridicule his misfortune.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son, #126 (21 Sep 1747)
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On religious tolerance.
 
Added on 28-Jan-21 | Last updated 12-Oct-22
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Every man’s reason is, and must be, his guide; and I may as well expect that every man should be of my size and complexion, as that he should reason just as I do. Every man seeks for truth; but God only knows who has found it. It is, therefore, as unjust to persecute as it is absurd to ridicule people for those several opinions which they cannot help entertaining upon the conviction of their reason.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son, #126 (21 Sep 1747)
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Speaking of religious beliefs.
 
Added on 21-Jan-21 | Last updated 13-Oct-22
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Religious discord has lost her sting; the cumbrous weapons of theological warfare are antiquated: the field of politics supplies the alchymists of our times with materials of more fatal explosion, and the butchers of mankind no longer travel to another world for instruments of cruelty and destruction. Our age is too enlightened to contend upon topics, which concern only the interests of eternity; and men who hold in proper contempt all controversies about trifles, except such as inflame their own passions, have made it a common-place censure against your ancestors, that their zeal was enkindled by subjects of trivial importance; and that however aggrieved by the intolerance of others, they were alike intolerant themselves. Against these objections, your candid judgment will not require an unqualified justification; but your respect and gratitude for the founders of the State may boldly claim an ample apology. The original grounds of their separation from the church of England, were not objects of a magnitude to dissolve the bonds of communion; much less those of charity, between Christian brethren of the same essential principles.

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) US President (1825-29)
Speech, Plymouth (22 Dec 1802)
 
Added on 28-Nov-16 | Last updated 28-Nov-16
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What havoc has been made of Books through every Century of the Christian Æra? Where are fifty Gospells condemned as spurious by the Bull of Pope Gelasius. Where are the forty Waggon Loads of Hebrew Manuscripts burned in France by order of another Pope, because suspected of Heresy? Remember the Index expurgatorius, the Inquisitions, the Stake, the Axe the halter and the Guillotine; and Oh! horrible the Rack. This is as bad if not worse than a slow fire.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Letter to John Taylor (14 Dec 1814)
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Added on 28-Jan-16 | Last updated 19-Oct-21
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If I could conceive that the general government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded, that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.

George Washington (1732-1799) American military leader, Founding Father, US President (1789-1797)
Letter to the United Baptist Chamber of Virginia (May 1789)
 
Added on 29-Apr-15 | Last updated 29-Apr-15
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You are certainly right in insisting on the strong metaphysical needs of mankind; but religion appears to me to be not so much a satisfaction as an abuse of those needs. At any rate we have seen that in regard to the furtherance of morality, its utility is, for the most part, problematical, its disadvantages, and especially the atrocities which have followed in its train, are patent to the light of day.

[So hast du gewiß Recht, das starke metaphysische Bedürfniß des Menschen zu urgiren: aber die Religionen scheinen mir nicht sowohl die Befriedigung, als der Mißbrauch desselben zu seyn. Wenigstens haben wir gesehn, daß in Hinsicht auf Beförderung der Moralität ihr Nutzen großentheils problematisch ist, ihre Nachtheile hingegen und zumal die Gräuelthaten, welche in ihrem Gefolge sich eingestellt haben, am Tage liegen.]

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) German philosopher
Parerga and Paralipomena, Vol. 2, ch. 15 “On Religion [Ueber Religion],” § 174 “A Dialogue [Ein Dialog]” (1851) [tr. Saunders (1890)]
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(Source (German)). Alternate translation:
You are certainly right in advocating the strong metaphysical needs of mankind; but religions appear to me to be not so much a satisfaction as an abuse of those needs. At any rate we have seen that, in view of the progress of morality, its advantages are for the most part problematical, while its disadvantages, and especially the enormities which have appeared in its train, are obvious.
[tr. Dircks]

You are certainly right in insisting on man's strong metaphysical need. Religions, however, seem to me to be not so much a satisfaction but an abuse thereof. at any rate, we have seen that, as regards the encouragement of morality, their use is to a great extent problematical, whereas their disadvantages, and especially the atrocities that have followed in their train, are as clear as the light of day.
[tr. Payne (1974)]

 
Added on 11-Apr-14 | Last updated 26-Oct-22
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On the dogmas of religion as distinguished from moral principles, all mankind, from the beginning of the world to this day, have been quarrelling, fighting, burning and torturing one another, for abstractions unintelligible to themselves and to all others, and absolutely beyond the comprehension of the human mind. Were I to enter on that arena, I should only add an unit to the number of Bedlamites.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Matthew Carey (11 Nov 1816)
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Mistakenly identified in some sources as Archibald Carey.
 
Added on 22-Aug-13 | Last updated 14-Jul-22
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Another purpose of the Establishment Clause rested upon an awareness of the historical fact that governmentally established religions and religious persecutions go hand in hand. The Founders knew that only a few years after the Book of Common Prayer became the only accepted form of religious services in the established Church of England, an Act of Uniformity was passed to compel all Englishmen to attend those services and to make it a criminal offense to conduct or attend religious gatherings of any other kind — a law which was consistently flouted by dissenting religious groups in England and which contributed to widespread persecutions of people like John Bunyan who persisted in holding “unlawful [religious] meetings … to the great disturbance and distraction of the good subjects of this kingdom ….” And they knew that similar persecutions had received the sanction of law in several of the colonies in this country soon after the establishment of official religions in those colonies. It was in large part to get completely away from this sort of systematic religious persecution that the Founders brought into being our Nation, our Constitution, and our Bill of Rights with its prohibition against any governmental establishment of religion.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421, 424-425 (1962) [majority opinion]
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Added on 24-Oct-12 | Last updated 13-Oct-22
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True Christianity never shields itself behind majorities. Nero, and the other persecuting Roman emperors, were amply supported by majorities; and yet the pure and peaceable religion of Christ in the end triumphed over them all; and it was only when it attempted itself to enforce religion by the arm of authority, that it began to wane. A form of religion that can not live under equal and impartial laws ought to die, and sooner or later must die.

John Welch (1805-1891) American politician, jurist
Board of Education of Cincinnati v. Minor, Ohio Supreme Court (1872)
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Added on 21-Jun-11 | Last updated 4-Sep-18
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True Christianity asks no aid from the sword of civil authority.  It began without the sword, and wherever it has taken the sword it has perished by the sword. To depend on civil authority for its enforcement is to acknowledge its own weakness, which it can never afford to do.  It is able to fight its own battles.  Its weapons are moral and spiritual, and not carnal. Armed with these, and these alone, it is not afraid or “ashamed” to be compared with other religions, and to withstand them single-handed.

John Welch (1805-1891) American politician, jurist
Board of Education of Cincinnati v. Minor, Ohio Supreme Court (1872)
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Added on 15-Jun-11 | Last updated 4-Sep-18
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But is uniformity of opinion desirable? No more than of face and stature. Introduce the bed of Procrustes then, and as there is danger that the great men may beat the small, make us all of a size, by lopping the former and stretching the latter. Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion. The several sects perform the office of a Censor morum over each other. Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 17 (1782)
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Added on 29-Apr-10 | Last updated 4-Jul-22
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The Priesthood, have in all ancient Nations, nearly monopolized Learning. Read over again all the Accounts We have of Hindoos, Chaldeans, Persians Greeks, Romans, Celts, Teutons, We Shall find that Priests had all the Knowledge, and really governed all Mankind. Examine Mahometanism. Trace Christianity from its first Promulgation, Knowledge has been almost exclusively confined to the Clergy. And even since the Reformation, when or where has existed a Protestant or dissenting Sect, who would tolerate, A free Inquiry? The blackest Billingate, the most ungentlemanly insolence, the most yahooish brutality, is patiently endured countenanced propagated and applauded: But touch a solemn Truth in collission with a dogma of a Sect, though capable of the clearest proof; and you will Soon find you have disturbed a Nest, and the hornets will swarm about your legs and hands and fly into your face and Eyes.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Letter to John Taylor (24 Jan 1815)
 
Added on 18-Jul-08 | Last updated 19-Oct-21
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Burning stakes do not lighten the darkness.

Stanislaw Lec (1909-1966) Polish aphorist, poet, satirist
Unkempt Thoughts [Myśli nieuczesane] (1957) [tr. Gałązka (1962)]
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Added on 26-Jul-07 | Last updated 29-Mar-22
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Christians have burnt each other, quite persuaded
That all the Apostles would have done as they did.

George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) English poet
Don Juan, Canto 1, st. 83 (1824)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 26-Jan-23
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