|Vol. VI, No. 4
Tamuz 5608, July 1848
To the Assertion of Judge O’Neal of South Carolina, That Christianity is the Only Standard of Good Morals.
It is a wise political axiom, that “the price of liberty is eternal watchfulness,” and no man can examine the political history of this country, without perceiving that the spirit of religious toleration is on the retrograde. When we came fresh from the fiery ordeal of the revolution, the flame of political and religious liberty burned with a bright and pure light. No man dreamed of religious intolerance, and hence freedom of conscience was fully secured by the Constitution of the United States, the supreme law of the land, and by most of the State Constitutions. But in latter years, fanaticism has spread itself over the land, and deformed our political institutions. A spirit of cant, engendering hypocrisy and bigotry, is seen everywhere, and obtrudes itself into all the ramifications of society. It is seen and felt in our elections, figures in the halls of legislation, and has even sullied the ermine of the Bench. The recent decision of the Carolina Judge, by which the Jew has been forced to keep, as a religious festival, the Christian Sunday, is an alarming evidence of the tendency of the spirit to which I have referred. But if the decision was bad, the grounds on which it was based are ten thousand times worse. I consider that the death-knell of religious freedom has been sounded, at least in South Carolina; for I hold (with the writer on this subject, in your April number), that if keeping open my store on Sunday is an act of licentiousness, because it shocks the moral sense of Christians, that then any publication going to sustain the holy unity of God, and to expose the immorality, the injustice, and the revolting ideas of the Trinity, would be deemed a licentious libel, and would subject the writer to fine and imprisonment. Nay, our very Synagogues—the only temples dedicated to the living God, the Maker of heaven and of earth—may no longer be held sacred; for no Christian can regard the mere opening of my shop door, and noiselessly selling my goods, as great an act of licentiousness, as would be an indignant denunciation of the awful blasphemy of proclaiming a <<187>>weak mortal the equal of the great Eternal.
But I am not disposed to discuss the legal question; it is too plain to admit of doubt; for whether the decision, based on the ground of a municipal regulation, be right or wrong, it cannot be sustained on the religious grounds assumed by Judge O’Neal. My object, now, is to examine the blasphemous assertion, that Christianity is the only standard of good morals—blasphemous, because it avers (by implication) that the Jewish religion, the gift of God to His chosen people, is devoid of any moral standard. I shall first inquire in what particulars Christianity differs from Judaism, before entering into an examination of the two systems, for the purpose of testing the truth of the assertion of Judge O’Neal. Christians admit that their religion is founded on Judaism; for Christ himself said he came not to destroy, but to confirm, the law. As far, however, as my information goes, (and I have carefully studied both the Bible and the Christian Testament,) I find the difference between Judaism and Christianity very great. Whenever the system of Christianity conforms to the pure religion of the Bible, it is well; but as soon as it deserts that standard, it wanders into unknown paths, such as the lovers of Bible purity may not tread. Its founders and reformers have abandoned the pure fountain of God’s revelations, and hewn out to themselves “broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” The main points of difference, then, may be found in the Christian’s belief in the Trinity—the inability of their God to save mankind from sin—the necessity of an atonement, and that atonement consisting in the immolation, or self-sacrifice of their Deity,* to enable him to save sinners, without which he could do nothing towards the redemption of the world, and finally, their belief in original sin. These dogmas of Christianity constitute its peculiar characteristics; and if it claims for itself “the only standard of good morals,” it must be found in them, because any other standard which it may possess, must be the morality of the Jewish Bible. I propose now to examine these points of difference, for the purpose of seeing if there be any peculiar “standard of good morals” embraced in them.
First, then, as to the doctrine of the Trinity.—This is a mys<<188>>tery, at least so say its advocates, and it is clearly the best mode by which they can dispose of what would otherwise be inexplicable, incongruous, impossible. Three in one—Unity and Trinity, one and indivisible—are ideas entirely incompatible, and beyond the grasp of the human intellect; and oh! how this doctrine fades before the majesty and power of the adored oneness of Israel’s God! If morality consist in obedience to the laws of God, then the doctrine of the Trinity is marked by no peculiar morality. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” is the solemn command of the Almighty; and His oneness is the bright peculiar star that shines through every line of His revealed word. In this dogma, then, we find no exclusive “ standard of good morals.”
Secondly. The inability of their God to save man from sin.—The necessity of an atonement, and that atonement being the immolation, or self-sacrifice of their Deity, to enable him to save sinners, without which he could do nothing towards the redemption of the world. I should not feel authorized to use such language towards Him whom I adore—the Father of heaven and earth—the beneficent Judge, the Omniscient, Omnipresent, and all-powerful Being: indeed, I should feel that I was uttering rank blasphemy. Where, then, is the peculiar morality in this article of belief? My Bible teaches me that God is the Creator of heaven and of earth—in whose hands are the issues of life and death—in whom we live and move and have our being—who speaks, and it is done—who wills, and it is created—so powerful, that nothing is too mighty for him to perform—so full of loving-kindness, that nothing is too humble for His tenderness—He can create, and He destroy. Again, if the word of God be any test of morals, there is no morality in this dogma. It robs God of His most adored attributes, His power, His majesty, His loving kindness. He is no longer “slow to anger, and of long-suffering,” but he is at once transformed into a powerless being, full of revenge, and seeking to gratify this dark passion, by the sacrifice of the pure and the just—nay, more, the sacrifice of himself. How would the morality and justice of an earthly judge be regarded, who should condemn to death the innocent, as an atonement for the sins of the criminal? It is in vain to say that the Creator cannot be judged by rules pertaining to the con<<189>>duct of mortals. God has fixed the standard himself. He has fixed the eternal principles of truth and justice, and can never sanction the punishment of the just for the unjust. “Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.” (Exodus 32.) Borrowing the language of a writer in the fourth volume of the Occident, page 174, I would say, “God himself tells us what is necessary to salvation; it is not faith in the redemption of the world by a crucified mediator, but that we should do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.” He requires no human sacrifice. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, oh God, thou wilt not despise!” Without amplification, (and the Bible is full of authority to sustain me,) I may conclude this head by asking Judge O’Neal to point out the peculiar morality of this element of Christianity.
Thirdly. The belief in Original Sin.—This doctrine would be unexceptionable on the score of morals, if it only meant that man was by nature prone to sin; but I cannot say so much of it when explained by Christianity. By its creed, the unconscious and irresponsible infant, fresh from the hands of its God, is a candidate for damnation. In the language of a Christian Preacher, “Hell is paved with the skulls of infants.” What becomes of man’s free agency, if the unconscious babe is the doomed child of sin? Where is the human responsibility, if the infant and the idiot may sin, though “they cannot discern between their right hand and their left.” Of the morality of this dogma, I will not trust myself to speak. It is then manifest that the peculiar tenets of Christianity do not develop any exclusive “standard of good morals.” On the contrary, there is much to condemn, and which no right thinking man can approve, unless he has been indoctrinated from his infancy, and his belief and faith have grown with his growth, and strengthened with his strength.*
I have confined myself entirely to those dogmas of Christianity <<190>>which are received by all Christians; purposely avoiding to tread the thousand paths that different Christian sects have marked out as the only roads to Heaven. Such as immersion or sprinkling, the real presence, selection, predestination. These and hundreds of other fanatical and wild dogmas have been enunciated by the numberless sects that have sprung from the Christian Testament, and each has been declared as indispensable to salvation. God tells us that the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep his commandments; Christians tell us that this is not enough, that good works are nothing without faith in Christ; or, as I once heard a Christian preacher say, that the only means of going to heaven was by faith in Jesus, and baptism by immersion. I am willing to lean on the mercies of God, and to take His word as my “standard of good morals,” let Judge O’Neal think as he may. “By their fruits ye shall know them,” is a dictum the authority of which the Judge will freely acknowledge; and by the fruits of Christianity I will test it.
In the tenth chapter of Matthew, Christ is made to say, “Think not that I come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword.” And well and truly has this promise been fulfilled. The history of Christianity has been written in letters of blood, and hecatombs of human victims have been offered up as sacrifices to the Prince of Peace, around whose altars oceans of human blood have flowed. Time will not permit me to go into a minute detail of these terrific facts; but history will prove that the fagot, and the sword, and every instrument of torture and of persecution which human malignity could devise, have been used by Christianity as the means of spreading its doctrines. And yet this is a religion of Peace, and “the only standard of good morals.”
I have thus given the points of difference between Christianity and Judaism, and I ask Judge O’Neal to tax his legal acumen, and designate to me one single moral principle involved in any of these points of difference. None, however, will deny that the alleged sayings of Christ, and the alleged writings of the apostles are replete with all those moral truths, necessary to form a “standard of good morals;” but these men, founder and apostles, were Jews, had read and studied the lays of Moses, and the writings of the prophets, and they neither knew, nor have they <<191>>enunciated one single moral truth or principle, which may not be found in our Bible, as part and parcel of our religion. The decalogue, (exclusively Jewish,) is the foundation, or “standard of good morals” over the whole civilized world, and contains within itself the entire moral law. Are we not the “witnesses of God;” the recipients of his revealed word; the peculiar objects of his love; the people by whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed, and whom He has preserved “amid the wreck of empires and the crash of worlds?” and yet we have no “standard of good morals!” Is none found in the lives of Abraham, and Moses, and the hosts of God’s favoured prophets; none found in the examples of the thousands of martyrs, who have died for the unity of God; none in the writings of Moses and the prophets; “no standard of good morals” in the revealed word of God?
Oh! this is rank blasphemy. Does Christianity tell us to love our neighbour as ourself, so did Judaism, centuries before. (Leviticus 19:18.) Does Christianity bid us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us? It is but a repetition of Jewish maxims, and Jewish morals. (Prov. 24:29.)
I have selected these two moral precepts, because they are the peculiar boast of the followers of Christ, and yet they are but borrowed gems from our Bible. The Episcopalian minister proclaims on every Sunday, these words, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and all thy soul, and all thy might.” “Hear also what our Lord Jesus Christ says, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; on these two hang all the law and the prophets.” So let it be, for truly do the law and the prophets, or the whole duty of man, rest on these two Jewish commandments. The one teaches us our duty to God—the other, our duty to our fellow-mortal; and he who performs them both, is sure of his reward in heaven. But, is it right to give to Christ, that which belongs to Moses? “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” is a mandate which Christians may not disobey, and the observance of which would display a higher “standard of good morals,” than that which is possessed by those who, like Judge O’Neal, attempt to rob us of our jewels, to adorn the brow of Christianity. Indeed, Christianity is to Judaism, what the moon is to the sun: it shines only with a borrowed light. Our <<192>>faith is the bright, but mild effulgence of the revealed word of the living God—theirs the faded copy of a beautiful original.
Thus, having examined Christianity as it exists, per se, let us inquire what is Judaism, and whether it has, or has not, a “ standard of good morals.” This would open a field of inquiry as boundless as the attributes of God, and the varied duties of man; but I shall confine myself to a few brief remarks. Judaism may be defined a belief in the unity of God, the immortality of the soul, and man’s accountability; and it teaches us to love God and obey His commands, as the whole duty of man. Now, what is understood by a “standard of good morals?” It may be defined that standard or rule by which we perform the duties of life, in relation to good and evil: or, in other words, one has good morals, who performs his duty towards God and man. And our next inquiry is, Does Judaism possess this standard? I might safely reply in the affirmative, and refer to the Bible, from Genesis to Malachi, to contradict Judge O’Neal’s bold and false assertion. But I must descend into particulars, and quote chapter and verse, to sustain my positions; and then I may fairly ask Judge O’Neal to refer me to some authority by which he supports his dictum, that “Christianity is the only standard of good morals.”* Judaism teaches us to love God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our might. (Deut. 6:5; 10:12.)
To love the stranger, and our neighbour as ourselves. (Levit. 18:34; Deut. 10:19.)
To honour our parents: not to kill, or commit adultery, or steal, or bear false witness, or covet anything that is our neighbour’s. (Exodus 20:12, and following verses.) It teaches us to do justly, to love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8.)
To be charitable to the poor, and the stranger; not to lie, or defraud—nor keep the wages of the hired servant—nor to curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling-block before the blind—nor to be a talebearer—nor to avenge, or bear a grudge. It teaches to us to respect age—and to have just balances and just weights. (Levit. 19:9. and following verses.)
Is there no “standard of good morals” in all of these commandments? Let Judge O’Neal answer, in candour and in truth.
<<193>>The Jew then has a high “standard of good morals,” in the laws and commandments of God, and in the bright examples that have been afforded him in the lives of the illustrious and good of his people.
It is clear then, that Judge O’Neal has done us a great wrong, and every principle of good morals requires him to repair the injury. He may persist in his error, and neither you nor I have the power to correct him; but God in his own good time will vindicate His word, and His law, and terrible will be the judgment on those who have reviled them.
I have spoken plainly, as became a freeman, truly, as became a Jew, and if I have said aught that will give offence, my excuse must be found in the fact that I am defending the time-honoured faith of my fathers.
I am no enemy of Christianity; I desire that its followers may have unrestricted freedom;—but it must be the freedom of worship, and not of licentious revilings of the religion of others.
An American Jew.