This is just for reading and thinking at your leisure. Great insights.
IMPORTANCE OF RELIGION TO SOCIETY. Few men suspect, perhaps no man comprehends, the extent of the support given by religion to the virtues of ordinary life. No man, perhaps, is aware how much our moral and social sentiments are fed from this fountain; How powerless conscience would become without the belief of a God, how palsied would be human benevolence were there not the sense of a higher benevolence to quicken and sustain it, how suddenly the whole social fabric would quake, and with what a fearful crash it would sink into hopeless ruins, were the ideas of a Supreme Being, of accountableness, and of a future life, to be utterly erased from every mind.
Once let men thoroughly believe that they are the work and sport of chance—that no superior intelligence concerns itself with human afiairs; that all their improvements perish for ever at death ; that the weak have no guardian and the injured no avenger; that there is no recompense for sacrifices to uprightness and the public good; that an oath is unheard in heaven ; that secret crimes have no witness liut the perpetrator; that human existence has no purpose and human virtue no unfailing friend; that this brief life is everything to us, and death is total, everlasting extinction—once let men thoroughly abandon religion, and who can conceive or describe the extent of the desolation which would follow ?
We hope, perhaps, that human laws and natural sympathy would hold society together. As reasonably might we believe that, were the sun quenched in the heavens, our torches could illuminate and our fires quicken and fertilise the earth. What is there in human nature to awaken respect and tenderness, if man is the unprotected insect of a day ? and what is he more if Atheism be true ? Erase all thought and fear of God from a community, and selfishness and sensuality would absorb the whole man. Appetite knowing no restraint, and poverty and suffering having no solace or hope, would trample in scorn on the restraints of human laws. Virtue, duty, principle, would be mocked and spurned as unmeaning sounds. A sordid self-interest would supplant every other feeling; man would become in fact, what the theory of Atheism declares him to be, a companion for brutes.
It particularly deserves attention in this discussion, that the Christian religion is singularly important to free communities. In truth, we may doubt whether civil freedom can subsist without it. This at least we know, that equal rights and an impartial administration of justice have never been enjoyed where this religion has not been understood. It favours free institutions:
-first, because its spirit is the very spirit of liberty; that is, a spirit of respect for the interests and rights of others. Christianity recognises the essential equality of mankind; beats down with its whole might those aspiring and rapacious principles of our nature which have subjected the many to the few; and by its refining influence, as well as by direct precept, turns to God, and to Him only, that supreme homage which has been so impiously lavished on crowned and titled fellow-creatures. Thus its whole tendency is free. It lays deeply the only foundations of liberty, which are the principles of benevolence, justice, and respect for human nature. The spirit of liberty is not merely, as multitudes imagine, a jealousy of our own particular rights, an unwillingness to be oppressed ourselves, but a respect for the rights of others, and an unwillingness that any man, whether high or low, should be wronged and trampled under foot. Now this is the spirit of Christianity; and liberty has no security, any farther than this uprightness and benevolence of sentiment actuates a community. In another method religion befriends liberty. It diminishes the necessity of public restraints, and supersedes in a great degree the use of force in administering the laws; and this it does by making men a law to themselves, and by repressing the disposition to disturb and injure society. Take away the purifying and restraining influence of religion, and selfishness, rapacity, and injustice will SPIRITUAL FREEDOM. 165 break out in new excesses; and amidst the increasing perils of society Government must be strengthened to defend it, must accumulate means of repressing disorder and crime; and this strength and these means may be, and often have been, turned against the freedom of the State which they were meant to secure. Diminish principle, and you increase the need of force in a community. In this country Government needs not the array of power which you meet in other nations; no guards of soldiers, no hosts of spies, no vexatious regulations of police; but accomplishes its beneficent purposes by a few unarmed judges and civil officers, and operates so silently around us, and comes so seldom in contact with us, that many of us enjoy its blessings with hardly a thought of its existence. This is the perfection of freedom; and to what do we owe this condition? I answer, to the power of those laws which religion writes on our hearts, which unite and concentrate public opinion against injustice and oppression, which spread a spirit of equity and good will through the community. Thus religion is the soul of freedom, and no nation under heaven has such an interest in it as ourselves.
Channing, William Ellery, 1780-1842. Complete works