In his best prose, John speaks through his
father, and thereby avoids publishing his enlightened and unpopular opinion of the opiate of the masses. Preistly, for example,
had his home and laboratory burnt by the masses for being known as a free thinker.
Growing Up Without God
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 [Mills father] 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 fathers 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 as 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....
As it was, his aversion to religion, in the sense usually attached to the term, was of the same kind as that of Lucretius;
he regarded it with the feeling due not a mere mental delusion, but to a great moral evil. He looked upon it as the greatest
enemy of morality; first by setting up factitious excellenciesbelief in creeds, devotional feelings, and ceremonies, not connected
with the good of human kindand causing these to be accepted as substitutes for genuine virtues; but above all, by radically
vitiating the standard of morals, making it consist in doing the will of a being, on whom it lavishes indeed all the phrases
of adulation, but whom in sober truth it depicts as eminently hateful.
I have a hundred times heard him say that all
ages and nations have represented their gods as wicked, in a constantly increasing progression, that mankind have gone on
adding trait after trait till they reached the most perfect conception of wickedness which the human mind can devise, and
have called this God, and prostrated themselves before it. This ne plus ultra of wickedness he considered to be embodied in
what is commonly presented to mankind as the creed of Christianity. Think (he used to say) of a being who would make a hell-who
would create the human race with the infallible foreknowledge, and therefore with the intention-that the great majority of
them were to be consigned to horrible and everlasting torment.
The time, I believe, is drawing near when this dreadful
conception of an object of worship will no longer be identified with Christianity; and when all persons, with any sense of
moral good and evil, will look upon it with the same indignation with which my father regarded it. . . . The world would be
astonished if it knew how great a proportion of its brightest ornaments-of those most distinguished even in popular estimation
for wisdom and virtue-are complete skeptics in religion.
This sentiment of James
& John Mill, was not unique. Philip Beauchamp recognizes the same:
“Religion injures individuals by prescribing useless and painful practices:
fasting,, celibacy, voluntary self-torture, and so forth. It suggests vague terrors which often drive the victim to
insanity, and it causes remorse for harmless enjoyments. Religion injures society by creating antipathies against unbelievers,
and in a less degree against heretics and nonconformists. It perverts public opinion by making innocent actions blameable;
by distorting the whole science of morality and sanctioning the heterogeneous dictates of a certain blind and unaccountable
impulse called the 'moral instinct or conscience.' Morality becomes a 'mere catalogue of reigning sentiments,' because
it has cast away the standard of utility. A special aversion to improvement is generated, because whatever changes our
conceptions of the 2. sequence of phenomena' is supposed to break the divine 'laws of nature.' 'Unnatural' becomes a 'self-justifying'
epithet forbidding any proposed change of conduct, which will counteract the designs of God.' Religion necessarily injures
intellectual progress. It disjoins belief from its only safe ground, experience. The very basis, the belief in an inscrutable
and arbitrary power, sanctions supernatural and 'extra-experimental' beliefs of all kinds... (p. 345-346)
'Beauchamp, Philip' [George
Grote and Jeremy Bentham], Analysis of the Influence of Natural Religion on the Temporal Happiness of Mankind, London, R. Carlile, 1822.
Bentham found that, for
example, in Parliament, the seated clergy would align themselves with the conservatives in opposition to reform. His disapprobation to the effects of organized religion is scattered throughout his writings.