Compulsion in the literal Sense is maliciously misrepresented, by supposing it authorizes Violences committed against the Truth. The Answer to this; by which it is prov'd, that the literal Sense does in reality authorize the stirring up Persecutions against the Cause of Truth, and that an erroneous Conscience has the same Rights as an enlighten'd Conscience.
Do you doubt that the least effects of nature were not used as marks of the wrath of heaven? It was to the interest of pontiffs, priests, and augurs, as much as it is to the interest of lawyers and doctors that there should be lawsuits and sickness. No wonder they took care that the people should not grow slack in their religion.
Philosophy can be compared to some powders that are so corrosive that, after they have eaten away the infected flesh of a wound, they then devour the living flesh, rot the bones, and penetrate to the very marrow. Philosophy at first refutes errors. But if it is not stopped at this point, it goes on to attack truths. And when it is left on its own, it goes so far that it no longer knows where it is and can find no stopping place.
Consider, I pray, whether you are not renouncing all shame and sincerity to advance such principles. Because a comet appears in a group of stars which the ancients thought fit to call the Virgin, therefore, shall our women be barren, or have frequent miscarriages, or die old maids. I know of nothing which hangs so ill together! To offer such things in seriousness, shows the greatest contempt of mankind, and the most scandalous lying impunity.
It has been asserted, that a moral Atheist would be a monster beyond the power of nature to create: I reply, that it is not more strange for an Atheist to live virtuously, than for a Christian to abandon himself to crime! If we believe the last kind of monster, why dispute the existence of the first?
So that, were it the purpose of God to produce comets as signs of his wrath it would be true to say that he is quickening a false devotion almost all over the world, increasing the number of pilgrims to Mecca, multiplying the offerings to the most famous impostors, inducing men to build mosques for Mohammedan worship, causing the invention of new superstitions among the dervishes - in a word, stimulating many abominable things which otherwise might not have been.