Thursday, January 9, 2014

Swift's Satire Still Hits the Mark

You are also to understand, that I allow no Man to be a Free Thinker, any further than as he differs from the received Doctrines of Religion. Where a Man falls in, though by perfect Chance, with what is generally believed, he is in that Point a confined and limited Thinker; and you shall see by and by, that I celebrate those for the noblest Free Thinkers in every Age, who differed from the Religion of their Countries in the most fundamental Points, and especially in those which bear any Analogy to the chief Fundamentals of Religion.

Dean Swift, Mr. Collins's Discourse of Free-Thinking


  1. I want to make sure I'm understanding this. He's criticising people who consider themselves "free thinkers", yet act in a manner similar to organised religion?

  2. As I understand it, he was making fun of the sort of people who think you can only be a "free thinker" if you disagree with orthodox thinking-- for instance, people who think anyone who accepts Church teaching can't possibly have accepted those beliefs through their own free thought. The usual "you let someone else do your thinking for you" stuff. It's funny that "free thinkers" almost always end up thinking the same way.

    Swift was no Catholic, he agreed with most English people of his time when it came to seeing the Catholic Church as ignorant and superstitious, but he thought that Deists and atheists were more of a threat to national religion than Catholics. It seemed to him strange that the sort of Protestants who were ready to die defending England against the Pope were rather gentle towards those who called Christianity into question entirely.