Joseph Priestley House

Northumberland, Pennsylvania

Priestley and Religion

Compiled by Derek A. Davenport
Department of Chemistry
Purdue University

“The scheme of philosophical necessity has been shewn to imply a chain of causes and effects, established by infinite wisdom, and terminating in the greatest good of the whole universe; evils of all kinds natural and moral being admitted, as far as they contribute to that end, or may be in the nature of things inseparable from it.”
-The Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity Illustrated (1777)

“…the church of Rome, of which you are a member; but which I consider as properly antichristian, and a system of abominations little better than heathenism.”
-Letter to Abbé Boscovich (1778)

“The morning is upon us, and we cannot doubt that the light will increase, and extend itself more and more unto the perfect day. Happy are those who contribute to diffuse the pure light of this everlasting gospel.”
-Joseph Priestley (1782)

“Let us not, therefore, be discouraged, though for the present we should see no great number of churches professedly Unitarian…We are, as it were, laying gunpowder, grain by grain, under the old building of error and superstition, which a single spark may hereafter inflame; in consequence of which that edifice, the erection of which has been the work of ages, may be overturned in a moment, and so effectually as that the same foundation can never be built on again…And til things are properly ripe for such a revolution, it would be absurd to expect it, and in vain to attempt it.”

“All I wish as a Christian from the powers of this world is that they would not intermeddle at all…and that they would give no countenance whatever to any mode of it, my own or others, but show so much confidence in the principles of what they themselves deem to be true religion, as to think it able to guard itself.”
“I never preached a political sermon in my life, unless such as, I believe, all Dissenters usually preach on the Fifth of November [Guy Fawkes Day], in favour of civil and religious liberty, may be said to be political.”
-”Gunpowder Joe” Priestley
-JRC, p. 42

“I have written with as much impartiality as I am capable of; following such lights as my reading and observation have been able to supply. I pretend not, however, to have written under the influence of all the virtues, that of discretion, in subjects of this nature, being almost out of my system.”
-JRC, p. 37

“My Arian friends will think that I bear peculiarly hard upon them, and I frankly acknowledge it. I think theirs to be an hypothesis equally destitute of support in the scriptures, in reason, and in history.”
-JRC, p. 65

“…[young ladies] seem to have no objection to a suitor on account of his illicit amours; imagining perhaps that a reformed rake will make the best husband…Would this amiable part of our species only do themselves the justice to insist upon the same strict chastity and honor with respect to men, which men universally insist on with respect to them, our sex would, no doubt, be as virtuous as theirs, and they would make much better husbands and fathers than they now do.”
-JRC, p. 58

“Persons who have only one object of pursuit, never fail to over-rate it, and of course to undervalue other things. I would farther observe, that the attention I have given to theology (which, by the way, is my original and proper province, and for which I may, therefore, be allowed to have a justifiable predilection) does not engross so such of my time as some persons may imagine.”
-Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air (1790)

“Neither the tenor of my theological writings in general, nor the manner in which I have written in the defense of religious liberty in particular, were calculated to promise me the thanks of the bulk of Dissenters. But I think it now less honorable to be the hunted deer, shunned by his companions, than the leader of the peaceful herd.”

“Orthodoxy is my doxy; heterodoxy is another man’s doxy.”
-Autobiography of Joseph Priestley