And here I am at a loss, what to say upon the frequent custom of preaching against atheism, deism, freethinking, and the like, as young divines are particularly fond of doing, especially when they exercise their talent in churches frequented by persons of quality; which, as it is but an ill compliment to the audience, so I am under seme doubt whether it answers the end.
Because, persons under those imputations are generally no great frequenters of churches, and so the congregation is but little edified for the sake of three or four fools, who are past grace: neither do I think it any part of prudence to perplex the minds of well-disposed people with doubts, which probably would never have otherwise come into their heads. But I am of opinion, and dare be positive in it, that not one in a hundred of those, who pretend to be freethinkers, are really so in their hearts. For there is one observation, which I never knew to fail, and I desire you will examine it in the course of your life; that no gentleman of a liberal education, and regular in his morals, did ever profess himself a freethinker: where then are these kind of people to be found? among the worst part of the soldiery, made up of pages, younger brothers of obscure families, and others of desperate fortunes: or else among idle town fops, and now and then a drunken ‘squire of the country. Therefore, nothing can be plainer, than that ignorance and vice are two ingredients absolutely necessary in the composition of those you generally call freethinkers, who, in propriety of speech, are no thinkers at all. And since I am in the way of it, pray consider one thing farther: as young as you are, you cannot but have already observed, what a violent run there is among too many weak people against university education: be firmly assured, that the whole cry is made up by those, who were either never sent to a college, or, through their irregularities and stupidity, never made the least improvement, while they were there, I have above forty of the latter sort now in my eye; several of them in this town, whose learning, manners, temperance, probity, good nature, and politicks, are all of a piece: others of them in the country, oppressing their tenants, tyrannizing over the neighborhood, cheating the vicar, talking nonsense, and getting drunk at the sessions. It is from such seminaries as these, that the world is provided with the several tribes and denominations of freethinkers; who, in my judgment, are not to be reformed by arguments offered to prove the truth of the Christian religion, because reasoning will never make a man correct an ill opinion, which by reasoning he never acquired: for, in the course of things, men always grow vicious, before they become unbelievers; but if you would once convince the town or country profligate, by topicks drawn from the view of their own quiet, reputation, health, and advantage, their infidelity would soon drop off: this, I confess, is no easy task, because it is, almost in a literal sense, to fight with beasts. —from A Letter to a Young Clergyman (1719)