The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
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Persecution by Protestants

In Protestant countries, the persecution of Catholics and other Protestants were carried out with no less zeal than the reverse in the Catholic countries. In Britain, for instance, the persecution of those who were not of the Church of England was constant. The historian William Lecky (1838-1903) summarizes the situation in his book A History of the Rise and Influence of Rationalism in Europe (1865):

The Presbyterians through a long succession of reigns were imprisoned, branded, mutilated, scourged, and exposed in the pillory. Many Catholics under false pretences were tortured and hung. Anabaptists and Arians were burned alive ... In Scotland, during nearly the whole period that the Stuarts were on the throne of England, a persecution rivalling in atrocity almost any on record was directed by the English government, at the instigation of the Scotch bishops, and with the approbation of the English church, against all who repudiated episcopacy ... The Presbyterians were hunted like criminals over the mountains. Their ears were torn from the roots. They were branded with hot irons. Their fingers were wrenched asunder by thumbkins. The bones of their legs were shattered in the boots. Women were scourged publicly through the streets. Multitudes were transported to Barbados, infuriated soldiers were let loose upon them, and encouraged to exercise all their ingenuity in torturing them ...[1]

The Protestants in continental Europe were no better than their British counterparts. In Switzerland many Anabaptist [a] were executed by drowning, considered by many a fitting end to these "double baptizers". The Anabaptists were not the only people persecuted by the Calvinists; the freethinker Gentilis was killed by the axe, while the Unitarian Servetus was burned at the stake.

In part-Lutheran and part-Catholic Germany, the Anabaptists were persecuted with equal ferocity by both sides. At the Diet of Speyer in 1529, the Lutheran and Catholic parties agreed that Anabaptists deserved death for their beliefs.

In Holland, where Calvinism was the official religion, things were not much better. In the seventeenth century, there flourished a Christian sect called Aminianism which teaches a modified doctrine of predestination. They were not tolerated by the Dutch Calvinists. The Arminian Barneveldt was beheaded as a traitor in 1619, while another prominet Arminian, Grotius, was sentenced to life imprisonment. [2]

We have thus seen that a fundamental attitude of intolerance permeates all of Christianity. Thus the Calvinists who were persecuted by the Anglican Church in Scotland, were the persecutors of Anabaptists, Unitarians, Arminianisms in Holland and Switzerland.

Another example of a Christian sect that were both the persecuted and the persecutors were the Puritans. Founded during the reign of Elizabeth I (1533-1603) in England, the Puritans, who rejected all forms of episcopacy, were outlawed during her reign. And during the reign of King James I (1566-1625), he adopted harsh measures against the puritans which forced some of them to leave England for Holland and New England. The puritans left in England were treated even worse under the reign of Charles I (1600-1649). The Puritans were imprisoned, scourged and pilloried. Some of them even had their ears cut off and their noses split.

Thus the Puritans that went to New England had first hand experience of religious persecution. One would expect them to be more tolerant of dissent, as they knew what it was like to be on the wrong end of the religious stick. Alas, it was not the case at all. The Puritans in New England were equally zealous in persecuting dissenters. Those who taught deviant doctrines were mutilated (such as having their ears chopped off) or hanged. Catholics and Quakers were also severely persecuted by the Puritans in New England. Thus, at least four Quakers were hanged by the Puritans for their beliefs. The Puritans were also responsible for the execution of twenty people for witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts. [3]

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a.Anabaptists are Christians who believed in the baptism of believers who have reached the age of reason. They do not baptize babies and young adults. In effect, many Anabaptists actually experienced a double baptism: once as babies in their original religion, and once after their conversion into the Sect.


1.Knight, Humanist Anthology: p113-114
2.Haught, Holy Horrors: p109-111
Knight, Humanist Anthology: p113-114
Robertson, History of Christianity: p206-207
3.Haught, Holy Horrors: p117-124
Knight, Humanist Anthology: p114

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