A Vindication of Natural Society "Where Mystery Begins, Religion Ends"

Edmund Burke

"Where Mystery Begins, Religion Ends"

Context: Bolingbroke, an important political writer of the early eighteenth century, attacked revealed religion frequently and with vigor, proposing Deism in its place. When he died about the middle of the century, he left some posthumous writings in the same vein, which were published with great acclaim, especially for their inimitable style. Burke, who held great reverence for religious tradition, responded with this heavily ironic tract in which he imitated perfectly the style of Bolingbroke and showed that the same arguments that had been turned against revealed religion might just as easily be applied to civilized, or political, society:

. . . In a state of nature, it is true that a man of superior force may beat or rob me; but then it is true, that I am at full liberty to defend myself, or make reprisal by surprise or by cunning, or by any other way in which I may be superior to him. But in political society, a rich man may rob me in another way. I cannot defend myself; for money is the only weapon with which we are allowed to fight. And if I attempt to avenge myself the whole force of that society is ready to complete my ruin.
A good parson once said, that where mystery begins, religion ends. Cannot I say, as truly at least, of human laws, that where mystery begins, justice ends? It is hard to say, whether the doctors of law or divinity have made the greatest advances in the lucrative business of mystery.