ARGUMENTS ABOUT CHRISTIANITY IN ON LIBERTY
Let anyone read the autobiography of Mr. John Mill, compare it with his works, and ask himself whether every one of them does not show the clearest traces of a deep–seated hostility to religion…andofa settled determination…tosapthe very foundations of religion, by means of a mode of attack which no law short of the Spanish Inquisition could possibly reach. (James Fitzjames Stephen)
THE REALITY of penalties and the practice of dissimulation provided the immediate context of Mill's writing about religion in On Liberty and elsewhere. These things influenced what he wrote and determined the way he wrote. He made it clear that about religion he would not publish all his thoughts, and he implied that in what he wrote he would practice the kind of equivocation which he regarded as justifiable. Yet the need to conceal affected more; it also shaped the substance and the rationale for the book. His purpose was to establish liberty for those who would implement his plan for moral reformation. There were, in general, two functions that had to be performed, one destructive, the other constructive. The first involved eliminating old moral, religious, and social beliefs that were objectionable as well as being obstacles to the emergence of better alternatives; the second involved visualizing and encouraging the growth of a new moral and social order. Mill wished to promote both these activities, and in On Liberty he criticized the social and legal constraints that made it difficult for these functions to be performed.
The time was ripe for such changes, he believed. Vast, long–term subterranean changes were underway. One of the strongest tendencies was toward “a general demolition of old institutions and opinions.” It had begun in France, and the process was underway in England, indeed, the English were “in the middle of their Revolution.”1 Mill, of course, welcomed these changes: “I confidently hope for … complete subversions____________________