« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
mighty light and easy on men's minds. As to the first property of paganism, its incapacity of being reduced to a contradiction, this it has in common with NONSENSE, which is likewise incapable of suffering the same disgrace. And this will account too for its second property, the sitting so light and easy on the minds of men: For nothing takes less hold of the mind than NONSENSE, or so little disturbs its tranquillity, while we have the discretion to take it for what it is. To this he will tell you, you mistake his aim, if you think it was to credit Paganism: the comparison was made only to discredit Christianity, by insinuating that its DOGMAS are contradictory, and its SANCTIONS oppressive.
As to the superior BENEVOLENCE in the spirit of paganism, this is made out as follows:
"Lucian observes, that a young man, who reads the "history of the gods in Homer or Hesiod, and finds. "their factions, wars, injustice, incest, adultery, and "other immoralities so highly celebrated, is much surprized afterwards, when he comes into the world, to. observe, that punishments are by law inflicted on the same actions, which he had been taught to ascribe to "superior beings. The contradiction is still perhaps STRONGER betwixt the representations given us by some "latter religions and our natural ideas of generosity, lenity, impartiality, and justice; and in proportion to "the multiplied terrors of these religions, the barbarous conceptions of the Divinity are multiplied upon us.' pp. 98, 99.
The DII MAJORUM GENTIUM, as we learn from their history, were, "a rabble of tyrants, pathics, and "adulterers, whores, vagabonds, thieves, and mur"derers*" Yet, gracious Heaven! a philosopher of North Britain, in the reign of George the Second, has dared to tell us, with very little disguise, that the barbarous conceptions of the Divinity, multiplied upon us by Christianity, are still more contradictory to our natural ideas of generosity, lenity, impartiality, and justice.
But here his modesty seemed to labour a little; and he is for casting part of the odium of this diabolical insinuation Div. Leg. Book iv. § 4.
from himself upon another. "But in order, says he, to "shew more evidently, that it is possible for a religion "to represent the Divinity in a still more immoral, una"miable light than the antient, we shall cite a long pas66 sage from an author of TASTE and IMAGINATION, "who was surely no enemy of Christianity." p. 99. You will suspect him to be just on the point of playing you a trick, when you hear him talk of his authority, as an author of taste and imagination, when the subject requires that the voucher for it should have a clear judgment and strong understanding. After all, there was no occasion for this slight of hand. The trick, I speak of, is to be played, as you will find, not by this man of taste, but by our philosopher himself. His voucher, the Chevalier Ramsey, is perfectly innocent of all our philosopher brings him to attest.
The words just quoted plainly imply, that in the opinion of this man of taste, Revelation, or the Jewish and Christian religion, as delivered in the Bible, represents the Divinity in a still more immoral and unamiable light than the antient.--It is possible, says he, for a RELIGION—which, I think, implies the religion itself, and not the superstitious followers, much less the professed enemies of it. Turn now to the long passage, which this man of truth has quoted in his 100th page, and you will find that this immoral and unamiable light in which the Divinity is represented, is not the representation of the religion itself, but of its false friends and open enemies. "What strange ideas (says "the Chevalier Ramsey) would an Indian or a Chinese philosopher have of our holy religion, if they judged by the schemes given of it by our modern FREETHINKERS and PHARISAICAL DOCTORS OF ALL "SECTS? According to the odious and too vulgar system "of these INCREDULOUS SCOFFERS and CREDULOUS SCRIBBLERS, the God of the Jews is a most cruel, unjust, partial, and fantastic being.-To accomplish the partial, barbarous decree of predestination and reprobation, God abandoned all nations to darkness, idolatry, and superstition," &c.
This turns out ridiculous enough. The Chevalier Ramsey is brought to prove, that the Bible represents
Well, but say you, the Chevalier Ramsey is made by our philosopher to consider the representation as the representation of Revelation, whoever made it. The man of : truth's words are these-To shew more evidently that it is possible for a religion to represent, &c. we shall cite a long passage from an author, who was surely no enemy to Christianity. Why were these last words added but to insinuate that the representation, however disadvantageous, was yet owned to be a true one; unwillingly perhaps, as he was a friend of Christianity, but from the mere force of evidence. Whereas turn but your eyes upon the long passage, and you will find that the representers, the freethinkers and pharisaical doctors, are heartily censured by the Chevalier for thus disfiguring and dishonouring Revelation. His concluding words are, "Thus the incredulous freethinkers, the Judaizing Christians, and the fatalistic doc"tors, have disfigured and dishonoured the sublime
the Divinity in a more immoral and unamiable light than Paganism, and the Chevalier Ramsey turns the tables on him, and proves that they are only such as our philosopher himself, and his crew, who so represent the Divinity
mysteries of our holy faith; thus they have con"founded the nature of good and evil; transformed the most monstrous passions into divine attributes, and SURPASSED THE PAGANS IN PLASPHEMY, by ascribing to the eternal nature as perfections, what makes the horridest crimes among men."
The sum is this. The man of truth calls upon the iman of taste to prove that the Jewish and Christian religions, as they lie in the Bible, represent the Divinity in a more immoral and unamiable light than Paganism. And the man of taste bears evidence, that it is not the Bible, but the man of truth and his crew, who give this representation of the Divinity: a representation which SURPASSES indeed the very PAGANS, IN
REMARK XVI. We now come to his account of the origin of that religion, of which, meaning superstition, he pretends to give a natural history.
"The primary religion of mankind arises chiefly from an anxious fear of future events; and what ideas will naturally be entertained of invisible unknown powers, "while men lie under dismal apprehensions of any kind, may easily be conceived. Every image of vengeance, severity, cruelty, and malice, must occur, and aug"ment the ghastliness and horror which oppresses the "amazed religionist. A panic having once seized the "mind, the active fancy still farther multiplies the ob
jects of terror; while that profound darkness, or, what "is worse, that glimmering light, with which we are en“vironed, represents the spectres of Divinity under the "most dreadful appearances imaginable. And no idea "of perverse wickedness can be framed, which those "terrified devotees do not readily, without scruple, apply to their deity.
"This appears the natural state of religion, when surveyed in one light. But if we consider, on the other "hand, that spirit of praise and eulogy, which necessarily has place in all religions, and which is the consequence of these very terrors, we must expect a quite contrary system of theology to prevail. Every virtue, every excellence must be ascribed to the Divinity, "and no exaggeration be esteemed sufficient to reach "those perfections with which he is endowed. Whatever "strains of panegyric can be invented are immediately
embraced, without consulting any arguments or phænomena. And it is esteemed a sufficient confirmation "of them, that they give us more magnificent ideas of "the divine object of our worship and adoration.
"HERE therefore is a kind of contradiction betwixt "the different principles of human nature, which enter "into religion. Our natural terrors present the notion "of a devilish and unalicious deity: our propensity to "praise leads us to acknowledge an excellent and divine. "And the influence of these opposite principles are "various, according to the different situation of the human understanding." pp. 94, 95.
Thus has this wretched man misrepresented and calumniated those two simple principles, which under the guidance of natural light led the people to a Deity, and kept him always in sight, namely, FEAR, and LOVE. A
man less maliciously disposed to abuse and slander human nature, would have fairly told us, that FEAR kept the religionist from evil, as a thing offensive to the Deity; and that LOVE inclined him to virtuous practice, as most acceptable to the divine nature. No, says this accuser of his kind, FEAR presented the religionist with the notion of a devilish and malicious deity: and LOVE CX'aggerated the perfections of the deity, without consulting any arguments or phænomena: i. e. arguments or phænomena, which might have convinced him that they were exaggerations. Whereas the truth of the case is merely this, whenever simple nature did not work by fear and love, to avoid evil and to follow good, but instead of that to invent a fantastic, or a diabolic deity, the impediment was accidental, occasioned by the intervention of some unhappy circumstance foreign to the natural workings of the human mind.
REMARK XVII." It is remarked by Xenophon (says our philosopher) in praise of Socrates, that that philosopher assented not to the VULGAR opinion, "which supposed the gods to know some things, and be ignorant of others: He maintained that they knew every thing which was done, said, or even thought. "But this was a strain of philosophy much above the
conception of his countrymen." p. 96.
This is pleasant. It is but in the foregoing page he assures us, that not only the vulgar of Greece, but the vulgar of all the world, knew that their gods were ignorant of nothing. His words are these. If we consider that spirit of praise and eulogy, WHICH NECESSARILY HAS PLACE IN ALL RELIGIONS, we shall find that every virtue, every excellence must be ascribed to the Divinity, and NO EXAGGERATIONS BE ES
TEEMED SUFFICIENT TO REACH THOSE PERFECTIONS, with which he is endowed. Now is not OMNISCIENCE & PERFECTION? And was not the spirit of exaggeration, which never thought it said enough, able to reach the idea of knowing all things? How happened it then that this exaggerating mob of religionists wanted a Socrates to tell them, that the gods not only knew some things, but all things? But the man has got his readers, and he uses them as they deserve.