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vast interval, which is interposed betwixt the human and the divine nature. But tho' Jallow, that the order and frame of the universe, when accurately examined, affords such an argument; yet I can never think that this consideration could have an influence on mankind when they formed their first rude notions of religion.
The causes of objects, which are quite familiar to us, never strike our attention or curiosity; and however extraordinary or surprizing these objects may be in themselves, they are passed over, by the raw and ignorant multitude, without much examination or enquiry. ADAM, rising at once, in paradise, and in the full perfection of his faculties, would naturally, as represented by Milton, be astonished at the glorious appearances of nature, the heavens, the air, the earth, his own organs and members; and would be led to ask, whence this wonderful scene arose. But a barbarous, necessitous animal (such as man is on the first origin of society) pressed by such numerous wants and passions, has no leisure to admire the regular face of nature, or make enquiries concerning the cause of objects, to which, from his infancy, he has been gradually accustomed. On the contrary, the more regular and uniform, that is, the more perfect, nature appears, the more is he familiarized to it, and the less inclined to scrutinize and examine it. A monstrous birth excites his curiosity, and is deemed a prodigy. It alarms him from its novelty; and immediately sets him a trembling, and sacrificing, and praying. But an animal compleat in all its limbs and organs, is to him an ordinary spectacle, and produces no religious opinion or affection. Ask him, whence that animal arose; he will tell you, from the copulation of its parents. And these, whence? From the copulation of theirs. A few removes satisfy his curiosity, and set the objects at such a distance, that he entirely loses sight of them. Imagine not, that he will so much as start the question, whence the first animal; much less, whence the whole system or united fabric of the universe arose. Or, if you stare such a question to him, expect not, that he will employ his mind with any anxiety about a subject, so remote, so uninteresting, and which so much exceeds the bounds of his capacity.
But farther, if men were at first led into the belief of one supreme being, by reasoning from the frame of nature, they could never possibly leave that belicf, in order to embrace idolatry ; but the same principles of reasoning, which at first produced, and diffused over mankind, so magnificent an opinion, must be able, with greater facility, to preserve it. The first invention and proof of any doctrine is infinitely more difficult than the supporting and retaining it.
THERE is a great difference betwixt historical facts and speculative opinions; nor is the knowlege of the one propagated in the same manner with that of the other. An historical fact, while it passes by oral tradition from eye-witnesses and contemporaries, is disguised in every succesive narration, and may at last retain but very small, if any, resemblance of the original truth, on which it was founded. The frail memories of men, their love of exaggeration, their supine carelessness; these principles, if not corrected by books and writing, foon pervert the account of hiItorical events, where argument or reasoning has little or no place ; nor can ever recal the truth, which has once escaped those narrations. 'Tis thus the fables of Hercules, Theseus, BACCHUS are supposed to have been originally founded in true history, corrupted by tradition. But with regard to speculative opinions, the case is far otherwise. If these opinions be founded in arguments so
or realond those narration have been reculative clear and obvious as to carry conviction with the generality of mankind, the fame arguments, which at first diffused the opinions, will still preserve them in their original purity. If the arguments be more abstruse, and more remote from vulgar apprehensions, the opinions will always be confined to a few persons; and as soon as men leave the contemplation of the arguments, the opinions will immediately be lost and be buried in oblivion,' Which ever side of this dilemma we take, it must appear impossible, that theism could, from reasoning, have been the primary religion of human race, and have afterwards, by its corruption, given birth to idolatry and to all the various superstitions of the heathen world. Reason, when very obvious, prevents these corruptions : When abftruse, it keeps the principles entirely from the knowlege of the vulgar, who are alone liable to corrupt any principles, or opinions.
Sect. II. Origin of Polytheism
If we would, therefore, indulge our curiosity, in enquiring concerning the origin of religion, we must turn our thoughts towards idolatry or polytheism, the primitive Religion of uninstructed mankind. * Were men led into the apprehension of invisible, intelligent power by a contemplation of the works of nature, they could never possibly entertain any conception but of one fingle being, who bestowed existence and order on this vast machine, and adjusted all its parts, according to one regular plan or connected fyftem. For tho', to perfons of a certain turn of mind, it may not appear altogether absurd, that several independent beings, endowed with superior wisdom, might conspire in the contrivance and execution of one regular plan; yet is this a mere arbitrary supposition, which, even if allowed possible, must be confeffed neither to be supported by probability nor necessity. All things in the universe are evidently of a piece. Every thing is adjusted to every thing. One design prevails thro’ the whole. And this uniformity leads the mind to acknowlege one author; becaufe the conception of different authors, without any distinction of attributes or operations, ferves only to give perplexity to the imagination, without beftowing any fatisfaction on the understanding".
On the other hand, if, leaving the works of nature, we trace the footsteps of invisible power in the various and contrary events of human life, we are necessarily led into polytheism and to the acknowlegement of several limited and imperfect deities. Storms and tempefts ruin what is nourished by the fun. The sun destroys what is fostered by the moisture of dews and rains. War may be favorable to a nation, whom the inclemency of the seasons afflicts with famine. Sickness and pestilence may depopulate a kingdom, amidst the most profuse plenty. The same nation is not, at the same time, equally successful by sea and by land. And a nation, which now triumphs over its enemies, may anon submit to their more prof
k The statue of LAOCOON, as we learn from the work and contrivance of one ftatuary. To PUINY, was the work of three artists: But 'tis ascribe any single effect to the combinacion of fee certain, that, were we not told so, we should ne. veral causes, is not furely a natural and obvious ver have concluded, that a groupe of figures, cut supposition. from one stone, and united in one plan, was not
all or i, fortunide, thrift ideas
perous arms. In short, the conduct of events, or what we call the plan of a particular providence, is so full of variety and uncertainty, that, if we suppose it immediately ordered by any intelligent beings, we must acknowlege a contrariety in their designs and intentions, a constant combat of opposite powers, and a repentance or change of intention in the same power, from impotence or levity. Each nation has its tutelar deity. Each element is subjected to its invisible power or agent. The province of each god is separate from that of another. Nor are the operations of the same god always certain and invariable. To day he protects : To morrow, he abandons us. Prayers and sacrifices, rites and ceremonies, well or ill performed, are the sources of his favor or enmity, and produce all the good or ill fortune, which are to be found amongst mankind.
We may conclude, therefore, that in all nations, which have embraced polytheism or idolatry, the first ideas of religion arose not from a contemplation of the works of nature, but from a concern with regard to the events of life, and from the incessant hopes and fears, which actuate the human mind. Accordingly, we find, that all idolaters, having separated the provinces of their deities, have recourse to that invisible agent, to whofe authority they are immediately subjected, and whose province it is to superintend that course of actions, in which they are, at any time, engaged. Juno is invoked at marriages ; Lucina at births. NepTune receives the prayers of feamen ; and Mars of warriors. The husbandman cultivates his field under the protection of Ceres; and the merchant acknowleges the authority of MERCURY. Each natural event is supposed to be governed by some intelligent agent; and nothing prosperous or adverse can happen in life, which may not be the subject of peculiar prayers or thanksgivings'.
It must necessarily, indeed, be allowed, that, in order to carry men's attention beyond the present course of things, or lead them into any inference concerning invisible intelligent power, they must be actuated by some passion, which prompts their thought and reflection; some motive, which urges their first enquiry. But what passion shall we here have recourse to, for explaining an effect of such mighty consequence ? Not speculative curiosity surely, or the pure love of truth. That motive is too refined for such grofs apprehensions, and would lead men into enquiries concerning the frame of nature ; a subject too large and comprehensive for their narrow capacities. No passions, therefore, can be supposed to work upon such barbarians, but the ordinary affections of human life; the anxious concern for happiness, the dread of future misery, the terror of death, the thirst of revenge, the appetite for food and other neceffaries. Agitated by hopes and fears of this nature, especially the latter, men scrutinize, with a trembling curiosity, the course of future causes, and examine the various contrary events of human life. And in this disordered scene, with eyes ftill more disordered and astonished, they see the first obscure traces of divinity.
I « Fragilis et laboriosa mortalitas in partes ifta seems still too great for their number. The pro“ digeflit, infirmitatis suæ memor, ut portionibus vinces of the deities were so subdivided, that “ quifquis coleret, quo maxime indigeret.” Plin. there was even a God of Sneezing. See Arist. lib. ii. cap. 9. So early as Hesiod's time there Probl. Sect. 33. cap. 7. The province of cowere 30,000 deities. Oper. & Dier. lib. i. ver. pulation, suitable to the importance and dignia 250. But the tak to be performed by these, ty of it, was divided among leveral deities.
Secr. III. The famè fubje&t continued.
We are placed in this world, as in a great theatre, where the true springs and causes of every event, are entirely unknown to us; nor have we either sufficient wisdom to foresee, or power to prevent those ills, with which we are continually threatened. We hang in perpetual suspence betwixt life and death, health and sickness, plenty and want ; which are distributed amongst the human fpecies by secret and unknown causes, whose operation is oft unexpected, and always unac. countable. These unknown causes, then, become the constant object of our hope and fear; and while the passions are kept in perpetual alarm by an anxious expec. tation of the events, the imagination is equally employed in forming ideas of those powers, on which we have so encire a dependance. Could men anatomize nature, according to the most probable, at least the most intelligible philosophy, they would find, that these causes are nothing but the particular fabric and structure of the minute parts of their own bodies and of external objects; and that, by a reguilar and constant machinery, all the events are produced, about which they are so much concerned. But this philosophy exceeds the comprehension of the ignorant multitude, who can only conceive the unknown causes in a general and confused manner ; tho' their imagination, perpetually employed on the same subject, must labor to form some particular and distinct idea of them. The more they consider these causes themselves, and the uncertainty of their operation, the less satisfaction do they meet with in their research; and, however unwilling, they must at last have abandoned so arduous an attempt, were it not for a propensity in human nature, which leads into a system, that gives them fome seeming satisfaction.
There is an universal tendency amongst mankind to conceive all beings like themselves, and to transfer to every object those qualities, with which they are familiarly acquainted, and of which they are intimately conscious. We find human faces in the moon, armies in the clouds; and by a natural propensity, if not corrected by experience and reflection, ascribe malice and good will to every thing, that hurts or pleases us. Hence the frequency and beauty of the profopoo pæia in poetry, where trees, mountains and streams are personified, and the inanis mate parts of nature acquire sentiment and paslion. And tho' these poetical figures and expressions gain not on the belief, they may serve, at least, to prove a certain tendency in the imagination, without which they could neither be beautiful nor natural. Nor is a river-god or hama-dryad always taken for a mere poetical or imaginary personage ; but may sometimes enter into the real creed of the ignorant vulgar; while each grove or field is represented as poslest of a particular genius or invisible power, which inhabits or protects it. Nay, philosophers cannot entirely exempt themselves from this natural frailty ; but have oft ascribed to inamate matter the horror of a vacuum, sympathies, antipathies and other affections of human nature. The absurdity is not less, while we cast our eyes upwards; and transferring, as is too usual, human passions and infirmities to the deity, represent him as jealous ard revergeful, capricious and partial, and, in short, a wicked and fuolish man in every respect, but his superior power and authority. No wonder, then, that mankind, being placed in such an absolute ignorance of causes, and being
at the same time so anxious concerning their future fortunes, mould immediately acknowlege a dependence on invisible powers, possesed of sentiment and intelligence. The unknown causes, which continually employ their thought, appearing always in the same aspect, are all apprehended to be of the same kind or species. Nor is it long before we ascribe to them thought, and reason, and passion, and sometimes even the limbs and figures of men, in order to bring them nearer to a resemblance with ourselves.
In proportion as any man's course of life is governed by accident, we always find, that he encreases in superstition; as may particularly be observed of game. fters and sailors, who, tho' of all mankind, the least capable of serious meditation, abound most in frivolous and superstitious apprehensions. The gods, says CORIOLANUs in DIONYSIUS“, have an influence in every affair ; but above all, in war; where the event is so uncertain. All human life, especially before the institution of order and good government, being subject to fortuitous accidents; it is natural, that fuperftition should prevail every where in barbarous ages, and put men on the most earneft enquiry concerning those invisible powers, who dispose of their happiness or misery. Ignorant of astronomy and the anatomy of plants and animals, and too little curious to observe the admirable adjustment of final causes; they remain still unacquainted with a first and supreme creator, and with that infinitely perfect spirit, who alone, by his almighty will, bestowed order on the whole frame of nature. Such a magnificent idea is too big for their narrow conceptions, which can neither observe the beauty of the work, nor comprehend the grandeur of its author. They suppose their deities, however potent and invisible, to be nothing but a species of human creatures, perhaps raised from among mankind, and retaining all human passions and appetites, together with corporeal limbs and organs. Such limited beings, tho' masters of human fate, being, each of them, incapable of extending his influence every where, must be vastly multiplied, in order to answer that variety of events, which happen over the whole face of nature. Thus every place is stored with a crowd of local deities ; and thus idolatry has prevailed, and still prevails, among the greatest part of uninstructed mankind ".
Any of the human affections may lead us into the notion of invisible, intelligent power ; hope as well as fear, gratitude as well as affliction : But if we examine our own hearts, or observe what passes around us, we shall find, that men are much oftener thrown on their knees by the me'ancholy than by the agreeable parsions. Prosperity is easily received as our due, and few questions are asked concerning its cause or author. It begets cheerfuln_ss and activity and alacrity and a lively enjoyment of every social and sensual pleasure: And during this state of