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mind, men have little leisure or inclination to think of the unknown invisible regions. On the other hand, every disastrous accident alarms us, and sets us on enquiries concerning the principles whence it arose : Apprehensions spring up with regard to futurity : And the mind, sunk into diffidence, terror, and melancholy, has recourse to every method of appealing those secret, intelligent powers, on whom our fortune is supposed entirely to depend.
No topic is more usual with all popular divines than to display the advantages of affliction, in bringing men to a due sense of religion ; by subduing their confidence and sensuality, which, in times of prosperity, make them forgetful of a divine providence. Nor is this topic confined merely to modern religions. The ancients have also employed it. Fortune has never liberally, without envy, says a Greek historian ?, bestowed an unmixed happiness on mankind; but with all ber gifts bas ever conjoined some disastrous circumstance, in order to chastize men into a reverence for the gods, whom in a continued course of prosperity, they are apt to neglect and forget.
What age or period of life is the most addicted to fuperstition? The weakest and most timid. What fex? The same answer must be given. The leaders and examples of every kind of superstition, says STRABO”, are the women. These excite the men to devotion and supplications, and the observance of religious days. It is rare to meet with one that lives apart from the females, and yet is addiEted to such prace tices. And nothing can, for this reason, be more improbable, -than the account given of an order of men amongst the Getes, who praétised celibacy, and were notwith, standing the most religious fanatics. A method of reasoning, which would lead us to entertain a bad idea of the devotion of monks; did we not know by an experience, not so common, perhaps, in STRABO's days, that one may practise celibacy, and profess chastity; and yet maintain the closest connexions and most entire sympathy with that timorous and pious sex.
Sect. IV. Deities not considered as creators or formers of the world.
The only point of theology, in which we shall find a consent of mankind almost universal, is, that there is invisible, intelligent power in the world : But whether this power be supreme or subordinate, whether confined to one being, or distributed among several, what attributes, qualities, connexions or principles of action ought to be ascribed to those beings ; concerning all these points, there is the widest difference in the popular fyftems of theology. Our ancestors in EuRope, before the revival of letters, believed, as we do at present, that there was one supreme God, the author of nature, whose power, tho', in itself, uncontrolable, yet was often exerted by the interposition of his angels and subordinate ministers, who executed his sacred purposes. But they also believed, that all nature was full of other invisible powers; fairies, goblins, elves, sprights; beings, stronger and mightier than men, but much inferior to the celestial natures, who surround the throne of God. Now suppose, that any one, in those ages, had denied the existence of God and of his angels; would not his impiety justly have deDiod. Sic. lib. iii.
9 Lib. vii.
was full of other in his facred purpoft position of his ancho?, in itself,
well-ground it is infinitull invisible
deserved the appellation of atheism, even tho he had still allowed, by fome odd capricious reasoning, that the popular stories of elves and fairies were just and well-grounded? The difference, on the other hand, betwixt such a person and a genuine theist is infinitely greater than that, on the other, betwixt him and one, that absolutely excludes all invisible, intelligent power. And it is a fallacy, merely from the casual resemblance of names, without any conformity of meaning, to sank such opposite opinions under the same denomination.
To any one, who considers justly of the matter, it will appear, that the gods of all polytheists or idolaters are no better than the elves or fairies of our ancestors, and merit as little any pious worship or veneration. These pretended religionists are really a kind of superstitious atheists, and acknowlege no being, that corresponds to our idea of a deity. No first principle of mind or thought : No supreme government and adminiftration : No divine contrivance or intention in the fabric of the world.
THE CHINESE, when their prayers are not answered, beat their idols. The deities of the LAPLANDERS are any large stone which they meet with of an extraordinary shape. The EGYPTIAN mythologists, in order to account for animal worship, said, that the gods, purfued by the violence of earth-born men, who were their enemies, had formerly been obliged to disguise themselves under the femblance of beasts. The CAUNII, a nation in the leffer Asia, resolving to admit no ftrange gods among them, regularly, at certain seasons, assembled themfelves compleatly armed, beat the air with their lances, and proceeded in that manner to their frontiers ; in order, as they said, to expel the foreign deities . Not even the immortal gods, said some GERMAN nations to CÆSAR, are a match for the SUEVI.
Many ills, says Dione in Homer to Venus wounded by DIOMEDE, many ills, my daughter, have the gods inflicted on men: And many ills, in return, have men inflicted on the gods'. We need but open any classic author to meet with these gross representations of the deities; and LONGINUS 6 with reason obferves, that such ideas of the divine nature, if literally taken, contain a true atheism.
SOME writers have been surprized, that the. impieties of ARISTOPHANES should have been tolerated, nay publickly acted and applauded by the ATHENIANS; a people so superstitious and so jealous of the public religion, that, at that very time, they put SOCRATES to death for his imagined incredulity. But these writers consider not, that the ludicrous, familiar images, under which the gods are represented by that comic poet, instead of appearing impious, were the genuine lights, in which the ancients conceived their divinities. What conduct can be more criminal or mean, than that of Jupiter in the AMPHITRYON? Yet that play, which represented his gallant exploits, was supposed fo agreeable to him, that it was always acted in Rome by public authority, when the State was threatened with pestilence, famine, or any general calamity The Romans supposed, that,
a Pere le Comte.
e Cæs. Comment. de bell. Gallico, lib. iv. Regnard, Voïage de Lapponie.
f Lib. ix. 382.
Cap. ix. c Diod. Sic. lib. i. Lucian. de Sacrificiis. Ovid Pere Brumoy, Theatre des Grecs ; & Fonte. alludes to the same tradition, Metam. lib. v. l. nelle, Histoire des Oracles. 321. So also Manilius, lib. iv. .
Arnob. lib. vii. Herodot. lib. i.
like all old letchers, he would be highly pleased with the rehearsal of his former feats of activity and vigor, and that no topic was so proper, upon which to facter his pride and vanity.
The LACEDEMONIANS, says XENOPHON ', always, during war, put up their petitions very early in the morning, in order to be beforehand with their enemies, and by being the first sollicitors, pre-engage the gods in their favor. We may gather from SENECA ", that it was usual for the votaries in the temples, to make interest with the beadles or sextons, in order to have a seat near the image of the deity, that they might be the best heard in their prayers and applications to him. The TYRIANS, when besieged by ALEXANDER, threw chains on the statue of HerCULES, to prevent that deity from deserting to the enemy . AUCUSTUS, having twice lost his feet by storms, forbad NEPTUNE to be carried in procession along with the other gods; and fancied, that he had sufficiently revenged himself by that expediente. After GerMANICUS's death, the people were so enraged at their goc's, that they stoned them in their temples; and openly renounced all allegiance to them .
To ascribe the origin and fabric of the universe to these imperfect beings never enters into the imagination of any polytheist or idolater. HESIOD, whose writings, with those of HOMER, contained the canonical system of the heathens 3; Hesiod, I say, supposes gods and men to have sprung equally from the unknown powers of nature". And thro' the whole theogony of that author, PANDORA is the only instance of creation or a voluntary production, and she too was formed by the gods merely from despight to PROMETHEUS, who had furnished men with stolen fire from the celestial regions k. The ancient mythologists, indeed, seem throughout to have rather embraced the idea of generation than that of creation, or formation ; and to have thence accounted for the origin of this universe.
Ovid, who lived in a learned age, and had been instructed by philosophers in the principles of a divine creation or formation of the world ; finding, that such an idea would not agree with the popular mythology, which he delivers, leaves it, in a manner, loose and detached from his system. Quisquis fuit ille Deorum ? Which-ever of the gods it was, says he, that diffipated the chaos, and introduced order into the universe. It could neither be SATURN, he knew, nor Jupiter, nor NEPTUNE, nor any of the received deities of paganism. His theological system had taught him nothing upon that head, and he leaves the matter equally undetermined. · Diodorus Siculus m, beginning his work with an enumeration of the most reasonable opinions concerning the origin of the world, makes no mention of a deity or intelligent mind; tho' it is evident from his history, that that author had a much greater proneness to superstition than to irreligion. And in another palsage", talking of the ICHTHYOPHAGES, a nation in India, he says, that there being so great difficulty in accounting for their descent, we muft conclude them to
be aborigines, without any beginning of their generation, propagating their race from all eternity; as some of the physiologers, in treating of the origin of nature, have justly observed. “But in such subjects as these,” adds the historian, " which “ exceed all human capacity, it may well happen, that those, who discourse the " most, know the least, reaching a specious appearance of truth in their reason“ ings, while extremely wide of the real truth and matter of fact.”
A STRANGE sentiment in our eyes, to be embraced by a professed and zealous religionist " ! But it was merely by accident, that the question concerning the origin of the world did ever in antient times enter into religious systems, or was treat.ed of by theologers. The philosophers alone made profession of delivering systems of this nature ; and it was pretty late too before these bethought themselves of have ing recourse to a mind or supreme intelligence, as the first cause of all. So far was it from being esteemed profane in those days to account for the origin of things without a deity, that THALES, ANAXIMENES, HERACLITUS, and others, who embraced that system of cosmogony, past unquestioned; while ANAXAGORAS, the first undoubted theist among the philosophers, was perhaps the first that ever was accused of atheism b.
We are told by Sextus Empiricus , that EPICURUS, when a boy, reading with his preceptor these verses of HESIOD,
Eldest of beings, chaos first arose ; .
the young scholar first betrayed his inquisitive genius, by asking, And choas whence ? But was told by his preceptor, that he must have recourse to the philosophers for a solution of such questions. And from this hint, EPICURUS left philology and all other studies, in order to betake himself to that science, whence alone he expected satisfaction with regard to these sublime subjects.
The common people were never likely to push their researches so far, or derive from reasoning their systems of religion; when philologers and mythologists, we see, scarce ever discovered so much penetration. And even the philosophers, who discoursed of such topics, readily allented to the groffest theory, and admited the joint origin of gods and men from night and chaos; from fire, water, air, or whatever they established to be the ruling element.
• The same author, who can thus account for the origin of the world without a Deity, elteems it impious to explain from physical causes, the common accidents of life, earthquakes, inundations, and tempest: ; and devoutly ascribes these to the anger of JUPITER or Neptune. A plain proof, whence he derived his ideas of religion. See lib. xv. p. 364. Ex edit. RHODOMANNI.
It will be easy to give a reason, why ThaLES, ANAXIMANDER, and those early philoso. phers, who really were atheists, might be very orthodox in the pagan creed ; and why ANAXACORAS and SOCRATES, tho' real theists, must naturally, in antient times, be esteemed impious.
The blind, unguided powers of nature, if they could
Nor Nor was it only on their first origin, that the gods were supposed dependent on the powers of nature. Thro' the whole period of their existence they were subjected to the dominion of fate or destiny. Think of the force of neceffity, says AGRIPPA to the ROMAN people, that force, to which even the gods must submit. And the younger Pliny e, suitable to this way of reasoning, tells us, that, amidst the darkness, horror and confusion, which ensued upon the first eruption of VESUVIUS, several concluded, that all nature was going to wrack, and that gods and men were perishing in one common ruin.
It is great complaisance, indeed, if we dignify with the name of religion such an imperfect system of theology, and put it on a level with latter systems, which are founded on principles more just and more sublime. For my part, I can scarce allow the principles even of Marcus AURELIUS, PLUTARCH, and some other Stoics and Academics, tho' infinitely more refined than the pagan superstition, to be worthy of the honorable denomination of theifm. For if the mythology of the heathens resemble the antient EUROPEAN system of spiritual beings, excluding God and angels, and leaving only fairies and sprights; the creed of thefe philosophers may justly be said to exclude a deity, and to leave only angels and fairies.
Sect. V. Various Forms of Polytheism ; Alegory, Hero-Worship.
But it is chiefly our present business to consider the gross polytheism and idolatry of the vulgar, and to trace all its various appearances, in the principles of human nature, whence they are derived.
WHOEVER learns, by argument, the existence of invisible; intelligent power, must reason from the admirable contrivance of natural objects, and must suppose the world to be the workmanship of that divine being, the original cause of all things. But the vulgar polytheift, so far from admitting that idea, deifies every part of the universe, and conceives all the conspicuous productions of nature, to be themselves so many real divinities. The sun, moon, and stars, are all gods, according to his fyftem : Fountains are inhabited by nymphs, and trees by hamadryads : Even monkies, dogs, cats, and other animals often become sacred in his eyes, and strike him with a religious veneration. And thus, however strong men's propensity to believe invisible, intelligent power in nature, their propensity is equally strong to rest their attention on sensible, visible objects; and in order to reconcile these opposite inclinations, they are led to unite the invisible power with some visible object.
The distribution also of distinct provinces to the several deities is apt to cause fome allegory, both physical and moral, to enter into the vulgar systems of polytheism. The god of war will naturally be represented as furious, cruel, and impetuous: The god of poetry as elegant, polite, and amiable: The god of merchandise, especially in early times, as thievish and deceitful. The allegories, supposed in Homer and other mythologists, I allow, have been often so strained, that men of fense are apt entirely to reject them, and to consider them as the product merely of the fancy and conceit of critics and commentators. But that alle
d Dionys. Halic. lib. vi.
e Epift. lib. vi.