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whole city'. Who can express the perfections of the Almighty, say the Mahometans ? Even the noblest of his works, if compared to him, are but dust and rubbish. How much more must human conception fall short of his infinite perfections? His smile and favor renders men for ever happy; and to ob:ain it for your children, the best method is to cut off from them, while infants, a little bit of ikin, about half the breadth of a farthing. Take two bits of cloth ?, say the Roman catholics, about an inch or an inch and an half square, join them by the corners with two strings or pieces of tape about fixteen inches long, throw this over your head, and make one of the bits of cloth lie upon your breast, and the other upon your back, keeping them next your skin, there is not a better fecret for recommending yourself to that infinite Being, who exists from eternity to eternity.
The Getes, commonly called immortal, from their steddy belief of the soul's immortality, were genuine theists and unitarians. They affirmed ZAMOLXIS, their deity, to be the only true god; and asserted the worship of all other nations, to be addressed to mere fictions and chimeras. But 'were their religious principles any more refined, on account of these magnificent pretensions ? Every fifth year they sacrificed a human victim, whom they sent as a messenger to their deity, in order to inform him of their wants and necessities. And when it thundered, they were so provoked, that, in order to return the defiance, they let fly arrows at him, and declined not the combat as unequal. Such at least is the account, which HERODOTUS gives of the theism of the immortal GETES?.
It is remarkable, that the principles of religion have a kind of Aux and reflux in the human mind, and that men have a natural tendency to rise from idolatry to theism, and to sink again from theism into idolatry. The vulgar, that is, indeed, all mankind, a few excepted, being ignorant and uninstructed, never elevate their contemplation to the heavens, or penetrate by their disquisitions into the secret structure of vegetable or animal bodies; so as to discover a supreme mind, or original providence, which bestowed order on every part of nature. They consider these admirable works in a more confined and selfish view ; and finding their own happiness and misery to depend on the secret influence and unforeseen concurrence of external objects, they regard, with perpetual attention, the unknown causes, which govern all these natural events, and distribute pleasure and pain, good and ill, by their powerful, but filent, operation. The unknown causes are still appealed to, at every emergence; and in this general appearance or confused image, are the perpetual objects of human hopes and fears, wishes and apprehensions. By degrees, the active imagination of men, uneasy in this abstract conception of objects, about which it is incessantly employed, begins to render them more particular, and to clothe them in shapes more suitable to its natural comprehension. It represents them to be sensible, intelligent beings, like mankind; actuated by
• Hyde de Relig. veterum PersarUM.
P Called the Scapulaire.
9 Lib. iv.
love and hatred, and flexible by gifts and entreaties, by prayers and facrifices. Hence the origin of religion : And hence the origin of idolatry or polytheism,
But the same anxious concern for happiness, which begets the idea of these invisible, intelligent powers, allows not mankind to remain long in the first simple conception of them; as powerful, but limited beings; masters of human fate, but slaves to destiny and the course of nature. Men's exaggerate praises and compliments still swell their idea upon them; and elevating their deities to the utmost bounds of perfection, at last beget the attributes of unity and infinity, simplicity and spirituality. Such refined ideas, being somewhat disproportioned to vulgar comprehension, remain not long in their original purity; but require to be supported by the notion of inferior mediators or subordinate agents, which interpose betwixt mankind and their supreme deity. These demi-gods or middle beings, partaking more of human nature, and being more familiar to us, become the chief objects of devotion, and gradually recal that idolatry which had been formerly banished by the ardent prayers and panegyrics of timorous and indigent mortals. But as these idolatrous religions fall every day into grosser and more vulgar conceptions, they at last destroy themselves, and, by the vile representations, which they form of their deities, make the tide turn again towards theism. But so great is the propensity, in this alternate revolution of human sentiments, to return back to idolatry, that the utmost precaution is not able effectually to prevent it, And of this, some theists, particularly the Jews and MAHOMETANs, have been sensible; as appears by their banishing all the arts of statuary and painting, and not allowing the representations, even of human figures, to be taken by marble or colors ; left the common infirmity of mankind should thence produce idolatry. The feeble apprehensions of men cannot be satisfied with conceiving their deity as a pure spirit and perfect intelligence; and yet their natural terrors keep them from imputing to him the least shadow of limitation and imperfection. They fluctuate betwixt these opposite sentiments. The same infirmity still drags them downwards, from an omnipotent and spiritual deity, to a limited and corporeal one, and from a corporeal and limited deity to a statue or visible representation. The same endeavor at elevation still pushes them upwards, from the statue or material image to the invisible power ; and from the invisible power to an infinitely perfect deity, the creator and sovereign of the universe.
Sect. IX. Comparison of these Religions, with regard to Perfecution
POLYTHEISM or idolatrous worship, being founded entirely in vulgar traditions, is liable to this great inconvenience, that any practice or opinion, however barbarous or corrupted, may be authorized by it ; and full scope is left for knavery to impose on credulity, till morals and humanity be expelled from the religious systems of mankind. At the same time, idolatry is attended with this evident advantage, that, by limiting the powers and functions of its deities, it naturally admits the gods of other sects and nations to a share of divinity, and renders all the va
rious rious deities, as well as rites, ceremonies, or traditions, compatible with each other. Theism is opposite both in its advantages and disadvantages. As that System supposes one sole deity, the perfection of reason and goodness, it should, if juftly prosecuted, banish every thing frivolous, unreasonable, or inhuman from religious worship, and set before men the most illustrious example, as well as the most commanding motives of justice and benevolence. There mighty advantages are not indeed over-ballanced, (for that is not possible) but somewhat diminished, by inconveniencies, which arise from the vices and prejudices of mankind. While one sole object of devotion is acknowleged, the worship of other deities is regarded as absurd and impious. Nay, this unity of object seems naturally to require the unity of faith and ceremonies, and furnishes designing men with a pretext for representing their adversaries as prophane, and the objects of divine as well as human vengeance. For as each sect is positive that its own faith and worship are entirely acceptable to the deity, and as no one can conceive, that the same being should be pleased with different and opposite rites and principles; the several fects fall naturally into animosity, and mutually discharge on each other, that sacred zeal and rancor, the most furious and implacable of all human passions.
The tolerating spirit of idolaters both in antient and modern times, is very obvious to any one, who is the least conversant in the writings of historians or travellers. When the oracle of DELPHI was asked, what rites or worship was most acceptable to the gods? Those legally established in each city, replied the oracle. Even priests, in those ages, could, it seems, allow salvation to those of a different communion. The Romans commonly adopted the gods of the conquered people; and never disputed the attributes of those topical and national deities, in whose territories they resided. The religious wars and perfecutions of the EgypTIAN idolaters are indeed an exception to this rule; but are accounted for by antient authors from reasons very singular and remarkable. Different species of animals were the deities of the different sects among the EGYPTIANS; and the deities being in continual war, engaged their votaries in the same contention. The worShippers of dogs could not long remain in peace with the adorers of cats or wolves“. And where that reason took not place, the EGYPTIAN fuperftition was not so incompatible as is commonly imagined ; since we learn from HERODOTUS", that very large contributions were given by Amasis towards rebuilding the temple of DELPHI.
The intolerance of almost all religions, which have maintained the unity of God, is as remarkable as the contrary principle in polytheists. The implacable, narrow spirit of the Jews is well known. MAHOMETANISM set out with still more bloody principles ; and even to this day, deals out damnation, tho' not fire and faggot, to all other sects. And if, amongst CHRISTIANS, the ENGLISH and DUTCH have embraced the principles of toleration, this singularity has proceeded from the steddy resolution of the civil magistrate, in opposition to the conrinued efforts of priests and bigots.
a Verrius Fl^ccus, cited by Pliny, lib. to draw him over to their service. For without xxviii. cap. 2. affirmed, that it was usual the name, they thought, nothing of that kind for the ROMANS, before they laid siege to any could be practised. PLINY (uys, that the comtown, to invocate the cutelar deity of the place, mon form of invocation was preserved to his and by promising him equal or greater honors time in the ritual of the ponti's. And MACROthan those he at present enjoyed, bribe him to Bius has transmitted a copy of it from the secret betray his old friends and votaries. The name things of SAMMONICUS SERENU S. of the tutelar deity of Rome was for this reason Xenoph. Memor. 1.b, ii. kept a most religious mystery ; left the enemies of Plutarch. de Isid. & Osiride. the republic should be able, in the same manner, Lib. ii. sub fine.
The disciples of ZOROASTER shut the doors of heaven against all but the MaGIANS. Nothing could more obstruct the progress of the PERSIAN conquests, than the furious zeal of that nation against the temples and images of the GREEKS. And after the overthrow of that empire, we find ALEXANDER, as a polytheist, immediately re-establishing the worship of the BABYLON I ANS, which their former princes, as monotheists, had carefully abolished'. Even the blind and devoted attachment of that conqueror to the GREEK fuperftition hindered not but he himself sacrificed according to the BABYLONISH rites and ceremonies .
So sociable is polytheism, that the utmost fierceness and aversion, which it meets with in an opposite religion, is scarce able to disgust it, and keep it at a distance. AUGUSTUS praised extremely the reserve of his grandson, Caius CÆSAR, when, passing by JERUSALEM, he deigned not to sacrifice according to the Jews Ish law. But for what reason did AUGUSTUS so much approve of this conduct? Only, because that religion was by the PAGANS esteemed ignoble and barbarous".
I MAY venture to affirm, that few corruptions of idolatry and polytheism are more pernicious to political society than this corruption of theism, when carried to the utmoft height. The human sacrifices of the CARTHAGINIANS, MEXICANS, and many barbarous nations ", scarce exceed the inquisition and persecutions of Rome and MADRID. For besides, that the effusion of blood may not be so great in the former case as in the latter ; besides this, I say, the human victims, being chosen by lot, or by fome exterior signs, affect not, in fo considerable a degree, the rest of the society. Whereas virtue, knowlege, love of liberty, are the qualities, which call down the fatal vengeance of inquisitors; and when expelled, leave the society in the most shameful ignorance, corruption, and bondage. The illegal murder of one man by a tyrant is more pernicious than the death of a thoufand by pestilence, famine, or any undiftinguishing calamity.
In the temple of DIANA at ARICIA near Rome, whoever murdered the prefent priest, was legally entitled to be installed his successor! A very singular inftitution! For, however barbarous and bloody the common superstitions ofcen are to the laity, they usually turn to the advantage of the holy order.
• Hyde de Relig. vet. Persarum.
the deity by destroying it and rendering it use· f Arrian. de Exped. lib. iii. Id. lib. vij. less to men; by burning what is folid, pouring
% Id. ibid. Sueton. in vita Aug. c. 93: out the liquid, and killing the animate. For want i Corruptio optimi pesima.
of a better way of doing him service, we do our* Moft nations have fallen into this guilt ; tho' felves an injury; and fancy that we thereby experhaps, that impious fuperftition has never pre prefs, at least, the heartiness of our good-will vailed very much in any civilized nation, unless and adoration. Thus our mercenary devotion we except the CARTHAGINIANS. For the Ty. deceives ourselves, and imagines it deceives thie: RIANS soon abolished it. A sacrifice is conceived deity, as a prefent; and any present is delivered to Surabo, lib. v. Sueton. in vita Cal.
Sect. X. With regard to courage or abasement.
From the comparison of theism and idolatry, we may form fome other observations, which will also confirm the vulgar observation, that the corruption of the best things gives rise to the worst.
Where the deity is represented as infinitely superior to mankind, this belief, tho' altogether just, is apt, when joined with superstitious terrors, to sink the human mind into the lowest submission and abasement, and to represent the monkish virtues of niortification, penance, humility and passive suffering, as the only qualities, which are acceptable to him. But where the gods are conceived to be only a little superior to mankind, and to have been, many of them, advanced from that inferior rank, we are more at our ease in our addresses to them, and may even, without profaneness, aspire sometimes to a rivalship and emulation of them. Hence activity, spirit, courage, magnanimity, love of liberty, and all the virtues, which aggrandize a people.
The heroes in paganism correspond exactly to the saints in popery and holy dervises in MAHOMETANISM. The place of HERCULES, Theseus, HECTOR, ROMULUS, is now supplied by DOMINIC, FRANCIS, ANTHONY, and BenedICT, And instead of the destruction of monsters, the subduing tyrants, the defence of our native country ; celestial honors are obtained by whippings and fästings, by cowardice and humility, by abject submission and flavish obedience.
. . One great incitement to the pious ALEXANDER in his warlike expeditions was his rivalship of Hercules and BACCHUS, whom he justly pretended to have excelled . BRASIDAS, that generous and noble SPARTAN, after falling in battle; had heroic honors paid him by, the inhabitants of AMPHIPOLIS, whose defence he had embraced ". And in general, all founders of states and colonies amongst the GREEKS were raised to this inferior rank of divinity, by those who reaped the benefit of their labors.,
This gave rise to the observation of MACHIAVEL °, that the doctrines of the CHRISTIAN religion (meaning the catholic; for he knew no other) which recommend only passive courage and suffering, had subdued the spirit of mankind, and had fitted them for Navery and subjection. And this observation would certainly be just, were there not many other circumstances in human society, which controul the genius and character of a religion.
BRASIDAs seized a mouse, and being bit by it, let it go. There is nothing to contemptible,' says he, but what may be safe, if it has but courage to defend itself P. BELLARMINE, patiently and humbly allowed the feas and other odious vermin to prey upon him. We mall have heaven, says he, to reward us for our sufferings : But these poor creatures have nothing but the enjoyment of the present life! Such difference is there betwixt the maxims of a Greek hero and a CATHOLIC saint.
m Arian. paflim. Thucyd. lib. v. ? Bayle, Article BELLARMINE.
? Discorsi, lib. vi.