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Sect. XI. With regard to reason or absurdity,
Here is another observation to the same purpose, and a new proof that the corruption of the best things begets the worst. If we examine, without prejudice, the ancient heathen mythology, as contained in the poets, we mall not discover in it any such monstrous absurdity, as we may be apt at first to apprehend. Where is the difficulty of conceiving, that the same powers or principles, whatever they were, which formed this visible world, men and animals, produced also a species of intelligent creatures, of more refined substance and greater authority than the rest? That these creatures may be capricious, revengeful, passionate, voluptuous, is easily conceived ; nor is any circumstance more apt, amongst ourselves, to engender such vices, than the licence of absolute authority. And in short, the whole mythological system is so natural, that, in the vast variety of planets and worlds, contained in this universe, it seems more than probable, that somewhere or other, it is really carried into exécution.
The chief objection to it with regard to this planet, is, 'that it is not ascertained by any just reason or authority. The antient tradition, insisted on by the heathen priests and theologers, is but a weak foundation ; and transmitted also such a number of contradictory reports, supported, all of them, by equal authority, that it became absolutely impossible to fix a preference amongst them. A few volumes, therefore, must contain all the polemical writings of pagan priests. And their whole theology must consist more of traditional stories and superstitious practices than of philofophical argument and controversy.
But where theism forms the fundamental principle of any popular religion, that tenet is so conformable to sound reason, that philosophy is apt to incorporate itself with such a system of theology. And if the other dogmas of that system be contained in a sacred book, such as the Alcoran; or be determined by any visible authority, like that of the ROMAN pontif, speculative reasoners naturally carry on their affent, and embrace a theory, which has been instilled into them by their earliest education, and which also possesses some degree of consistence and uniformity. But as these appearances do often, all of them, prove deceitful, philosophy will soon find herself very unequally yoaked with her new associate ; and instead of regulating each principle, as they advance together, she is at every turn perverted to serve the purposes of superstition. For besides the unavoidable incoherencies, which must be reconciled and adjusted ; one may safely affirm, that all popular theology, especially the scholastic, has a kind of appetite for absurdity and contradiction. If that theology went not beyond reason and common sense, her doctrines would appear too easy and familiar. Amazement must of neceffity be raised: Mystery affected : Darkness and obfcurity sought after: And a foun. dation of merit afforded the devout votaries, who desire an opportunity of fubduing their rebellious reason, by the belief of the most unintelligible fophisms.
ECCLESIASTICAL history sufficiently confirms these reflections. When a controversy is started, some people pretend always with certainty to foretell the issue. Which ever opinion, say they, is most contrary to plain sense is sure to prevail ; even where the general interest of the system requires not that decision. Tho' the reproach of heresy may, for some time, be bandied about aniongst the dispu
U u u
tants, it always rests at last on the side of reason. Any one, it is pretended, that has but learning enough of this kind to know the definition of ARIAN, PELAGIAN, ERASTIAN, Socinian, SABELLIAN, EUTYCHIAN, NESTORIAN, MonoTHELITE, &c. not to mention PROTESTANT, whose fate is yet uncertain, will be convinced of the truth of this observation. And thus a system becomes more absurd in the end, merely from its being reasonable and philosophical in the beginning.
To oppofe the torrent of scholastic religion by such feeble maxims as these, that it is imposible for the same thing to be and not to be, that the whole is greater than a part, that two and three make five ; is pretending to stop the ocean with a bull-rush. Will you set up profane reason against sacred mystery? No punishment is great enough for your inpiety. And the same fires, which were kindled for heretics, will serve also for the destruction of philosophers.
Sect. XII. With regard to doubt or convi&tion.
mpossible for any nation
and at the same time
found in no other com
We meet every day with people fo fceprical with regard to history, that they affert it impossible for any nation ever to believe such absurd principles as those of GREEK and EGYPTIAN paganism; and at the same time so dogmatical with regard to religion, that they think the same absurdities are to be found in no other communions. CAMBYSES entertained like prejudices ; and very impiously ridiculed, and even wounded, Apis, the great god of the EGYPTIANS, who appeared to his profane senses nothing but a large spotted bull. But HERODOTUS' judiciously ascribes this sally of passion to a real madness or disorder of the brain : Otherwise, says the historian, he never would have openly affronted any established worfhip. For on that head, continues he, every nation are best satisfied with their own, and think they have the advantage over every other nation.
It must be allowed, that the Roman catholics are a very learned fect; and that no one communion, but that of the church of ENGLAND, can dispute their being the most learned of all the christian churches : Yet AVERROES, the famous ARABIAN, who, no doubt, had heard of the EGYPTIAN superstitions, declares, that, of all religions, the most absurd and non-sensical is that, whose votaries eat, after having created, their deity.
I believe, indeed, that there is no tenet in all paganism, which would give fo fair a scope to ridicule as this of the real presence : For it is so absurd, that it eludes the force of almost all argument. There are even some pleasant stories of that kind, which, thoʻ somewhat profane, are commonly told by the Catholics themselves. One day, a priest, it is said, gave inadvertently, instead of the facrament, a counter, which had by accident fallen among the holy wafers. The communicant waited patiently for some time, expecting it would diffolve on his tongue : But finding, that it still remained entire, he took it off. I will, cries he to the priest, you have not committed some mistake : I will you have not given me Gad the Father: He is so hard and tough there is no swallowing him.
• Lib. iii. c. 38.
A FAMOUS general, at that time in the MuscOVITE service, having come to Paris for the recovery of his wounds, brought along with him a young Turk, whom he had taken prisoner. Some of the doctors of the SORBONNE (who are altogether as positive as the dervises of CONSTANTINOPLE) thinking it a pity, that the poor Turk should be damned for want of instruction, sollicited MUSTAPHA very hard to turn Christian, and promised him, for his encouragement, plenty of good wine in this world, and paradise in the next. These allurements were too powerful to be resisted ; and therefore, having been well instructed and catechized, he at last agreed to received the facraments of baptism and the Lord's supper. The priest, however, to make every thing sure and folid, still continued his instructions; and began his catechism the next day with the usual question, How many Gods are there ? None at all, replies Benedict; for that was his new name. How! None at all! cries the priest. "To be sure, said the honest proselyte. You bave told me all along that there is but one God: And yesterday I eat bin. .
Such are the doctrines of our brethren, the Catholics. But to these doctrines we are so accustomed, that we never wonder at them: Tho', in a future age, it will probably become difficult to persuade fome nations, that any human, twolegged creature, could ever embrace such principles. And it is a thousand to one, but these nations themselves shall have something full as absurd in their own creed, to which they will give a most implicite and most religious aflent.
I LODGED once at Paris, in the same hotel with an ambassador from Tunis,who, having passed some years at LONDON, was returning home that way. One day, I observed his Moorish excellency diverting himself under the porch, with sur. veying the splendid equipages that drove along; when there chanced to pass that way fome Capucin friars, who had never seen a Turk; as he, on his part, tho' accustomed to the EUROPEAN dresses, had never seen the grotesque figure of a Capucin : And there is no expressing the mutual admiration, with which they inspired each other. Had the chaplain of the embassy entered into a dispute with these FRANCISCANS, their reciprocal surprize had been of the same nature. And thus all mankind stand staring at one another; and there is no beating it out of their heads, that the curban of the AFRICAN is not just as good or as bad a fashion as the cowl of the EUROPE AN. He is a very honest man, said the prince of SALLEE, Speaking of de RUYTER, It is a pity be were a Christian.
How can you worship leeks and onions, we shall suppose a SORBONNIST to say to a priest of Sais? If we worship them, replies the latter ; at least, we do not, at the same time, eat them. But what strange objects of adoration are cats and monkies, says the learned doctor? They are at least as good as the relicts or rotten bones of martyrs, answers his no less learned antagonist. Are you not nad, insists the Catholic, to cut one another's throat about the preference of a cabbage or a cucumber. Yes, says the pagan; I allow it, if you will confess, that all those are still madder, who fight about the preference among volumes of sophistry, ten thousand of which are not equal in value to one cabbage or cucumber".
s It is strange that the EGYPTIAN religion, tho' the greatest genius were not able to observe any so absurd, mould yet have borne so great a resem. difference betwixt them. For it is very remarkablance to the Jewish, that antiens writers even of ble that bosh Tacitus and SUETONIUS, when
is allurance, (and pernd faith amongft malhe was himself an ey
Every by-stander will easily judge (but unfortunately the by-standers are very few) that, if nothing were requisite to establish any popular system, but the exposing the absurdities of other systems, every votary of every superstition could give a fulficient reason for his blind and bigotted attachment to the principles, in which he has been educated. But without so extensive a knowlege, on which to ground this assurance, (and perhaps, better without it) there is not wanting a sufficient stock of religious zeal and faith amongst mankind. DiODORUS Siculus' gives a remarkable instance to this purpose, of which he was himself an eye-witness. While Egypt lay under the greatest terror of the Roman name, a legionary soldier having inadvertently been guilty of the sacrilegious impiety of killing a .cat, the whole people rose upon him with the utmost fury; and all the efforts of the prince were not able to save him. The fenate and people of Rome, I am perfuaded, would not, then, have been so delicate with regard to their national deities. They very frankly, a little after that time, voted Augustus a place in the celestial mansions; and would have dethroned every god in heaven, for his fake, had he seemed to desire it. Prefens divus babebitur AUGUSTUS, says Horace. That is a very important point: And in other nations and other ages, the same circumstances has not been esteemed altogether indifferent".
NorwitHSTANDING the fanctity of our holy religion, says T'ULLY", no crime is more common with us than sacrilege : But was it ever heard, that an EGYPTIAN violated the temple of a cat, an ibis, or a crocodile? There is no torture, an EGYPTIAN would not undergo, says the same author in another place", rather than injure an ibis, an aspic, a cat, a dog, or a crocodile. Thus it is strictly true, what Dryden observes,
“ Of whatsoe'er descent their godhead be,
ABSALOM and ARCHITOPHEL.
Nay, the baser the materials are, of which the divinity is composed, the greater devotion is he likely to excite in the breasts of his deluded votaries. They exult
they mention that decree of the senate, under Tı: TON. TIBER, c. 36. These wise heathens, ab. BERIUS, by which the EGYPTIAN and Jewish serving something in the general air, and genius, profelytes were banished from Rome, expressly and spirit of the two religions to be the same, treat these religions as the same ; and it appears, esteemed the differences of their dogmas too frivo that even the decree itself was founded on that lous to deserve any attention. fuppofition. “ Actum & de facris Ægyptiis, Lib. i. “ JUDAICIS QUE pellendis ; factumque patrum When Louis the XIV.th took on himself “ consultum, ut quatuor millia libertini generis ea the protection of the Jesuits college of CLERMONT, " fuperftitione infecta, quîs idonea ætas, in insulam the society ordered the king's arms to be put up " Sardiniam veherentur, coercendis illic latroci. over their gate, and took down the cross, in order “ niis; & fi ob gravitatem cæli interissent, vile to make way for it: Which gave occasion to the “ damnum : Ceteri cederent Italia, nisi certem an- following epigram : “ te diem profanos ritus exuissent." Tacit. ann. lib. ij. c. 85. “Externas cæremonias, Ægyp. Suftulit hinc Christi, posuitque infignia Regis: “ TIOS, JUDAICOSQue ritus compefcuit; coa&tis Impia gens, alium nefcit habere Deum. " qui fuperftitione ea tenebantur, religiosas vestes “ cum inftrumento omni comburere, &c.” Sug. De nat. Deor, 1. i. Tusc. Quælt. lib. v.
in their shame, and make a merit with their deity, in braving, for his fake, all the ridicule and contumely of his enemies. Ten thousand Croises inlist themselves under the holy banners, and even openly triumph in those parts of their religion, which their adversaries regard as the most reproachful.
There occurs, I own, a difficulty in the EGYPTIAN systein of theology; as indeed, few systems are entirely free from difficulties. It is evident, from their method of propagation, that a couple of cats, in fifty years, would stock a whole kingdom; and if that religious veneration were still paid them, it would, in twenty more, not only be easier in EGYPT to find a god than a man, which PETronius says was the case in some parts of ITALY ; but the gods must at last entirely starve the men, and leave themselves neither priests nor votaries remaining. It is probable, therefore, that that wise nation, the most celebrated in antiquity for prudence and sound policy, foreseeing such dangerous consequences, reserved all their worship for the full-grown divinities, and used the freedom to drown the holy Spawn or little fucking gods, without any scruple or remorse. And thus the practice of warping the tenets of religion, in order to serve temporal interests, is not, by any means, to be regarded as an invention of these latter ages.
The learned, philosophical VARRO, discoursing of religion, pretends not to deliver any thing beyond probabilities and appearances : Such was his good sense and moderation ! But the passionate, the zealous AUGUSTIN, insults the noble ROMAN on his scepticism and reserve, and professes the most chorough belief and assurance? A heathen poet, however, contemporary with the saint, absurdly esteems the religious system of the latter so false, that even the credulity of children, he says, could not engage them to believe it.
Is it strange, when mistakes are so common, to find every one positive and dogmatical ? And that the zeal often rises in proportion to the error? Moverunt, says SPARTIAN, & ea tempeftate Judæi bellum quod vetabantur mutilare genitalia.
If ever there was a nation or a time, in which the public religion lost all authority over mankind, we might expect, that infidelity in Rome, during the CICERONIAN age, would openly have erected its throne, and that Cicero himself, in every speech and action, would have been its most declared abettor. But it appears, that, whatever sceptical liberties that great man might use, in his writings or in philofophical conversation; he yet avoided, in the common conduct of life, the imputation of deism and profaneness. Even in his own family, and to his wife TERENTIA, whom he highly trusted, he was willing to appear a devout religionist; and there remains a letter, addressed to her, in which he seriously desires her to offer sacrifice to APOLLO and ÆSCULAPIUS, in gratitude for the recovery of his health.
POMPEY's devotion was much more sincere: In all his conduct, during the ci. vil wars, he paid a great regard to auguries, dreams, and prophecies. AuGUSTUS was tainted with superstition of every kind. As it is reported of MilTON, that his poetical genius never flowed with ease and abundance in the spring ; fo AUGUSTUS observed, that his own genius for dreaming never was so perfect during that feafon, nor was so much to be relied on, as during the rest of the year.
z De civitate Dei, I. ij. c. 17. * Claudii Rutilii Numitiani iter, lib. 1. I. 386.
In vita Adriani.
Lib. 14. epift. 7. 4. Cicero de Divin. lib. 2. c. 24.