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That great and able emperor was also extremely uneasy when he happened to change his shoes, and put the right foot shoe on the left foot. In short, it cannot be doubted, but the votaries of the established superstition of antiquity were as numerous in every state, as those of the modern religion are at present. Its influence was as universal; tho' it was not so great. As many people gave their affcnt to it; tho that affent was not seemingly so strong, precise, and affirmacive.
We may observe, thar, notwithstanding the dogmatical, imperious style of all fuperflition, the conviction of the religionilts, in all ages,' is more affected than real, and scarce ever approaches, in any degree, to that solid belief and perfuafion, which governs us in the common affairs of life. Men dare not avow, even to their own hearts, the doubts, which they entertain on such subjects : They make a merit of implicite faith ; and disguise to themselves their real infidelity, by the strongest asseverations and most positive bigotry. But nature is too hard for all their endeavors, and fuffis not the obscure, glimmering light, aforded in those shadowy regions, to equal the strong impressions, made by common sense and by experience. The usual course of men's conduct belies their words, and shows, that the affent in these matters is some unaccountable operation of the mind betwixt disbelief and conviction, but approaching much nearer the former than the latter.
SINCE, therefore, the mind of man appears of so loose and unfteddy a contexture, that, even at present, when so many persons find an interest in continually employing on it the chiffel and the hammer, yet are they not able to engrave theological tenets with any lasting impression; how much more must this have been the case in antient times, when the retainers to the holy function were so much fewer in comparison? No wonder, that the appearances were then very inconsistent, and that men, on some occasions, might seem determined infidels, and enemies to the established religion, without being so in reality; or at least, without knowing their own minds in that particular.
ANOTHER cause, which rendered the antient religions much looser than the modern, is, that the former were traditional and the latter are scriptural; and the tradition in the former was complex, contradictory, and, on many occasions, doubtful; so that it could not posibly be reduced to any standard and canon, or afford any determinate articles of faith. The stories of the gods were numberless like the popish legends; and tho' every one, almost, believed a part of these stories, yet no one could believe or know the whole : While, at the same time, all must have acknowleged, that no one part stood on a better foundation than the rest. The traditions of different cities and nations were also, on many occasions, directly opposite; and no reason could be found for preferring one to the other. And as there was an infinite number of stories with regard to which tradition was no way positive; the gradation was insensible, from the most fundamental articles of faith, to those loose and precarious fictions. The pagan religion, therefore, seemed to vanish like a cloud, whenever one approached to it, and examined it piecemeal. It could never be ascertained by any fixed dogmas and principles. And tho' this did not convert the generality of mankind from so absurd a faith;
and thiablished as in that ich rendfradition
Sueton. Aug. cap. 90, 91, 92. Plin. lib. ii. cap. 7.
for for when will the people be reasonable ? yet it made them faulter and hesitate mcre in maintaining their principles, and was even apt to produce, in certain dirpositions of mind, some practices and opinions, which had the appearance of determined infidelity.
To which we may add, that the fables of the pagan religion were, of themselves, light, easy, and familiar ; without devils or feas of brimstone, or any otjects, that could much terrify the imagination. Who could forbear smiling, when he thought of the loves of Mars and VENUS, or the amorous frolics of Jupiter and Pan? In this respect, it was a true poetical religion ; if it had not rather too much levity for the graver kinds of poetry. We find that it has been adopted by modern bards; nor have these talked with greater freedom and irreverence of the gods, whom they regarded as fictions, than the antient did of the real objects of their devotion.
The inference is by no means just, that because a system of religion has made no deep impression on the minds of a people, it must therefore have been positively rejected by all men of common sense, and that opposite principles, in spite of the prejudices of education, were generally established by argument and reasoning. I know not, but a contrary inference may be more probable. The less importunate and assuming any species of superstition appears, the less will it provoke men's spleen and indignation, or engage them into enquiries concerning its foundation and origin. This in the mean time is obvious, that the empire of all religious faith over the understanding is wavering and uncertain, subject to all varieties of humor, and dependent on the present incidents, which strike the imagination. The difference is only in the degrees. An antient will place a stroke of impiety and one of superftition alternately, thro' a whole discourse b: A modern often thinks in the same way, tho' he may be more guarded in his expressions.
Lucian tells us expressly', that whoever believed not the most ridiculous fables of paganism was esteemed by the people profane and impious. To what purpose, indeed, would that agreeable author have employed the whole force of his wit and satyr against the national religion, had not that religion been generally believed by his countrymen and contemporaries ? : Livy" acknowleges as frankly, as any divine would at present, the common incredulity of his age ; but then he condemns it as severely. And who can innagine, that a national fuperftition, which could delude so great a man, would not also impose on the generality of the people ?
THE Stoics bestowed many magnificent and even impious epithets on their sage ; that he alone was rich, free, a king, and equal to the immortal gods. They forgot to add, that he was not inferior in prudence and understanding to an
k Witness this remarkable passage of TACITUS: same kind. Had not the emperor believed Nep6. Præter multiplices rerum humanarum casus, cæ- TUNE to be a real being, and to have dominion "lo terraque prodigia, & fulminum monitus, & over the sea ; where had been the foundation of “ futurorum præsagia, læta, triftia, ambigua, ma- his anger ? And if he believed it, what madness to “ nifefta. Nec enim umquam atsocioribus popu. provoke still farther that deity? The same obser“ li Romani cladibus, magisque juftis judiciis ap. vation may be made upon QUINTILIAN's excla. " batum eft, non esse curæ Diis securitatem no- mations, on account of the death of his children, “ ftram, esse ultionem,” Hift. lib. i. AUGUS. lib. vi. Præf. Tus's quarrel with NEPTUNE is an instance of the Philopseudes.
* Lib. X. cap. 40.
old old woman. For surely nothing can be more pitiful than the sentiments, which that fect entertained with regard to all popular superstitions ; while they very seriously agree with the common augurs, that, when a raven croaks from the left, it is a good omen ; but a bad one, when a rook makes a noise from the same quarter. PANÆTIUS was the only Storc, amongst the GREEKS, who so much as doubted with regard to auguries and divinations'. MARCUS ANTONINUS" tells us, that he himself had received many admonitions from the gods in his neep. It is true; Epictetus " forbids us to regard the language of rooks and ravens ; but it is not, that they do not speak truth : It is only, because they can foretel nothing but the breaking of our neck or the forfeiture of our estate ; which are circumstances, says he, that no way concern us. Thus the Stoics join a philosophical enthusiasm to a religious superstition. The force of their mind, being all turned to the side of morals, unbent itself in that of religiono,
Plato P introduces Socrates affirming, that the accusation of impiety raised against him was owing entirely to his rejecting such fables, as those of SATURN's caftrating his father, URANUS, and Jupiter's dechroning SATURN : Yet in a fubsequent dialogue', SOCRATES confesses, that the doctrine of the mortality of the soul was the received opinion of the people. Is there here any contradiction? Yes, surely: But the contradiction is not in PLATO; it is in the people, whose religious principles in general are always composed of the most discordant parts ; especially in an age, when superstition fate so easy and light upon them.
Cicero de Divin. lib. i. cap. 3. & 7:
sults the sacrifices in fecret, before he would form m Lib. i. $ 17. Ench. § 17.
any resolution with himself about settling a colo• The Stoics, I own, were not quite orthodox lony. Lib. v. p. 359 He himself a very skilful in the established religion ; but one may fee, from augur. Id: p. 361. Is determined by the victhese instances, that they went a great way: And time to refuse the sole command of the army, the people undoubtedly went every length. which was offered him. Lib. vi. p. 273. CLEANP Eutyphro. Phædo.
DER, the SPARTAN, tho' very desirous of it, re. S XENOPHON's conduct, as related by himself, fuses it for the same reason. Id. p. 392. Xenois, at once, an incontestable proof of the general PHON mentions an old dream with the interpretacredulity of mankind in those ages, and the inco. tion given him, when he first joined Cykus. P. herencies, in all ages, of men's opinions in reli. 373. Mentions also the place of HERCULES's gious matters. That great captain and philoso. descent into hell as believing it, and says the pher, the disciple of SOCRATES, and one who has marks of it are still remaining. Id. p. 375. Had delivered some of the most refined sentiments with almost starved the army rather than lead to the regard to a deity, gave all the following marks of field against the auspices. Id. p. 382, 383. His vulgar, pagan superstition. By SOCRATES's ad- friend, Euclides, the augur, would not believe vice, he consulted the oracle of Del PHI, before that he had brought no money from the expedihe would engage in the expedition of CYRUS. tion; till he (EUCLIDÈs) sacrificed, and then he De exped. lib. iii. p. 294. ex edir. Leuncl. Sees saw the matter clearly in the Exta. Lib.vii. p. 425. a dream the night after the generals were seized; The same philosopher, propofing a project of which he pays great regard to, but thinks ambigu- mines for the encrease of the ATHENIAN revenues, ous, Id. p. 295. He and the whole army regard advises them first to consult the oracle. De rat. sneezing as a very lucky omen. Id. p. 300. Has red. p. 392. That all this devotion was not a another dream, when he comes to the river Cen. farce, in order to serve a political purpose, apTRITES, which his fellow general, CHIROSOPHUS, pears both from the facts themselves, and from allo pays great regard to. Id. lib. iv. p. 323. The the genius of thar age, when litele or nothing GREEKS suffering from a cold north wind, facri- could be gained by hypocrisy. Befides Xenofice to it, and the historian observes, thac it im- PHON as appears from his Memorabilia, was a mediately abated. Id. p. 329. XENOPHON con- kind of heretic in those times, which no political The same Cicero, who affected, in his own family, to appear a devout religionist, makes no scruple, in a public court of judicature, of treating the doctrine of a future state as a most ridiculous fable, to which no body could give any attention! SALLUST" represents CÆSAR as speaking the same language in the open senate W.
But that all these freedoms implied not a cotal and universal infidelity and scepticism amongst the people, is too apparent to be denied. Tho' some parts of the national religion hung loose upon the minds of men, other parts adhered more closely to them: And it was the great business of the sceptical philosophers to show, that there was no more foundation for one than for the other. This is the artifice of Cotta in the dialogues concerning the nature of the gods. He refutes the whole system of mythology by leading the orthodox, gradually, from the more momentous stories, which were believed, to the more frivolous, which every one ridiculed : From the gods to the goddesses; from the goddeffes to the nymphs; from the nymphs to the fawns and satyrs. His master, CARNEADES, had employed the same method of reasoning".
Upon the whole, the greatest and most obfervable differences betwixt a traditional, mythological religion, and a systematical, scholastical one, are two: The former is often more reasonable, as consisting only of a multitude of stories, which, however groundless, imply no express absurdity and demonstrative contradiction ; and sits also so easy and light on men's minds, that tho' it may be as universally received, it makes no such deep impression on the affections and understanding..
Sect. XIII. Impious conceptions of the divine nature in most popular religions
of both kinds.
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 must augment the ghastliness and horror, which oppreffes the amazed religionist. A panic having once seized the mind, the active fancy still farther multiplies the objects of terror ; while that profound darkness, or, what is worse, that glimmering light, with which we are invironed, represents the spectres of divinity under the most dreadful appearances imaginable. And no idea of perverse wickedness can
devotee ever is. It is for the same re:son, I main. ridiculous as to believe the poets in their accounts tain, that Newton, Locke, Clarke, &c. be. of a future state. Why then does LUCRETIUS so ing Arians or Socinians, were very sincere in the highly exalt his master for freeing us from these creed they profesied: And I always oppose this terrors? Perhaps the generality of mankind were argument to some libertines, who will needs have then in the disposition of CEPHALUS in Plato de it, that it was impoflible, but that these great Rep. lib. i.) who while he was young and healthphilosophers must have been hypocrites.
ful could ridicule these stories, but as soon as he Pro CLUENT 10. cap. 61.
became old and infirm, began to entertain appreu De bello CATILIN.
hensions of their truth. This, we may observe, w Cicero (Tusc. Quæst.) lib. i. cap. 5, 6. and not to be unusual even at present. Seneca (Epilt. 24.) as allo Juvenal (Satyr 2.) Sext. Empir. adverf. Mathem, lib. viii. maintain that there is no boy or old woman so
X X X
man naturen, malicious deity : Our propeof these opposite princips
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 luf. ficient 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 malicious deity : Our propensity to praise leads us to acknowlege an excellent and divine. And the influence of these opposite principles are various, according to the different situation of the human understanding.
In very barbarous and ignorant nations, such as the AFRICANS and INDIANS, nay even the JAPONESE, who can form no extensive ideas of power and knowlege, worship may be paid to a being, whom they confess to be wicked and detestable; tho'they may be cautious, perhaps, of pronouncing this judgment of him in public, or in his temple, where he may be supposed to hear their reproaches.
Such rude, imperfect ideas of the divinity adhere long to all idolaters; and it may safely be affirmed, that the GREEKS themselves never got entirely rid of them. It is remarked by XENOPHON ', 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; what was done, said, or even thought. But as this was a strain of philofophy much above the conception of his countrymen, we need not be furprized, if very frankly, in their books and conversation, they blamed the deities, whom they worshipped in their temples. It is observable, that HERODOTUS in particular scruples not, in many passages, to ascribe envy to the gods ; a sentiment, of all others, the most suitable to a mean and devilish nature. The pagan hymns however, sung in public worship, contained nothing but epithets of praise; even while the actions ascribed to the gods were the most barbarous and detestable. When TIMOTHEUS, the poet, recited a hymn to DIANA, where he enumerated, with the greatest eulogies, all the actions and attributes of that cruel, capricious goddess : May your daughter, said one present, become such as the deity whom you cele. brate a.
But as men farther exalt their idea of their divinity ; it is often their notion of his power and knowlege.only, not of his goodness, which is improved. On the contrary, in proportion to the supposed extent of his fcience and authority, their terrors naturally augment; while they believe, that no secrecy can conceal them
y Mem. lib. i.
z It was confidered among the antients, as a very extraordinary, philosophical paradox, that the presence of the gods was not confined to the
heavens, but was extended every where ; as we learn from Lucian. Hermotimus five De fe&tis.
: PLUTARCH. de Superftit.