Abbildungen der Seite



figure of APOLLO, the conic stone, HELIOGABALUS, had never become the object of such profound adoration, and been received as a representation of the solar deity t.

STILPO was banished by the council of AREOPAGUS, for affirming that the MINERVA in the citadel was no divinity, but the workmanship of Phidias, the fculpfor T. What degree of reason might we expect in the religious belief of the vulgar in other nations'; when ATHENIANS and AREOPAGITES could entertain fuch grofs conceptions ?

Thefe then are the general principles of polytheism, founded in human nature, and little or nothing dependent on caprice and accident. As the causes, which beftow on us happiness or misery, are, in general, very little known and


uncertain, our anxious concern endeayours to attain a determinate idea of them; and finds no better expedient than to represent them as intelligent, voluntary agents, like ourselves ; only somewhat fuperior in power and wisdom. The limited influence of these agents, and their great proximity to human weakness, introduce the various distribution and division of their authority; and thereby give rise to allegory.' The same principles naturally deify mortals, superior in power, courage, or understanding, and produce hero-worship; together with fabulous history and mythological tradition, in all its' wild and unaccountable forms. And as an invisible fpiritual intelligence is an object too refined for vulgar apprehension, men naturally affix it to some fenfible representation ;, such as either the more conspicuous

* HERODINN. lib. v. JUPITER Ammon is reprefented by CURTIUS as a deity of the same kind, lib. iv. cap. 7. The ARABIANS and PessiNUNTIANS adored also shapeless unformed fones as their deity. ARNOB. lib. vi. So much did their folly exceed that of the EGYPTIANS. **19 og | DipG, LAERT, lib, ii.



parts of nature, or the statues, images, and pictures, which a more refined age forms of its

Almost all idolaters, of whatever age or country,"concur in these general principles and conceptions; and even the particular characters and provinces, which they af: sign to their deities, are not extremely different *." The Greek and Roman travellers and conquerors, without much : difficulty, found their own deities every where ; and said, This is Mercury, that VENUS; this MARS, that NePTUNE ;. by whatever titles the strange gods might be denominated. The goddess HERTHA-of our Saxon ancestors seems to be no other, according to Tacitus t, than the Mater Tellus of the ROMANS; and his conjecture was evidently juft.

Sect. VI. Origin of Theism. from Polytheism,

The doctrine of one supreme deity, the author of na-, ture, is very antient, has spread itself over great and populous nations, and among them has been embraced by all-ranks and conditions of persons: But whoever thinks that it lias owed its success to the prevalent force of those invincible reasons, on which it is undoubtedly founded, would show himself little acquainted with the ignorance and stupidity of the people, and their incurable prejudices in favour of their particular superstitions. Even at this day, and in Europe, ask any of the vulgar, why he believes in an omnipotent creator of the world ; he will never mention the beauty of final causes, of which : he is wholly ignorant : He will not hold out his hand, and bid you contemplate the suppleness and variety of joints in his fingers, their bending all one way, the

* See CASAR of the religion of the Gauls, De bello Gallico, lib. vi. + De moribus Germ.


counterpoise which they receive from the thumb, the softness and fleshy parts of the inside of his hand, withi all the other circumstances, which render that member fit for the use, to which it was destined. To these he has been long accustomed ; and he beholds them with listlessness and unconcern. He will tell you of the sudden and unexpected death of such a one: 'The fall and bruise of such another ; The exceffive drought of this feafon : The cold and rains of another. These he aferibes to the immediate operation of providence : And such events, as, with good reasoners, are the chief difficulties in admitting a supreme intelligence, are with him the sole arguments for it.

Many theists, even the most zealous and refined, have denied a particular providence, and have asserted, that the Sovereign mind or first principle of all things, having fixed general laws, by which nature is governed, gives free and uninterupted course to these laws, and disturbs not, at every turn, the settled order of events by particular volitions. From the beautiful connexion, say they, and rigid obfervance of established rules, we draw the chief argument for theism; and from the same principles are enabled to answer the principal objections against it.

But so little is this understood by the generality of mankind, that, 'wherever they observe any one to afcribe all events to natural causes, and to remove the particular interposition of a deity, they are apt to suspect him of the groffest infidelity. A little philosophy, says my Jord Bacon, makes men atheists: A great deal reconciles them to religion. For men, being taught, by superstitious prejudices, to lay the stress on a wrong place ; when that fails them, and they discover, by a little reflection, that the course of nature is regular and uniform, their whole faith totters, and falls to ruin. But being taught, by more reflection, that this very regularity and unifor

[ocr errors]

mity is the strongest proof of design and of a supreme intelligence, they return to that belief, which they had deserted; and they are now able to establish it on a firmer and more durable foundation.

Convulsions in nature, disorders, prodigies, miracles, tho' the most opposite to the plan of a wise superintendent, impress mankind with the strongest sentiments of religion; the causes of events seeming then the most unknown and unaccountable. Madness, fury, rage, and an inflamed imagination, tho' they fink men nearest the level of beasts, are, for a like reason, often fupposed to be the only dispositions, in which we can have,


immediate communication with the Deity.

We may conclude, therefore, upon the whole, that since the vulgar, in nations, which have embraced the doctrine of theism, ftill build it upon irrational and faperstitious opinions, they are never led into that opinion by any process of argument, but by a certain train of thinking, more suitable to their genius and capacity.

It may readily happen, in an idolatrous nation, that, tho' men admit the existence of several limited deities, yet may there be some one God, whom, in a particular manner, they make the object of their worship and adoration. They may either suppose, that, in the diftribution of power and territory among the gods, their nation was subjected to the jurisdiction of that particular deity; or reducing heavenly objects to the model of things below, they may represent one god as the prince or fupreme magistrate of the rest, who, tho' of the same nature, rules them with an authority, like that which an earthly fovereign exercises over his subjects and vallals. Whether this god, therefore, be considered as their peculiar patron, or as the general sovereign of heaven, his votaries will endea. vour, by every art, to infinuate themselves into his favour ; and supposing him to be pleased, like themselves, with praise and flattery, there is no eulogy or exaggera

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

gion, which will be spåred in their addresses to him. In proportion as men's fearš or distresses become more urgent, they fiti invent" new strains of adulation; and even he who out-does his predecessors in swelling up the titles of his divinity, is sure to be out-done by his fucceffors in newer and more pompous epithets of praise. Thus they proceed'; till at last they arrive at infinity itself, beyond which there is no farther progress : And it is well, if, in friving to get farther, and to represent a magnificeiit" simplícity, they run not into inexplicable mystery, and destroy the intelligent nature of their deity, on which alone any rational worship or adoration can be founded. While they confine themselves to the notion of a perfect being, the creator of the world, they coincide, by chance, with the principles of reafon and true philosophy'; tho' they are guided to that notion, not by reason, of which they are in a great meafure incapable, but by the adulation and fears of the most vulgar fuper{tition

We often find, amongst barbarous nations, and even fometimes amongst civilized, that, when every strain of Aattery has been exhausted towards arbitrary princes, when every human quality has been applauded to the utmost their servile courtiers represent them, at last, as real divinities, and point them out to the people as objects of adoration. How much more natural, therefore, is it, that a limited deity, who at first is supposed only the immediate author of the particular goods and ills in life, should in the end be represented as sovereign maker and modifier of the universe?

Even where this notion of a supreme deity is already established; tho’ it ought naturally to lessen every other worship, and abase every object of reverence, yet if а nation has entertained the opinion of a subordinate tutelar divinity, saint, or angel; their addresses to that being gradually rise upon them, and encroach on the adora

į tion


« ZurückWeiter »