Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

they. imately conicioin the clouds;

more they consider these causes themselves, and the uncertainty of their operation, the less satisfactition do they ineet with in their researches; and, however unwilling, they must at last have abandoned so arduous an attempt, were it not for a propensity in human nature, which leads into a Tystem, that gives thein some satisfaction.

There is an universal tendency among mankind to conceive all beings like themselves, and to transfer to every object, those qualities, with which they are familiarly acquainted, and of which they are intimately conscious. We find human faces in the moon, arinies in the clouds; and by a natural propensity, if not corrected by experience and reflection, ascribe inalice or good-will to every thing, that hurts or pleases us. Hence the frequency and beauty of the profopopæia in poetry; where trees, mountains and streams are personified, and the inanimate parts of nature acquire fentiment and passion. And though these poetical figures and expressions gain not on the belief, they may serve, at least, to prove a certain tendency in the imagination, without which they could neither be beautiful nor natural. Nor is a river-god or hamadryad always taken for a mere poetical or imaginary personage; but may sometimes enter into the real creed of the ignorant vulgar; while each grove or field is · represented as poífered of a particular genius or invisible power, which inha, bits and protects it. Nay, philosophers cannot entirely exempt themselves from this natural frailty ; but have.oft ascribed to inanimate matter the horror of a vacuum, fyınpathies, antipathies, and other affections of human nature. The absurdity is not less, while we cast our eyes upwards; and transferring, as is too usual, human paflions and infirinities to the deity, represent him as jealous and revengeful, capricious and partial, and, in short, a wicked and foolish man, in every respect but his

i superior

superior power and authority. No wonder, then, that mankind, being placed in such an absolute ignorance of causes, and being at the same time so anxious concerning their future fortune, should immediately acknowledge a dependence on invisible powers, possessed of sentiment and intelligence. The unknown causes, which continually employ their thought, appearing always in the same aspect, are all apprehended to be of the same kind or species. Nor is it long before we ascribe to them thought and reason and passion, and sometimes even the limbs and figures of men, in order to bring them nearer to a resemblance with ourselves..

In proportion as any man's course of life is governed by accident, we always find, that he encreases in superstition; as may particularly be observed of gamesters and failors, who, though, of all mankind, the least capable of serious reflection, abound most in frivolous and superstitious apprehensions. The gods, says Coriolanus in Dionysius *, have an influence in every affair; but above all, in war; where the event is so uncertain. All human life, especially before the institution of order and good government, being subject to fortuitous accidents; it is natural, that superstition should prevail every where in barbarous ages, and put men on the most earnest enquiry concerning those invisible powers, who dispose of their happiness or misery. ignorant of astronomy and the anatomy of plants and animals, and too little curious to observe the admirable adjustment of final causes ; they remain still unacquainted with a first and fupreme creator, and with that infinitely and perfect fpirit, who alone, by his almighty will, bestowed order on the whole frame of nature. Such a magnificent idea is too big for their narrow conceptions,

which,

* Lib. viii.

which can neither observe the beauty of the work, nor comprehend the grandeur of its author. They suppose their deities, however potent and invisible, to be nothing but a species of human creatures, perhaps raised from among inankind, and retaining all human passions and appetites, together with corporeal limbs and organs. Such limited beings, though masters of human fate, being, each of them, incapable of extending his influence every where, muft be vastly multiplied, in order to answer that variety of events, which happen over the whole face of nature. Thus every place is stored with a crowd of local deities; and thus polytheism has prevailed, and still prevails, among the greatest part of uninstructed mankind *.

Any of the human affections may lead us into the notion of invisible, intelligent power; hope as well as fear, gratitude as well as affliction : But if we exainine our own hearts, or observe what passes around us, we shall find, that men are much oftener thrown on their knees by the melancholy than by the agreeable passions. Prosperity is easily received as our due, and few questions are asked concerning its cause or author. It begets cheerfulness and activity and alacrity and a lively enjoyment of every social and sensual pleasure : And during this state of inind, men have little

leisure

* The following lines of Euripides are so much to the present purpose, that I cannot forbear quoting them:

Oux esived sy misor, ut eu Sotum,
Our' av xoa 215 apa soovio pela rapa Sely xoxWS.
Qupz31 d'avi'on 3:01 T ALV TS to wprow,
Ταραγμον εντιθείες, ως αγνωσια
26 iusv avl.s.

. Hecuba. ". There is nothing secure in the world ; no glory, no prof. “ perity. The gods toss all life into confuiion; mix every " thing with its reverse ; that all of us, from our ignorance and

uncertainty, may pay them the more worship and reverence.”

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

leisure or inclination to think of the unknown in-
visible regions. On the other hand, every dis-
astrous accident alarms us, and sets us on en-
quiries concerning the principles whence it arose :
Apprehensions spring up with regard to futurity :
And the mind, funk into diffidence, terror, and
melancholy, has recourse to every method of ap-
peasing those secret intelligent powers, on whom
our fortune is supposed entirely to depend.
- No topic is more usual with all popular di-
vines 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, inake 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 her 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 cre
apt neglect and forget.

: What age or period of life is the most addicted to superstition? The weakest and most timid. What fex? The fame answer must be given. The leaders and examples of every kind of superstition, says Strabo t, are the women. These excite the men to devotion and fupplications, and the observance of religious days. It is rare to meet with one that lives apart from the females, and yét is addited to such practices.' And nothing can, for this reason, be more improbable, than the account given of an order of men among the Getes, who praétised celibacy, and were notwithstanding the most religious fanatics. A method of reasoning, which would lead us to entertain a bad idea of the devotion of monks ;

did

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]
[blocks in formation]

did we not know by an experience, not so com mon, 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 fex.

Sect. IV.

Deities not considered as creators or for

mers of the world.

The only point of theology, in which we shall find a consent of mankind alınost 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 systems of theology. Our ancestors in Europe, before the revival of letters, believed, as we do at present, that there was one súpreine God, the author of nature, whose power, though in itself uncontroulable, was yet often exerted by the interposition of his angels and subordinate ministers, who executed his facred purposes. But they also believed, that all nature was full of other invisible powers į fairies, goblins, elves, sprights; beings, stronger and mightier than men, but much inferior to the celestial natures, who surround the throne of God. Now, suppote, that any one, in those agts, had denied the existence of God and of his angels; would not his impiety justly have deserved the appellation of atheisin, even though he had still allowed, by some odd capricious reasoning, that the popular stories of elves and fairies were just and well grounded? The difference, on the one hand, between such a person, and a genuine theist is infinitely

greater

« ZurückWeiter »