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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 ridiculous fable, to which no body could give any attention *. Salluft t represents Cæfar as speaking the same language in the open senate I. · But that all these freedoms implied not a total and universal infidelity and scepticisin amongst the people, is too apparent to be denied. Though some parts of the national religion hung loose upon the minds of men, other parts adhered more closely to them : And it was the chief 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, froin the more momentous stories, which were believed, to the more frivolous, which every one ridiculed : From the gods to the goda desses; from the goddesses to the nymphs; from the nymphs to the fawns and fatyrs. His malter, Carneades, had employed the same method of seasoning ll.
Upon the whole, the greatest and most observable differences between a traditional, mythological
* Pro Cluentio, cap. 61. + De bello Catilin.
I Cicero (Tusc. Quæst.) lib. i. cap. 5, 6. and Seneca (Epift. 24.) as also Juvenal (Satyr. 2.), maintain that there is no boy or old woman so ridiculous as to believe the poets in their accounts of a future state. Why then does Lucretius so highly exalt his master for freeing us from these terrors? Perhaps the generality of mankind were then in the disposition of Cephalus in Plato (de Rep. lib. i.) who while he was young and healthful could ridicule these stories; but as soon as he became old and infirm, began to entertain apprehensions of their truth. This we may observe not to be unusual even at present,
Il Sext. Empir. advers. Mathem. lib. viii.
religion, and a systematical, scholastic one, are two The former is often more reasonable, as confisting only of a multitude of stories, which, however groundless, imply no express absurdity and deinonftrative contradiction; and sits also so easy and light on men's mind, that, though it may be as universally received, it happily inakes no such deep impression on the affections and understanding.
Sect. XIII. Impious conceptions of the divine nature
in 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 iinage of vengeance, severity, cruelty, and malice must occur, and must augment the ghaftliness and horror, which oppresses 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 environed, represents the spectres of divinity under the most dreadful appearances, imaginable. And no idea of perverse wickedness can be framed, which those terrified devotees do not readily, wich-out 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 fpirit of praise and eulogy, which necessarily has place in all religions, and which is the consequence of these very terrors, we inult expect a quite contrary system of theology to prevail. Every virtue, every excellence, must be ascribed
to the divinity, and no exaggeration will be deemed sufficient to reach those perfections, with which he is endowed. Whatever strains of panegyric can be invented, are immediately embraced, without consulting any arguinents or phænomena: It is esteemed a sufficient confirmation of them, that they give us more magnificent ideas of the divine objects of our worship and adoration. · Here therefore is a kind of contradiction between 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 adulation leads us to acknowledge an excellent and divine. And the influence of thefe opposite principles are various, according to the different situation of the huinan 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 knowledge, worship may be paid to a being, whom they confess to be wicked and detestable; though 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 this philosopher affented not to the vulgar opinion, which supposed the gods to know fome things, and be ignorant of others: He maintained, that they knew every thing; what was done, said, or even thought.
* Mem. lib. i.
But as this was a strain of philosophy † much above the conception of his countryinen, we need not be surprised, if very frankly, in their books and conversation, they blamed the deities, whom they worshipped in their temples. It is observable, that Hérodotus in particular scruples not, in many passages, to afcribe envy to the gods; a sentiment, of all others, the most suitable to a mean and devilish natüré. The pagan hymns, however, sung in public worship, contained nothing but epithets of praise; even while the ac- , tions ascribed to the gods were the most barbarous and detestable. When Timotheus, the poet, recited a poem to Diána, in which 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 celebrate *.
But as men farther exalt their idea of their divinity ; it is their notion of his power and knowledge only, not of his goodness, which is improved. On the contrary, in proportion to the supposed extent of his science and authority, their terror's naturally augment; while they believe, that no secrecy can conceal them from his scrutiny, and that even the inmost recesses of their breast lie open before him. They must then be careful not to form expressly any sentiinent of blame and disapprobation. All must be applause, ravishment, extacy. And while their gloomy apprehensions make them ascribe to hiin measures of conduct, which, in human creatures, would be highly blamed, they must still affect to praise
+ It was considered among the ancients, as a very extraordináry, philosophical paradox, that the presence of the gods was not confined to the heavens, but were extended every where; as we learn from Lucian. Hirmotimus five De seatise
* Plutarch. de Superftit. .
and admire that conduct in the object of their devotional addresses. Thus it may safely be affirmed, that popular religions are really, in the conception of their more vulgar votaries, a fpecies of dæmonism; and the higher the deity is exalted in power and knowledge, the lower of course is he depressed in goodness and benevolence; whatever epithets of praise may be bestowed on him by his amazed adorers. Among idolaters, the words inay be false, and belie the fecret opinien : But among more exalted religionists, the opinion itself contracts a kind of falsehood, and belies the inward sentiment. The heart secretly detests such measures of cruel and implacable vengeance; but the judgment dares not but pronounce them perfect and, adorable. And the additional misery of this inward struggle aggravates all the other terrors, by which these unhappy victims to superstition are for ever haunted.
Lucian * obferves that a young man, who reads the history of the gods in Homer or Hefiod, and finds their factions, wars, injustice, incest, adultery, and other immoralities so highly celebrated, is much surprised afterwards, when he comes into the world, to observe that punishments are by law inflicted on the same actions, which he had been taught to ascribe to superior beings. The contradiction is still perhaps stronger between the representations given us by fome later religions and our natural ideas of generosity, lenity, impartiality, and justice ; and in proportion to the multiplied terrors of these religions, the barbarous conceptions of the divinity are multiplied upon us f. Nothing can preserve untainted the genuine princi-. ples of morals in our judgment of human conduct, but the absolute necesiity of these principles to the existence of society. If common conception
* Necyomantia. ..