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THE

NATURAL HISTORY

OF

RELIGION.

INTRODUCTION.

As every inquiry, which regards religion, is of the utmost importance, there are two questions in particular, which challenge our attention, to wit, that cone cerning its foundation in reason, and that concerning its origin in human nature. Happily, the first question, which is the most important, admits of the most obvious, at least, the clearest solution. The whole frame of nature bespeaks an Intelligent Author; and no rational inquirer čan, after serious reflection, suspend his belief a moment with regard to the primary principles of genuine Theism and Religion. But the other question, concerning the origin of religion in human nature, is exposed to some more difficulty. The belief of invisible, intelligent power has been very generally diffused over the human race, in all places and in all ages; but it has neither perhaps been so universal as to admit of no exceptions, VOL. II.

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nor has it been, in any degree, uniform in the ideas, which it has suggested. Some nations have been discovered, who entertained no sentiments of Religion, if travellers and historians may be credited ; and no two nations, and scarce any two men, have ever agreed precisely in the same sentiments. It would appear, therefore, that this preconception springs not from an original instinct of primary išpression of natürē, such as gives rise to self-love, affection between the sexes, love of progeny, gratitude, resentment; since every instinct of this kind has been found absolutely universal in all nations and ages, and has always a precise determinate object, which it inflexibly pursnes. The first religious principles must be secondary; such as may easily be perverted by various accidents and causes, and whose operation too, in some cases, may, by an extraordinary concurrence of circumstances, be altogether prevented. What those principles are, which give rise to the original belief, and what those accidents and causes are, which direct its operation, is the subject of our present inquiry. .

SECT. I. . :

That Polytheism was the primary Religion

i of Men.

It appears to me, that, if we consider the improvement of human society, from rade beginnings to a state of greater perfection, polytheism or idolatry was, and necessarily must have been, the first and most ancient religion of mankind. This opinion I shall endeavour to confirm by the following arguments.

It is a matter of fact incontestible, that about 1790 years ago all mankind were polytheists. The doubtful and sceptical principles of a few philosophers, or the theism, and tirat too not entirely pure, of one or two nations, form no objection worth regarding. Behold then the clear testimony of history. The farther we mount up into antiquity, the more do we find mankind plunged into polytheism. No marks, no symptoms of any more perfect religion. The most ancient records of human race still present is with that systém as the poo pular and established creed. The' north; the south, the east, the west," give their unanimous testimony to the same fact. What can be opposed to“so full an evidence ? · As far as writing or history reaches, mankind, in an. cieñt 'tïñnes, appear universally to have been polytheists. Shall we assert, that, in more ancient times, before thë knowledge of letters, or the discovery of any art oř science, men entertained the principles of pure theism? That is, while they were ignorant and barbarous, they discovered truth : But féll into error;" as soon as they acquired learning and politeness. . But in this assertion you not only contradict all. apó pearance of probability, but also our present experience concerning the principles and opinions of barbarous nations. The savage tribes of AMERICA, AFRICA, and Asia are all idolaters. Not a single exception to this rule. Insomuch, that, were a traveller to transport himself in. to any unknown region ; if he found inhabitants cultivated with arts and science, though even upon that supa position there are odds against theit being theists, yet could he not safely, till farther inquiry, pronounce any thing on that head: But if he found them ignorant and barbarous, he might beforehand declare them idolaters; and there scarcely is a possibility of his being mistaken:

It seems certain, that, according to the natural pro. gress of human thought, the ignorant multitude must first entertain some groveling and fámiliar notion of sun perior powers, before they stretch their conception to that perfect Being, who bestowed order on the whole :'.

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