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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 pofleffed of a particular genius or invisible power, which inhabits and protects it. Nay, philofophers cannot entirely exempt themselves from this natural frailty ; but have oft ascribed to inanimate matter the horror of a vacuum, sympathies, antipathies, and other affections of human nature. The absurdity is not lets while we cast our eyes upwards; and transferring, as is too usual, human passions and infirmities 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 superior power and authority. No wonder, then, that mankind, being placed in such an absolute ignorance of causes, and being at the same time fo anxious concerning their future fortune, fhould immediately acknowledge a dependence on invisible powers, poflefsed 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 reafon and passion, and sometimes even the limbs and figures of men, in order to bring them nearer to a refemblance with ourselves.
In proportion as any man's course of life is governed by accident, we always find, that he encreases in fuperftition ; 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, fays 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,
* Lib. vikt
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 supreme Creator, and with that infinitely 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 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 mankind, 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, niust 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 unin. ftructed 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 examine our own hearts, or observe what passes around
us, * The following lines of EURIPIDES are so much to the present purpose, that I cannot forhear quoting them :
Ουκ εσιν εδεν σισον, ντ ευδεξια,
НесовА. . “ There is nothing secure in the world; no glory, no prosperity. The gous “ toss all life into confusion; mix every thing with its reverse; that all of us, " from our ignorance and uncertainty, may pay them the more worship and
А а 3
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 the state of mind, men have little leisure or inclination to think of the unknown invisible regions. On the other hand, every disastrous accident alarms us, and sets us on enquiries concerning the principles whence it arose : Apprehensions spring up with regard to futurity: And the mind, sunk into diffidence, terror, and melancholy, has recourse to every method of appealing those fecret intelligent powers, on whom our fortune is supposed entirely to depend.
No tapic is more usual with all popular divines than to display the advantages of affliction, in bringing men to a due sense of religion; by lubduing their confidence and sensuality, which, in times of prosperity, make them forgetful of a divine providence. Nor is this topic confined merely to modern religions. The ancients have also employed it. Fortune bas never liberally, without envy, says a Greek historian *, bestowed' an unmixed happiness on mankind ; but with all her gifts has ever conjoined fome disastrous circumstance, in order to chastise men into a reverence for the gods, whom, in a continued course of prosperity, they are apt to neglect and forget.
What age or period of life is the most addicted to fuperftition? The weakest and most timid. What sex? The same answer must be given. The leaders and examples of every kind of superstition, says StraBot, are the women. These excite tbe men to devotion and supplications, and the observance of religious days. It is rare to meet with one that lives apart from the females, and yet is addicted to such practices. And nothing can, for this reason, be more improbabłe, than
* Diod. Sic. lib. iii.
+ Lib. vii.
the account given of an order of men among the GETES, who practised celibacy, and were nothwithstanding the most religious fanatics. A method of reasoning, which would lead us to entertain a bad idea of the devotion of monks; did we not know by an experience, not fo common, perhaps, in Strabo's days, that one may practice celibacy, and profess chastity; and yet maintain the closest connections and most entire sympathy with that timorous and pious fex.
Sect. IV. Deities not considered as creators or formers
of the world.
The only point of theology in which we shall find a consent of mankind almost 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, connections, 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 supreme God, the author of nature, whofe power, though in itself uncontrollable, was yet often exerted by the interposition of his angels and subordinate ministers, who executed his sacred purposes. But . they also believed, that all nature was full of other invisible powers; fairies, goblins, elves, sprights ; beings stronger and mighter than men, but much inferior to the celestial natures, who surround the throne of God. Now, suppose that any one, in those ages, had denied the existence of God and of his angels; would not his impiety juftly have deserved the appellation of atheism, 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 infinite
ly greater than that, on the other, between him and one that absolutely excludes all invisible intelligent power. And it is a fallacy, merely from the casual resemblance of names, without any conformity of meaning, to rank such opposite opinions under the fame denomination.
To any one who considers justly of the matter, it will appear, that the gods of all polytheists are no better than the elves or fairies of our ancestors, and merit as little any pious worship or veneration. These pretended religionists are really a kind of superstitious atheists, and acknowledge no being that corresponds to our idea of a deity. No first principle of mind or thought: No supreme government and administration: No divine contrivance or intention in the fabric of the world.
The Chinese, when* their prayers are not answered, beat their idols. The deities of the LAPLANDERS are any large stone which they meet with of an ex.. traordinary shapet. The Egyptian mythologists, in order to account for animal worship, faid, that the gods, pursued by the violence of earth-born men, who were their enemies, had formerly been obliged to disguise themselves under the semblance of beasts 1, The CAUNII, a nation in the Lesser Asia, resolving to admit no strange gods among them, regularly, at certain seasons, afsembled themselves completely armed, beat the air with their lances, and proceeded in that manner to their frontiers; in order, as they said, to expel the foreign deities g. Not even the immor: tal gods, said some GERMAN nations to CÆSAR, are a match for the Suevill.
Many ills, says Dione in HOMER to VENUS wounded by DIOMEDE, many ills, my daughter, have the gods inflicted on men: And many ills, in return,
have • Pere le Compte.
+ Regnard, Vorage de Laponie. I Diod. Sic. lib. i. Lucian. de Sacrificiis. Ovid alludes' to the fame tradition, Metam. lib. v. 321. So also MANILIUS, lib. iv.
Herodot. lib. i. Il Cæs. Comment. de bello Gallico, lib. iv.