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method is to cut off from them, while infants, a little bit of skin, about half the breadth of a farthing. Take two bits of cloth *, say the Roman Catholics, about an inch or an inch and a half square; join them by the corners with two strings or pieces of tape about fixteen inches long; throw this over your head, and make one of the bits of cloth lie upon your breast, and the other upon your back, keeping them next your skin; there is not a better secret for recommending yourself to that infinite Being, who exists from eternity to eternity.
The GETES, commonly called immortal, from their steady belief of the soul's immortality, were genuine theists and unitarians. They affirmed ZAMOLXIS, their deity, to be the only true god; and asserted the worship of all other nations to be addressed to mere fictions and chimeraș. But were their religious principles any more refined on account of these magnificent pretensions ? Every fifth year they facrificed a human victim, whom they sent as a messenger to their deity, in order to inform him of their wants and neceflities. And when it thundered, they were so provoked, that in order to return the defiance, they let fly arrows at him, and declined not the combat as unequal. Such at least is the account which HERODOTUS gives of the the: ism of the immortal GETES T.
Sect. VIII. Flux and Reflux of Polytheism and Theism,
Ir is remarkable, that the principles of religion have a kind of flux and reflux in the human mind, and that men have a natural tendency to rise from idolatry to theism, and to sink again from theism into idolatry. The vulgar, that is, indeed, all mankind, a few excepted, being ignorant and uninstructed, never elevate their contemplation to the hea
* Called the Scapulaire,
+ Lib. iv.
vens, or penetrate by their difquisitions into the fe.cret structure of vegetable or animal bodies; so far as to discover a supreme mind or original providence, which bestowed order on every part of nature. They consider these admirable works in a more confined and selfish view; and finding their own happiness and misery to depend on the secret influence and unforeseen concurrence of external objects, they regard, with perpetual attention, the unknown causes which govern all these natural events, and distribute pleasure and pain, good and ill, by their powerful, but filent, operation. The unknown causes are still appealed to on every emergence; and in this general appearance or confused image, are the perpetual objects of human hopes and fears, wishes and apprehensions. By degrees, the active imagination of men, uneasy in this abstract conception of objects, about which it is incessantly employed, begins to render them more particular, and to clothe them in
hapes more suitable to its natural comprehension. It represents them to be sensible, intelligent beings, like mankind; actuated by love and hatred, and flexible by gifts and entreaties, by prayers and sacrifices. Hence the origin of religion; and hence the origin of idolatry or polytheism.
But the same anxious concern for happiness, whiclı begets the idea of these invisible, intelligent powers, allows not mankind to remain long in the first simple conception of them; as powerful, but limited, beings; masters of human fate, but slaves to destiny and the course of nature. Mens exaggerated praises and compliments still swell their idea upon them; and elevating their deities to the utmost bounds of perfection, at last bęget the attributes of unity and infinity, fimplicity and spirituality. Such refined ideas, being somewhat disproportioned to vulgar comprehension, remain not long in their original purity; but require to be supported by the notion of inferior mediators or subordinate agents, which in
terpose between mankind and their supreme deity, These demigods or middle beings, partaking more of human nature, and being more familiar to us, become the chief objects of devotion, and gradually recal that idolatry, which had been formerly banished by the ardent prayers and panegyrics of timorous and indigent mortals. But as these idolatrous religions fall every day into groffer and more vulgar conceptions, they at last destroy themselves, and, by the vile representations which they form of their deities, make the tide turn again towards theism. But so great is the propensity, in this alternate revolution of human sentiments, to return back to idolatry, that the utmost precaution is not able effectually to prevent it. And of this, some atheists, particularly the Jews and MEHOMETANS, have been sensible; as appears by their banishing all the arts of ftatuary and painting, and not allowing the representations, even of human figures, to be taken by marble or colours ; left the common infirmity of mankind should thence produce idolatry. The feeble apprehensions of men cannot be satisfied with conceiving their deity as a pure spirit and perfect intelligence; and yet their natural terrors keep them from imputing to him the least shadow of limitation and imperfection. They fluctuate between thefe opposite sentiments. The fame infirmity still drags them downwards, from an omnipotent and spiritual deity, to a limited and corporeal one, and from a corporeal and limited deity to a statue or visible representation. The fame endeavour at elevation still pushes them upwards, from the statue or material image to the invisible power ; and from the invisible power to an infinitely perfect deity, the Creator and Sovereign of the universe.
Sect. IX. Comparison of these Religions, with regard
to Persecution and Toleration.
POLYTHEISM or idolatrous worship, being founded
entirely in vulgar traditions, is liable to this great
and * See NOTE (AAA).
and modern times, is very obvious to any one, who is the least conversant in the writings of historians or travellers, When the oracle of Delphi was asked, what rites or worship was most acceptable to the gods? Those which are legally established in each city, replied the oracle*. Even priests, in those ages, could, it seems, allow falvation to thofe of a different communion. The Romans commonly adopted the gods of the conquered people; and never disputed the attributes of those local and national deities, in whose territories they resided. The religious wars and perfecutions of the Egyptian idolaters are indeed an exception to this rule; but are accounted for by ancient authors from reasons fingular and remarkable. Different species of animals were the deities of the different sects among the EGYPTIANS; and the deities being in continual war, engaged their votaries in the same contention. The worshippers of dogs could not long remain in peace with the adorers of cats or wolvest. But where that reason took not place, the EGYPTIAN superstition was not so incompatible as is commonly imagined; fince we learn from HERODOTUSI, that very large contributions were given by Amasis towards rebuilding the temple of DELPHI.
The intolerance of almost all religions, which have maintained the unity of God, is as remarkable as the contrary principle of polytheists. The implacable narrow spirit of the Jews is well known. MaHOMETANISM set out with still more bloody principles; and even to this day, deals out damnation, though not fire and faggot, to all other sects. And if, among CHRISTIANS, the English and Dutch have embraced the principles of toleration, this fingularity has proceeded from the steady resolution of the civil magistrate, in opposition to the continued efforts of priests and bigots.
The * Xenoph. Memor. lib. ii. 4 Plutarch. de Ilid. & Ofiride. I Lib. ii. fub fine.