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They forgot to add, that he was not superior in pru. dence and understanding to an old woman. For surely nothing can be more pitiful than the sentiments which that sect entertained with regard to religious matters; while they seriously agree with the common augurs, that, when a raven croaks from the left, it is a good omen; but a bad one when a rook makes a noise from the same quarter. PANÆTIUS was the only Storc among the GREEKS, who so much as doubted with regard to auguries and divinations * Marcus ANTONINUS + tells us, that he himself had received many admonitions from the gods in his sleep. It is true, EPICTETUS I forbids us to regard the language of rooks and ravens; but it is not that they do not speak truth: it is only because they can foretel nothing but the breaking of our neck or the forfeiture of our estate ; which are circumstances, says he, that nowise concern us. Thus the Storcs join a philosophical enthusiasm to a religious superstition. The force of their mind, being all turned to the side of morals, unbent itself in that of religion ||.
Plato S introduces SOCRATES affirming, that the accusation of impiety raised against him was owing entirely to his rejecting such fables as those of SATURN's caftrating his father URANUS, and JUPITER'S dethroning SATURN; yet in a subsequent dialogue, SOCRATES confeffes, that the doctrine of the mortality of the soul was the received opinion of the people. Is there here any contradiction? Yes, surely: but the contradiction is not in Plato; it is in the people, whose religious principles in general are always composed of the most discordant parts; especially in an
Cicero de Divin. lib. i. cap. 3 et 7. + Lib. i. 17.
Ench. 17: ! The Stoics, I own, were not quite orthodox in the established religion ; but one may see, from these instances, that they went a great way: and the people undoubtedly went every length.
age when fuperftition fate so easy and light upon them g.
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 *. Sallust + represents CÆSAR as speaking the same language in the open senate I.
But that all these freedoms implied not a total and universal infidelity and scepticism 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, from the more momentous stories which were believed, to the more frivolous which every one ridiculed: from the gods to the goddesses; from the goddesses to the nymphs; from the nymphs to the fawns and fatyrs. His master, CARNEADES, had employed the same method of reasoning ||
Upon the whole, the greatest and most observable differences between a traditional, mythological reli
gion, See NOTE (DDD). * Pro Cluentio, cap. 61.
+ De bello CATILIN. I CICERO (Tusc. Quæft.) lib. i. cap. 5, 6. and SENECA (Ep. 24.) as alfo 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 difpofition of Cephalus in Plato (de Rep. lib. i.), who while he was young and healthful could ridicule thesc stories ; but as soon as he became old and infirm, began to enter tain apprehensions of their truth. This we may observe not to be unusual even at present.
! Sext. Empir. adverf. MATHEM, lib. viii.
gion, and a systematical, scholastic one, are two: The former is often more reasonable, as consisting only of a multitude of stories; which, however groundless, imply no express absurdity and demonftrative con tradiction; and fits also fo easy and light on mens mind, that though it may be as univerfally received, it happily makes no such deep impression on the af fections 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 i. deas will naturally be entertained of invisible, unknown powers, while men lie under dismal appre. hensions of any kind, may easily be conceived. E. very image of vengeance, severity, cruelty, and malice, must occur; and must augment the ghastliness and horror which oppresses the amazed religionift. 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, without 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 spirit of praise and eulogy which pecessarily has place in all religions, and which is the consequence of these very terrors, we muft 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 fufficient to reach those perfections with which he is 3
endowed. Whatever strains of panegyric can be invented, are immediately embraced, without consulting any arguments or phænomena: It is esteemed A fufficient 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 propenfity to adulation leads us to acknowledge an excellent and divine. And the influence of these opposite principles are various, according to the different Gtuation of the human 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 confefs to be wicked and deteftable; 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 afsented not to the vulgar opinion, which supposed the gods to know some things, and be ignorant of others : He maintained, that they knew every thing; what was done, said, or even thought. But as this was a strain of philosophy + much above the conception of his countrymen, we need not be suprised, if very frankly, in their books and conversation, they blamed the
deities, Mem. lib.i. + It was considered among the ancients as a very extraordinary, philofophical paradox, that the presence of the gods was not confi. ned to the heavens, but were extended every where; as we lears from Lucian. Hirmetimus fue defectis.
deities, whom they worshipped in their temples. It is observable, that HERODOTUS in particular scruples not, in many passages, to ascribe envy to the gods; a fentiment, of all others, the most suitable to a mean and devilish nature. The pagan hymns, however, sung in public worship, contained nothing but epithets of praise ; ever while the actions ascribed to the gods were the most barbarous and detestable. When TIMOTHEUS the poet recited a hymn to DIANA, in which he enumerated, with the greatest eulogies, all the actions and attributes of that cruel, capricious goddess : May your daughter, said one prefent, become such as the deity whom you celebrate*.
But as men farther exalt their idea of their divini. ty, 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 terrors naturally aug. ment; while they believe, that no fecrecy 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 sentiment of blame and disapprobation. All must be applause, ravishment, ecstasy. And while their gloomy apprehensions make them ascribe to him measures of conduct, which, in human creatures, would be highly blamed, they must still affect to praise 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 species of demonism; 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 may be false, and belie the secret opinion: but among more exalted Teligionists, the opinion itself contracts a kind of
false. • PLUTARCH, de Superftite