Obrazy na stronie
PDF

tigation, in order to perfect the state of perception of the relation which the component ideas of the proposition bear to each, which is passive; the investigation, being confused with the perception, has induced many falsely to imagine that the mind is active in belief, that belief is an act of volition,-in consequence of which it may be regulated by the mind. Pursuing, continuing this mistake, they have attached a degree of criminality to disbelief; of which, in its nature, it is incapable : it is equally incapable of merit. Belief, then, is a passion, the strength of which, like every other passion, is in precise proportion to the degrees of excitement. The degrees of excitement are three. The senses are the sources of all knowledge to the mind; consequently their evidence claims the strongest assent. The decision of the mind, founded upon our own experience, derived from these sources, claims the next degree. The experience of others, which addresses itself to the former one, occupies the lowest degree. (A graduated scale, on which should be marked the capabilities of propositions to approach the test of the senses, would be a just barometer of the belief which ought to be attached to them.) Consequently, no testimony can be admitted which is contrary to reason; reason is founded on the evidence of our senses. Every proof may be referred to one of these three divisions : it is to be considered what arguments we receive from each of them, which should convince us of the existence of a Deity. lst. The evidence of the senses. If the Deity should appear to us, if he should convince our senses of his existence, this revelation would necessarily command belief. Those to whom the Deity has thus appeared have the strongest possible conviction of his existence. But the God of theologians is incapable of local visibility. 2d. Reason. It is urged that man knows that whatever is, must either have had a beginning, or have existed from all eternity: he also knows, that whatever is not eternal must have had a cause. When this reasoning is applied to the universe, it is necessary to prove that it was created : until that is clearly demonstrated, we may reasonably suppose that it has endured from all eternity. We must prove design before we can infer a designer. The only idea which we can form of causation is derivable from the constant conjunction of objects, and the consequent inference of one from the other. In a case where two propositions are diametrically opposite, the mind believes that which is least incomprehensible;—it is easier to suppose that the universe has existed from all eternity, than to conceive a being beyond its limits capable of creating it: if the mind sinks beneath the weight of one, is it an alleviation to increase the intolerability of the burthen P The other argument, which is founded on a man's knowledge of his own existence, stands thus. A man knows not only that he now is, but that once he was not ; consequently there must have been a cause. But our idea of causation is alone derivable from the constant conjunction of objects and the consequent inference of one from the other; and, reasoning experimentally, we can only infer from effects, causes exactly adequate to those effects. But there certainly is a generative power which is effected by certain instruments: we cannot prove that it is inherent in these instruments; nor is the contrary hypothesis capable of

[blocks in formation]

sive, or involuntarily active: from this it is evident

that we have no sufficient testimony, or rather that testimony is insufficient, to prove the being of a God. It has been before shown that it cannot be deduced from reason. They alone, then, who have been convinced by the evidence of the senses, can believe it. Hence it is evident that, having no proofs from any of the three sources of conviction, the mind cannot believe the existence of a creative God: it is also evident that, as belief is a passion of the mind, no degree of criminality is attachable to disbelief; and that they only are reprehensible who neglect to remove the false medium through which their mind views any subject of discussion. Every reflecting mind must acknowledge, that there is no proof of the existence of a Deity. God is an hypothesis, and as such, stands in need of proof; the onus probandi rests on the theist. Sir Isaac Newton says: “Hypotheses non fingo, quicquid enim ex phenomenis non deducitur hypothesis vocanda est, et hypothesis vel mcta physica, vel physicae, vel qualitatum occultarum, seu mechanicæ, in philosophia locum non habent.” To all proofs of the existence of a creative God apply this valuable rule. We see a variety of bodies possessing a variety of powers; we merely know their effects; we are in a state of ignorance with respect to their essences and causes. These Newton calls the phenomena of things; but the pride of philosophy is unwilling to admit its ignorance of their causes. From the phenomena, which are the objects of our senses, we attempt to infer a cause, which we call God, and gratuitously endow it with all negative and contradictory qualities. From this hypothesis we invent this general name, to conceal our ignorance of causes and essences. The being called God by no means answers with the conditions prescribed by Newton; it bears every mark of a veil woven by philosophical conceit, to hide the ignorance of philosophers even from themselves. They borrow the threads of its texture from the anthropomorphism of the vulgar. Words have been used by sophists for the same purposes, from the occult qualities of the Peripatetics to the effluvium of Boyle and the crinities or nebulae of Herschel. God is represented as infinite, eternal, incomprehensible; he is contained under every pradicate in non that the logic of ignorance could fabricate. Even his worshippers allow that it is impossible to form any idea of him; they exclaim with the French poet, Pour direce qu'il est, il faut etre lui-même,

Lord Bacon says, that “atheism leaves to man reason, philosophy, natural piety, laws, reputation, and every thing that can serve to conduct him to virtue; but | fut sur les débris de la nature que les hommes éle

superstition destroys all these, and erects itself into a tyranny over the understandings of men : hence atheism never disturbs the government, but renders man more clear-sighted, since he sees nothing beyond the boundaries of the present life.''-BAcoN's Moral Essays.

La première théologie de l'homme lui fit d'abord craindie et adorer les éléments même, des objets matériels et grossiers ; il rendit ensuite ses hommages à des agents présidents aux éléments, à des génies inférieurs, à des héros, ou à des hommes doués de grandes qualités. A force de réfléchir, il crut simplifier les choses en soumettant la nature entière à un seul agent, à un esprit, à une ame universelle, qui mettoit cette nature et ses parties en mouvement. En remontant de causes en causes, les mortels ont fini par ne rien voir; et c'est dans cette obscurité qu'ils ont placé leur Dieu ; c'est dans cet abîme ténébreux que leur imagination inquiète travaille toujours à se fabriquer des chimères, qui les affligeront jusqu'à ce que la connoissance de la nature les détrompe des fantômes qu'ils ont toujours si vainement adorés.

Si nous voulons nous rendre compte de nos idées sur la Divinité, nous serons obligés de convenir que, par le mot Dieu, les hommes n'ont jamais pu désigner que la cause la plus cachée, la plus éloignée, la plus inconnue des effets qu'ils voyoient : ils ne font usage de ce mot, que lorsque le jeu des causes naturelles et connues cesse d'être visible pour eux ; dès qu'ils perdent le fil de ces causes, ou dès que leur esprit ne peut plus en suivre la chaîne, ils tranchent leur difficulté, et terminent leurs recherches en appellant Dieu la dernière des causes, c'est-à-dire celle qui est au-delà de toutes les causes qu'ils connoissent; ainsi ils ne font qu'assigner une dénomination vague à une cause ignorée, à laquelle leur paresse ou les bornes de leurs connoissances les forcent de s'arrêter. Toutes les fois qu'on nous dit que Dieu est l'auteur de quelque phénomène, cela signifie qu'on ignore comment un tel phénomène a pu s'opérer par le secours des forces ou des causes que nous connoissons dans la nature. C'est ainsi que le commun des hommes, dont l'ignorance est le partage, attribue à la Divinité non seulement les effets inusités qui les frappent, mais encore les événemens les plus simples, dont les causes sont les plus faciles à connoître pour quiconque a pu les méditer. En un mot, l'homme a toujours respecte les causes inconnues des effets surprenans, que son ignorance l'empêchoit de démêler. Ce

vèrent le colosse imaginaire de la Divinité. Si l'ignorance de la nature donna la naissance aux dieux, la connoissance de la nature est faite pour les détruire. A mesure que l'homme s'instruit, ses forces et ses ressources augmentent avec ses lumières ; les sciences, les arts conservateurs, l'industrie, lui fournissent des secours ; l'expérience le rassure ou lui procure des moyens de résister aux efforts de bien des causes qui cessent de l'alariner dès qu'il les a connues. En un mot, ses terreurs se dissipent dans la même proportion que son esprit s'éclaire. L'homme instruit cesse d'être superstitieux. Ce n'est jamais que sur parole que des peuples entiers adorent le Dieu de leurs pères et de leurs prêtres : l'autorité, la confiance, la soumission, et l'habitude, leur tiennent lieu de conviction et de preuves; ils se prosternent et prient, parce que leurs pères leur ont appris à se prosterner et prier : mais pourquoi ceux-ci se sont-ils mis à genoux ? C'est que dans les temps éloignés leurs législateurs et leurs guides leur en ont fait un devoir. " Adorez et croyez," ont

ils dit, " des dieux que vous ne pouvez comprendre ; rapportez-vous-en à notre sagesse profonde ; nous en savons plus que vous sur la Divinité." Mais pourquoi m'en rapporterois-je à vous ? C'est que Dieu le veut ainsi, c'est que Dieu vous punira si vous osez résister. Mais ce Dieu n'est-il donc pas la chose en question ? Cependant les hommes se sont toujours payés de ce cercle vicieux ; la paresse de leur esprit leur fit trouver plus court de s'en rapporter au jugement des autres. Toutes les notions religieuses sont fondées uniquement sur l'autorité; toutes les religions du monde défendent l'examen, et ne veulent pas que l'on raisonne ; c'est l'autorité qui veut qu'on croie en Dieu ; ce Dieu n'est lui-même fondé que sur l'autorité de quelques hommes qui prétendent le connoître, et venir de sa part pour l'annoncer à la terre. Un Dieu fait par les hommes, a sans doute besoin des hommes pour se faire connoître aux hommes. Ne seroit-ce donc que pour des prêtres, des inspirés, des métaphysiciens, que seroit réservée la conviction de l'existence d'un Dieu, que l'on dit néanmoins si nécessaire à tout le genre humain ? Mais trouvons-nous de l'harmonie entre les opinions théologiques des différens inspirés, ou des penseurs répandus sur la terre? Ceux même qui font profession d'adorer le même Dieu, sont-ils d'accord sur son compte ? Sont-ils contents des preuves que leurs collègues apportent de son existence ? Souscrivent-ils unanimement aux idées qu'ils présentent sur sa nature, sur sa conduite, sur la façon d'entendre ses prétendus oracles ? Est-il une contrée sur la terre, où la science de Dieu se soit réellement perfectionnée ? A-t-elle pris quelque part la consistance et l'uniformité que nous voyons prendre aux connoissances humaines, aux arts les plus futiles, aux métiers les plus méprisés ? Des mots d'esprit, d'immatérialité, de création, de prédestination, de grace; cette foule de distinctions subtiles dont la théologie s'est partout remplie dans quelques pays, ces inventions si ingénieuses, imaginées par des penseurs qui se sont succédés depuis tant de siécles, n'ont fait, hélas ! qu'embrouiller les choses, et jamais la science la plus nécessaire aux hommes n'a jusqu'ici pu acquérir la moindre fixité. Depuis des milliers d'années, ces réveurs oisifs se sont perpétuellement relayés pour méditer la Divinité, pour deviner ses voies cachées, pour inventer des hypothèses propres à développer cette énigme importante. Leur peu de succès n'a point découragé la vanité théologique ; toujours on a parlé de Dieu : on s'est égorgé pour lui, et cet être sublime demeure toujours le plus ignoré et le plus discuté. Les hommes auroient été trop heureux, si, se bornant aux objets visibles qui les intéressent, ils eussent employé, à perfectionner leurs sciences réelles, leurs lois, leur morale, leur éducation, la moitié des efforts qu'ils ont mis dans leurs recherches sur la Divinité. Ils auroient été bien plus sages encore, et plus fortunés, s'ils eussent pu consentir à laisser leurs guides désœuvrés se quereller entre eux, et sonder des profondeurs capables de les étourdir, sans se mêler de leurs disputes insensées. Mais il est de l'essence de l'ignorance d'attacher de l'importance à ce qu'elle ne comprend pas. La vanité humaine fait que l'esprit se roidit contre les difficultés. Plus un objet se dérobe à nos yeux, plus nous faisons d'efforts pour le saisir, parceque dès-lors il aiguillonne notre orgueil, il excite noure curiosité, il nous paroît intéressant. En combattant pour son Dieu chacun ne combattit en effet que pour les intérêts de sa propre vanité, qui de toutes les passions produites par la mal-organisation de la société, est la plus prompte à s'alarmer, et la plus propre à produire de très-grandes folies. Si, écartant pour un moment les idées fâcheuses que la théologie nous donne d'un Dieu capricieux, dont les décrets partiaux et despotiques décident du sort des humains, nous ne voulons fixer nos yeux que sur la bonté prétendue que tous les hommes, même en tremblant devant ce Dieu, s'accordent à lui donner ; si nous lui supposons le projet qu'on lui prète, de n'avoir travaillé que pour sa propre gloire ; d'exiger les hommages des ètres intelligens ; de ne chercher dans ses oeuvres que le bien-être du genre humain ; comment concilier ses vues et ses dispositions avec 1'ignorance vraiment invincible dans laquelle ce Dieu, si glorieux et si bon, laisse la plupart des hommes sur son compte ? Si Dieu veut être connu, chéri, remercié, que ne se montre-t-il sous des traits favorables à tous ces êtres intelligens dont il veut étre aimé et adoré ? Pourquoi me point se manifester à toute la terre d'une fagon mon êquivoque, bien plus capable de nous convainere, que ces révélations particulières qui semblent accuser la Divinité d'une partialité fâcheuse pour quelques-unes de ses créatures? Le Tout-Puissant n'auroit-il donc pas des moyens plus convainquans de se montrer aux hommes que ces métamorphoses ridicules, ces incarnations prétendues, qui nous sont attestées par des écrivains si peu d'accord entre eux dans les récits qu'ils en font? Au lieu de tant de miracles inventés pour prouver la mission divine de tant de législateurs révérés par les différens peuples du monde, le souverain des esprits ne pouvoit-il pas convaincre tout d'un coup l'esprit humain des choses qu'il a voulu lui faire connoitre ? Au lieu de suspendre un soleil dans la voùte du firmament ; au lieu de répandre sans ordre les étoiles et les constellations qui remplissent l'espace, n'eùt-il pas été plus conforme aux vmes d'un Dieu jaloux de sa gloire et si bien-intentionné pour l'homme, d'écrire d'une fagon non sujette à dispüte, son nom, ses attributs, ses volontés permanentes, en caractères ineffagables, et lisibles également pour tous les habitans de la terre ? Personne alors n'auroit pu douter de l'existence d'un Dieu, de ses volontés claires, de ses intentions visibles. Sous les yeux de ce Dieu si terri. ble personne n'aurot eu l'audace de violer ses ordonnances ; nul mortel n'eùt eu le front d'en imposer en son non, ou d'interpréter ses volontés suivant ses propres fantaisies. En effet, quand même on admettroit 1'existence du Dieu théologique, et la réalité des attributs si discordans qu'on lui donne, ]'on ne peut en rien conclure, pour autoriser la conduite ou les cultes qu'on prescrit de lui rendre. La théologie est vraiment le tonneau des Danaides. A force de qualités contradictoires et d'assertions basardées, elle a, pour ninsi dire, tellement garrotté son Dieu qu'elle l'a mis dans l'impossibilité d'agir. S'il est infinimcnt bon, quelle raison aurions. nous de le craindre ? S'il est infiniment sage, de quoi nous inquiéter sur notre sort? S'il sait tout, pourquoi 1'avertir de nos besoins, et le fatiguer de nos prières ? Sil est partout, pourquoi lui élever des temples ? s'il est maitre de tout, pourquoi lui faire des sacrifices et dcs offrandes ? S'il est juste, comment croire qu'il punisse des créatures qu'il a remplies de foiblesses? Si la grace fait tont en elles, qn'ellé raison auroit-il de les récompenser ? S'il est tout-puissant, comment 1'offenser, comment lui resister ? S'il est raisonnable, comment se mettroit-il en colère contre des aveugles, À qui il a laissé la liberté de déraisonner ! S'il est immuable, de quel droit prétendrions-nous faire changer ses décrets ? S'il est inconcevable, pourquoi nous en

[blocks in formation]

The consistent Newtonian is necessarily an atheist. See Sir W. DRUM MoNd's Academical Questions, chap. iii.—Sir W. seems to consider the atheism, to which it leads, as a sufficient presumption of the fulsehood of the system of gravitation : but surely it is more consistent with the good faith of philosophy to admit a deduction from facts than am hypothesis incapable of proof, although it might militate with the obstinate preconceptions of the mob. Had this author, instead of inveighing against the guilt and absurdity of atheism, demonstrated its falsehood, his conduct would have been more suited to the modesty of the sceptic and the toleration of the philosopher. tg*

[merged small][ocr errors]

“Ahasuerus the Jew crept forth from the dark cave of Mount Carmel. Near two thousand years have elapsed since he was first goaded by never-ending restlessness to rove the globe from pole to pole. When our Lord was wearied with the burthen of his ponderous cross, and wanted to rest before the door of Ahasuerus, the unfeeling wietch drove him away with brutality. The saviour of mankind staggered, sinking under the heavy load, but uttered no complaint. An angel of death appeared before Ahasuerus, and exclaimed indignantly, * Barbarian ! thou hast denied rest to the Son of Man; be it denied thee also, until he comes to judge the world.'

“ Ablack demon, let loose from hell upom Ahasuerus, goads him now from country to country: he is denied the consolation which death affords, and precluded from the rest of the peaceful grave.

** Ahasuerus crept forth from the dark cave of Mount Carmel—he shook the dust from his beard—and taking up one of the sculis heaped there, hurled it down the eminence : it rebounded from the earth in shivered atoms. * This was my father!' roarcd Ahasuerus. Seven

rebounded in shivers from my body.

more sculls rolled down from rock to rock ; while the infuriate Jew, following them with ghastly looks, exclaimed—'And these were my wives!" He still continued to hurl down scull after scull, roaring in dreadful accents—"And these, and these, and these were my children' They could die; but I reprobate wretch, alas ! I cannot die! Dreadful beyond conception is the judgment that hangs over me. Jerusalem fell—I crushed the sucking-babe, and precipitated myself into the destructive flames. I cursed the Romans—but, alas! alas ! the restless curse held me by the hair, and I could not diel “Rome the giantess fell—I placed myself before the falling statue—she fell, and did not crush me. Nations sprang up and disappeared before me; but I remained, and did not die. From cloud-encircled cliffs did I precipitate myself into the ocean ; but the foaming billows cast me upon the shore, and the burning arrow of existence pierced my cold heart again. I leaped into Etna's flaming abyss, and roared with the giants for ten long months, polluting with my groans the mount's sulphureous mouth—ah! ten long months. The volcano fermented, and in a fiery stream of lava cast me up. I lay torn by the torture-snakes of hell amid the glowing cinders, and yet continued to exist.—A forest was on fire: I darted, on wings of fury and despair, into the crackling wood. Fire dropped upon me from the trees, but the flames only singed my limbs; alas! it could not consume them.—l now mixed with the butchers of mankind, and plunged in the tempest of the raging battle. I roared defiance to the infuriate Gaul, defiance to the victorious German; but arrows and spears The Saracen's flaming sword broke upon my scull: balls in vain hissed upon me: the lightnings of battle glared harmless around my loins: in vain did the elephant trample on me, in vain the iron hoof of the wrathful steed ! The mine, big with destructive power, burst under me, and hurled me high in the air—I fell on heaps of smoking limbs, but was only singed. The giant's steel club rebounded from my body: the executioner's hand could not strangle me, the tiger's tooth could not pierce me, nor would the hungry lion in the circus devour me. I cohabited with poisonous snakes, and pinched the red crest of the dragon. The serpent stung, but could not destroy me. The dragon tormented, but dared not to devour me.—I now provoked the fury of tyrants: I said to Nero, Thou art a bloodhound ! I said to Chris

tiern, Thou art a bloodhound ! I said to Muley Ismail,

Thou art a bloodhound ! The tyrants invented cruel torments, but did not kill me. Ha! not to be able to die—not to be able to die, not to be permitted to rest after the toils of life—to be doomed to be imprisoned forever in this clay-formed dungeon—to be forever clogged with this worthless body, its load of diseases and infirmities—to be condemned to hold for millenniums that yawning monster Sameness, and Time, that hungry hyena, ever bearing children. and ever devouring again her offspring !—Ha! not to be permitted to die Awful avenger in heaven, hast thou in thine armoury of wrath a punishment more dreadful ? then let it thunder upon me, command a hurricane to sweep me down to the foot of Carmel, that I there may lic extended ; may pant, and writhe, and die ""

This fragment is the translation of part of some German work, whose title I have vainly endeavoured to discover. I picked it up, dirty and torn, some years ago, in Lincoln’s-Inn Fields.

P. 14, col. 1, l. 13. I will beget a son, and he shall bear The sins of all the world. A book is put into our hands when children, called the Bible, the purport of whose history is briefly this : That God made the earth in six days, and there planted a delightful garden, in which he placed the first pair of human beings. In the midst of the garden he planted a tree, whose fruit, although within their reach, they were forbidden to touch. That the Devil, in the shape of a snake, persuaded them to eat of this fruit; in consequence of which God condemned both them and their posterity yet unborn, to satisfy his justice by their eternal misery. That, four thousand years after these events (the human race in the meanwhile having gone unredeemed to perdition), God engendered with the betrothed wife of a carpenter in Judea (whose virginity was nevertheless uninjured), and begat a Son, whose name was Jesus Christ; and who was crucified and died, in order that no more men might be devoted to hell-fire, he bearing the burthen of his Father's displeasure by proxy. The book states, in addition, that the soul of whoever disbelieves this sacrifice will be burned with everlasting fire. During many ages of misery and darkness this story gained implicit belief; but at length men arose who suspected that it was a fable and imposture, and that Jesus Christ, so far from being a God, was only a man like themselves. But a numerous set of men, who derived and still derive immense emoluments from this opinion, in the shape of a popular belief, told the vulgar, that, if they did not believe in the Bible, they would be damned to all eternity; and burned, imprisoned, and poisoned all the unbiassed and unconnected inquirers who occasionally arose. They still oppress them, so far as the people, now become more enlightened, will allow. The belief in all that the Bible contains, is called Christianity. A Roman governor of Judea, at the instances of a priest-led mob, crucified a man called Jesus eighteen centuries ago. He was a man of pure life, who desired to rescue his countrymen from the tyranny of their barbarous and degrading superstitions. The common fate of all who desire to benefit mankind awaited him. The rabble, at the instigation of the priests, demanded his death, although his very judge made public acknowledgment of his innocence. Jesus was sacrificed to the honour of that God with whom he was afterwards confounded. It is of importance, therefore, to distinguish between the pretended character of this being as the son of God and the Saviour of the world, and his real character as a man, who, for a vain attempt to reform the world, paid the forfeit of his life to that overbearing tyranny which has since so long desolated the universe in his name. Whilst the one is a hypocritical demon, who announces himself as the God of compassion and peace, even whilst he stretches forth his blood-red hand with the sword of discord to waste the earth, having confessedly devised this scheme of desolation from eternity; the other stands in the foremost list of those true heroes, who have died in the glorious martyrdom of liberty, and have braved torture, contempt, and poverty, in the cause of suffering humanity." The vulgar, ever in extremes, became persuaded that the crucifixion of Jesus was a supernatural event. Testimonies of miracles, so frequent in unenlightened ages, were not wanting to prove that he was something divine. This belief, rolling through the lapse of ages, met with the reveries of Plato and the reasonings of Aristotle, and acquired force and extent, until the divinity of Jesus became a dogma, which to dispute was death, which to doubt was infamy. Christianity is now the established religion; he who attempts to impugn it, must be contented to behold murderers and traitors take precedence of him in public opinion: though, if his genius be equal to his courage, and assisted by a peculiar coalition of circumstances, future ages may exalt him to a divinity, and persecute others in his name, as he was persecuted

* Since writing this note, I have seen reason to suspect that Jesus was an ambitious man, who aspired to the throne of Judea.

in the name of his predecessors in the homage of the

world. The same means that have supported every other popular belief, have supported Christianity. War, imprisonment, assassination, and falsehood; deeds of unexampled and incomparable atrocity have made it what it is. The blood shed by the votaries of the God of mercy and peace, since the establishment of his religion, would probably suffice to drown all other sectaries now on the habitable globe. We derive from our ancestors a faith thus fostered and supported: we quarrel, persecute, and hate, for its maintenance. Even under a government which, whilst it infringes the very right of thought and speech, boasts of permitting the liberty of the press, a man is pilloried and imprisoned because he is a deist, and no one raises his voice in the indignation of outraged humanity. But it is ever a proof that the falsehood of a proposition is felt by those who use coercion, not reasoning, to procure its admission : and a dispassionate observer would feel himself more powerfully interested in favour of a man, who depending on the truth of his opinions, simply stated his reasons for entertaining them, than in that of his aggressor, who, daringly avowing his unwillingness or incapacity to answer them by argument, proceeded to repress the energies and break the spirit of their promulgator by that torture and imprisonment whose infliction he could command. Analogy seems to favour the opinion, that as, like other systems, Christianity has arisen and augmented, so like them it will decay and perish; that, as violence, darkness, and deceit, not reasoning and persuasion, have procured its admission among mankind, so, when enthusiasm has subsided, and time, that infallible controverter of false opinions, has involved its pretended evidences in the darkness of antiquity, it will become obsolete; that Milton's poem alone will give permanency to the remembrance of its absurdities; and that men will laugh as heartily at grace, faith, redemption, and original sin, as they now do at the metamorphoses of Jupiter, the miracles of Romish saints, the efficacy of witchcraft, and the appearance of departed spirits. Had the Christian religion commenced and continued by the mere force of reasoning and persuasion, the preceding analogy would be inadmissible. We should never speculate on the future obsoleteness of a system perfectly conformable to nature and reason ; it would endure so long as they endured ; it would be a truth as indisputable as the light of the sun, the criminality of murder, and other facts, whose evidence, depending on our organisation and relative situations, must remain acknowledged as satisfactory so long as man is man. It is an incontrovertible fact, the consideration of which ought to repress the hasty conclusions of credulity, or moderate its obstinacy in maintaining them, that, had the Jews not been a fanatical race of

men, had even the resolution of Pontius Pilate been equal to his candour, the Christian religion never could have prevailed, it could not even have existed: on so feeble a thread hangs the most cherished opinion of a sixth of the human race | When will the vulgar learn humility 2 When will the pride of ignorance blush at having believed before it could comprehend ? Either the Christian religion is true, or it is false; if true, it comes from God, and its authenticity can admit of doubt and dispute no further than its omnipotent author is willing to allow. Either the power or the goodness of God is called in question, if he leaves those doctrines most essential to the well-being of Inan in doubt and dispute; the only ones which, since their promulgation, have been the subject of unceasing cavil, the cause of irreconcileable hatred. If God has spoken, why is the universe not convinced 3 There is this passage in the Christian Scriptures: “Those who obey not God, and believe not the Gospel of his Son, shall be punished with everlasting destruction.” This is the pivot upon which all religions turn : they all assume that it is in our power to believe or not to believe; whereas the mind can only believe that which it thinks true. A human being can only be supposed accountable for those actions which are influenced by his will. But belief is utterly distinct from and unconnected with volition : it is the apprehension of the agreement or disagreement of the ideas that compose any proposition. Belief is a passion, or involuntary operation of the mind, and, like other passions, its intensity is precisely proportionate to the degrees of excitement. Wolition is essential to merit or demerit. But the Christian religion attaches the highest possible degrees of merit and demerit to that which is worthy of neither, and which is totally unconnected with the peculiar faculty of the mind, whose presence is essential to their being. Christianity was intended to reform the world: had an all-wise Being planned it, nothing is more improbable than that it should have failed : omniscience would infallibly have foreseen the inutility of a scheme which experience demonstrates, to this age, to have been utterly unsuccessful. Christianity inculcates the necessity of supplicating the Deity. Prayer may be considered under two points of view; as an endeavour to change the intentions of God, or as a formal testimony of our obedience. But the former case supposes that the caprices of a limited intelligence can occasionally instruct the Creator of the world how to regulate the universe; and the latter, a certain degree of servility analogous to the loyalty demanded by earthly tyrants. Obedience indeed is only the pitiful and cowardly egotism of him who thinks that he can do something better than reason. Christianity, like all other religions, rests upon miracles, prophecies, and martyrdoms. No religion ever existed, which had not its prophets, its attested miracles, and above all, crowds of devotees who would bear patiently the most horrible tortures to prove its authenticity. It should appear that in no case can a discriminating mind subscribe to the genuineness of a miracle. A miracle is an infraction of nature's law, by a supernatural cause; by a cause acting beyond that eternal circle within which all things are included. God breaks through the law of nature, that he may convince mankind of the truth of that revelation, which, in spite of his precautions, has been, since its introduc

tion, the subject of unceasing schism and cavil.

« PoprzedniaDalej »