« IndietroContinua »
fracture is much worse than a simple. Atheism” (he says) “may pervert the mind, but Superstition both ulcerates and perverts. A man who believes no God hath none to fear ; but he who believes God to be a capricious or vindictive Being hath a great deal to fear." *_This is wittily said : but Nature talks another language. We should beware how we credit poetical similies; or even philosophical analogies ; which, indeed, is but poetry, once removed. They both have their hopes and fears. · Though the Atheist has no God to fear, yet the miserable forlorn condition of a World without a Ruler must keep him under perpetual alarms, in the apprehension of the dismal effect which Chance and Hazard may produce in the Material system ; either by removing the parts of it (whose present position supports the harmony of the whole) too far from, or else by bringing them too near to, one another.
And now again, the rapidity of Plutarch's invention throws him on a Comparison, to support his reasoning, which entirely overturns it“He” (says our author) “who thinks Virtue a corporeal being is only absurd. Here we have an error without passion. But he who thinks Virtue a mere name is miserable ; for his error is attended with passion.” +-How so?—" Because such a one lies under the sad reflection of having lost his ablest support.” But must not a man's being deprived of the LAWGIVER be as sensible a mortification, as his being deprived of the Law, whose existence depends upon the Lawgiver ? On the other side, Though Superstition hath its fears, it hath its hopes also : which, upon the whole, I think, to be more eligible than that supposed freedom of the Atheist (even as our author draws it) from all passion and affection. For though the superstitious man may think perversely concerning the means whereby the Deity is appeased, yet he thinks him placable ; and supposeth the means to be in his own power.
So that he is not under the tyranny of that pure and unmixed fear, which Plutarch represents in such a manner as if all Nature furnished out provision to the superstitious man, for food and exercise to this passion. Whereas the affection of Superstition is equal between hopes and fears : It is the proper temper of the superstitious man, which more inclines him towards one than to the other. But Plutarch had before, gratuitously, laid it down as an axiom, “ That the essential temperament of the superstitious man is fear and cowardice.”
3. However, all this would not have been sufficient to support the weakness of his declamatory reasoning, without the assistance of two commodious sophisms, to set it off. The first, indeed, is of a slender
• "Απασα μεν ούν κρίσις ψευδής, άλλως τε καν η σερί ταύτα μοχθηρόν, τήδε και πάθος πρόσεστι μοχθηρότερον σαν γάρ πάθος έoικεν απάτη φλεγμαίνουσα είναι, δε, - Pp. 286, 287.
+ Πάλιν οίονται τινες είναι σώμα της αρετήν, &c.-P. 286.
" the very
make, and hath little more in it than sound. He
says name shews, the essence of superstition to be Fear : For the Greek name of this moral mode, &e1cioasjovia, signifies a fear of the gods." A Roman might with the same pretence aver, that the essence of superstition is Love: for that the Latin word superstitio, hath a reference to the love we bear to our children, in the desire that they should survive us ; being formed upon the observation of certain religious practices deemed efficacious for procuring that happy event. The other sophism is more material; and consists in putting the change upon us, and representing the God of the Superstitious man, by whom he supposes the world to be governed, in false and odious colours, as an envious Being, hurtful to man : * For it is not the good, but the Evil Demon whom the superstitious man thus represents : Not the Being which he worships ; but the Being which he avoids and detests. The superstitious man, indeed, foolishly enough, supposeth, that the God whom he acknowledgeth to be good, is capricious, inconstant, and vindictive. But then, from that essential quality of GOODNESS, which belongs to him as God, he concludes, that this Being may be appeased by submission, and won upon by oblations and atonements. All this, Plutarch himself confesseth : and in words which directly contradict the account he here gives of the God of the superstitious man. Superstition (says he) agitated by many contrary passions, suffereth itself to suspect that the Good itself may be evil.t Plutarch has therefore acted unfairly, and to serve a purpose, in thrusting in the superstitious man's evil Demon, in the place of his God. This conduct will bear the harder upon
his ingenuity, as he held the doctrine of the two PRINCIPLES: and, therefore, can hardly be supposed to have changed the object inadvertently, or without design.
4. Having made the God of the superstitious man, a Devil, he hath, consistently enough, represented the superstitious man's condition to be the very state of the damned: “That his pains have not remission; that he carries Hell in his bosom, and finds the Furies in his dreams." I The terms of the original are very elegant : But as they plainly allude to the shews of the mysteries, I think the author should have been so fair to recollect, that there was an Elysium as well as a TARTARUs both in the Dreams of the superstitious man and in the shews of the Mysteries. And that as Tartarus and Elysium
Oιόμενόν τ' είναι θεούς, είναι δε λυπηρούς και βλαβερούς.-P. 287.
+ Η δε δεισιδαιμονία πολυπάθεια κακόν το αγαθόν υπονοούσα· φοβούνται τους θεούς, και καταφεύγουσιν επί τους θεούς.-P. 291. 1 "Ωσπερ εν ασεβών χώρω, τώ ύπνω των δεισιδαιμόνων, είδωλα φρικώδη και τεράστια φαρμακών, και σοινάς τινας εγείρουσα και στροβούσα την αθλίαν ψυχήν, έκ τών ύπνων εκδιώκει τοϊς ονείροις, μαστιζομένην και κολαζομένην αυτήν υφ' αυτής, ως υφ' ετέρου, και δεινά προστάγματα και αλλόκοτα λαμβάνουσαν.-P. 288.
were alike the fictions of superstition, they were alike the objects of the superstitious Man's dreams. His natural temperament and the redundancy of a particular humour would determine the colour of the Scene. The Atheist therefore, who, he says, enjoys the benefit of repose, might have his sleep disturbed by the cries of the damned as well as the superstitious man ; whom he represents as kept in perpetual alarms by this passion ; because the habit of the body makes the very same impressions on the fancy, in sleep, which the state of the mind does on the imagination while awake.
5. But, “from the tyranny of Superstition," he says, “there is no respite nor escape ; because, in the opinion of the superstitious man, all things are within the jurisdiction of his God; and this God is inexorable and implacable.” From such a Being, indeed, there can be no escape, nor respite from torment. But, as was said before, this is not the superstitious man's God, but his Devil. Besides, the attribute of implacability totally removes, what our Author makes the other half of the miseries of Superstition ; its slavish attention to the foolish and costly business of expiations and atonements : A practice arising from the idea of placability, and necessarily falling with it.
6. Therefore, as if conscious of this prevarication, he adds: “That the superstitious man fears even his best-conditioned Gods, the Beneficent, the Preservers : that the Gods, from whom men seek grandeur, affluence, peace, concord, and success, are the objects of his dread and terror.” Here we see the superstitious man is at length confessed to have Gods very different from those before assigned unto him. However, we must not think that even these will afford him any solace or consolation. It is well that the whole proof of this cruel exclusion lies in the ambiguity of the terms, pittw and Tpéuwy: which, when they signify the fearing slavishly, do indeed imply misery : But when they signify fearing religiously, do as certainly imply a blessing ; because they deter the subject, they influence, from evil. Now, when these terms are applied to the Gods confessedly beneficent, they can signify only a religious fear; unless when Plutarch hath defined SUPERSTITION to be, the fearing slavishly, we will be so complaisant to allow that the SUPERSTITIOUS MAN I cannot fear religiously. And where is the absurdity in flying for refuge to Gods, so feared ? Though Plutarch puts it among the contradictions of Superstition.$—It is remarkable, that these goodconditioned Gods, here described as τους σωτήρας και τους μειλιχίους,
• Ο δε την των θεών αρχήν ως τυραννίδα φοβούμενος σκυθρωπής και απαραίτητον, που μεταστή, που φυγή, ποίαν γήν άθεον εύρη, ποίαν θάλασσαν ;-P. 289. t'o φοβούμενος τους πατρώους και γενεθλίους, και φρίττων τους σωτήρας και τους μειλιχίους, τρέμων και δεδoικώς σαρ' ών αιτούμεθα σλούτον, ευπορίαν, ομόνοιαν, ειρήνην, όρθωσιν λόγων και έργων των αρίστων.-P. 289. I See p. 16.
& Φοβούνται τους θεούς, και καταφεύγουσιν επί τους θεούς -- Ρ. 291.
are called by our author σατρώους και γενεθλίους, his native and country Gods. Yet if we consider the stories of Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Bacchus, Diana, &c. we shall find no great reason to extol their morals. But here lay the distress of the affair. Plutarch was a Priest of this class of Deities; and Greece, at that time, being overrun with strange Gods, and labouring under Eastern superstitions, it was proper to blacken this foreign worship, for the sake of the national : So that Plutarch, like the fair Trader, in an ill humour with Interlopers, reckons all Eastern Rites as even worse than Atheism. Hence his famous exclamation to his Countrymen, which the noble author of the Characteristics quotes with much exultation, and transferred bitterness. “O wretched Greeks" (says Plutarch, speaking to his then declining countrymen) “who in a way of superstition run so easily into the relish of barbarous nations, and bring into Religion that frightful mien of sordid and vilifying devotion, illfavoured humiliation and contrition, abject looks and countenances, consternations, prostrations, disfigurations, and in the act of worship distortions, constrained and painful postures of the body, wry faces, beggarly tones, mumpings, grimaces, cringings, and the rest of this kind.-A shame indeed to us Grecians !—Shall we, while we are nicely observant of other forms and decencies in the Temple, shall we neglect this greater decency in voice, words, and manners ; and with vile cries, fawnings, and prostitute behaviour, betray the natural dignity and majesty of that divine Religion, and NATIONAL WORSHIP, delivered down to us by our forefathers, and purged from every thing of BARBAROUS and savage kind.” * Such then were the circumstances of the time; and these, together with the personal views of our Author, were, I suppose, the causes which gave birth to this famous Tract, of SUPERSTITION. To proceed,
7. Another advantage of Atheism over Superstition, in Plutarch's reckoning, is, “ that the Atheist is secured from the impressions of a future state.” + It is no wonder that we find this in the number of the Atheist's blessings, when we consider that our Author regarded a future state as a Fable, at best, invented for the restraint of evil. Yet, whatever pleasure the Atheist may take in his security from this terror, it is certain, Society would suffer by taking off so useful a curb
upon the manners of the people. 8. Our Author then proves, and indeed proves it effectually, “That superstition is much worse than the true knowledge of the Deity.” I
9. He considers next the different effects of Atheism and Supersti
“Miscel. Reflections," vol. iii, misc. ii. c. 3. + Τί,δει μακρά λέγειν; πέρας έστι του βίου σασιν ανθρώποις ο θάνατος της δε δεισιδαιμονίας ουδ' ούτος· αλλ' υπερβάλλει τους όρους επέκεινα του ζην, μακρότερον του βίου τοιούσα τον φόβον, και συνάπτουσα τη θανάτω κακών επίνοιαν αθανάτων, &c.-Pp. 289,
Η Φιλοσόφων δε και Πολιτικών ανδρών καταφρονούσιν, &c. - P. 291.
tion on their subjects, in the disastrous accidents of life. And here again, Atheism, as usual, is found to have the advantage. “The Atheist indeed curses Chance, and blasphemes Providence; but the superstitious man complains of his Gods, and thinks himself hated or forsaken of them." *_The Atheist is well come on. Hitherto Plu. tarch had represented his Favorite as always calm and undisturbed : Indeed, he makes one great part of the Atheist's advantage over Superstition to consist in his freedom from all unruly passions. Here, they labour both alike under their tyranny. Well, but some passions make their owner more miserable than others. It is confessed, they do. But, is that the case here? Or if it be; Is it to the advantage of the Atheist ? By no means.
The disasters of life are supposed to have betrayed them both into passion. But he surely is least oppressed by the commotion, who sees a possibility of getting out of his distresses. It is impossible the Atheist can have any such prospect. There is no Fence against a Flail, nor provision against blind Chance : The superstitious man may easily hope to appease the irritated Deity: for though he fears and dreads the Gods, yet, as Plutarch acknowledges, he flies to them for refuge. I might mention another advantage which the superstitious man hath over the Atheist in the disasters of life, namely, that he is frequently bettered by his misfortunes ; and this the Atheist never is; because the superstitious man may suppose them sent by the Gods in punishment for his crimes ; which the Atheist never can.
“But " (says our Author) “If the disaster in question be disease or sickness, the Atheist referring it to the right cause, intemperance, seeks out for the proper cure.
While the superstitious man imagining it to be a judgement from Heaven, neglects to have recourse to medicine.”+ The delusion here is evident. It is built on that false position, which the experience of all ages hath discredited, namely, That men always act according to their principles. In this case especially, of avoiding or freeing themselves from instant physical evil, men of the most different Principles go all one way; and however divided in their religious opinions, they all meet in an uniformity to medical practice. It is an idle sophism which would persuade us, that, because the superstitious man useth sacred Rites to remove what he esteems a sacred disease, that, therefore, he employs no other
• Πάντας επί την τύχην και το αυτόματον απερειδομένου τους οδυρμούς, και βοώντος ως ουδέν κατά δίκην, ουδ' εκ προνοίας, αλλά πάντα συγκεχυμένως και ακρίτως φέρεται, και σπαθάται τα των ανθρώπων-πάντων τον θεόν αιτιάται- και ως ου δυστυχής ών, αλλά θεομισής τις άνθρωπος.-Pp. 291, 292. + Νόσων τε ο άθεος εκλογίζεται και αναμιμνήσκεται πλησμονάς αυτού και οινώσεις, και αταξίας περί δίαιταν, η κόπους υπερβάλλοντας, και μεταβολάς αέρων αήθεις και ατόπους-Το δε δεισιδαίμονι και σώματος άρρωστία σάσα-σληγαι θεού και προσβολαι δαίμονος λέγονται· όθεν ουδε τολμά βοηθείν, ουδέ διαλύειν το συμβεβηκός, ουδέ θεραπεύειν, ουδέ αντιτάττεσθαι, μη δόξη θεομαχείν και αντιτείνειν κολαζόμενος.-P. 292.