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means. * The early mixture of medical drugs with religious charms and incantations in the first state of Physic, might have taught our Author, how naturally men are wont to lend a helping hand to the supposed efficacy of Religion. But this reasoning is utterly discredited by his own instance of the Mariners ; the most superstitious of mortals; who, in the distresses of a storm, while they pour out their vows to their Saviour Gods, at the same time fall lustily to their tackle, and pump without intermission ? + Indeed, he seems fully sensible of its weakness, when he catches at an occurrence in the Jewish history, to support it ; where, we know (though he did not) that all things were extraordinary, and nothing to be brought to example, any more than to imitation.

To disgrace Superstition still more, our Author urges “the misfortune of Nicias the Athenian ; who, frightened by an eclipse of the Moon, delayed his retreat till he and his army were invested, and cut in pieces, by the enemy.” But this kind of superstitious observance is as well adapted to encourage as to dismay armies and bodies of men ; and hath just as often done the one as the other.

So that, under this article, Plutarch should have fairly stated, and balanced the account.

From the miseries of life, He comes to the pleasures of it. And here too the Atheist must have an exclusive possession. fesseth, " that the pomps and ceremonies of religious Festivals abound with complacency and joy.” He owns “bis Atheist can receive no further amusement from such a scene than to laugh at it: But to the superstitious man” (he says) “they are the subject of distress and misery." —Not to allow the relaxations of the superstitious man's mental terrors to have their effect, is hard indeed. It is much the same as not to suffer us to feel the remissions of our bodily pains. If the superstitious man fancies the Gods are often angry, he sometimes, at least, believes them to be appeased. And when can he hope to find them in good humour, if not at their Festivals ? To draw him, therefore, at this season, with pale looks and trembling gestures, is certainly over-charging the picture. The truth is, the superstitious man hath as strong paroxysms of joy as of grief ; though perhaps neither so frequent nor so lasting. Yet to deny them to him at the

He con

• Ρlutarch makes the superstitious man say, Ταύτα σάσχεις, και κακόδαιμον, εκ προνοίας και θεού κελεύοντος· έρριψε σασαν ελπίδα, προήκατο εαυτόν.-P. 293. 1 Τούτο ιδών κυβερνήτης εύχεται μεν υπεκφυγείν, και θεούς επικαλείται σωτήρας, ευχόμενος δε τον οίακα προσάγει, την κεραίαν υφίησι.-P. 294. 1 'Αλλα Ιουδαίοι σαββάτων όντων εν αγνάμπτοις καθεζόμενοι, των πολεμίων κλίμακας προστιθέντων, και τα τείχη καταλαμβανόντων, ουκ ανέστησαν, &c.-P. 294. 8 "Ηδιστα δε τοις ανθρώπους εορται, &c. ενταύθα τοίνυν σκόπει τον άθεον, γελώντα μέν μανικών και σαρδώνιον γέλωτα τούτοις ποιουμένοις άλλο δε ουδέν έχοντα κακόν· ο δε δεισιδαίμων βούλεται μεν, ου δύναται δε χαίρειν, ουδε ήδεσθαι-έστεφανωμένος ωχριά, θύει και φοβείται, &c.-Pp. 294, 295.

celebration of his religious Festivals is a contradiction to all common

sense.

Our author next attempts to shew, That “ the crime of impiety is rather to be charged upon the superstitious man than the Atheist : for Anaxagoras,” he says, “was accused of impiety, for holding the Sun to be only a red-hot stone : But nobody challenged the Cimmerians of that crime for denying its existence.”* By this, our Author would insinuate, that it is more injurious to the Gods, to hold dishonourable notions of their Nature, than to call in question their Being. The opposition of these cases is witty and ingenious : but very defective, in the integrity of the application. Plutarch's Philosophic atheist in question, corresponds no more with the Cimmerians, than his Theist does with Anaxagoras.—The Atheist, after having had a full view of the works of God, denies the existence of the Workman. The Cimmerians, because debarred, by their situation, the use of that sense which alone could inform them of the Sun's nature, had no conception of his Being. In the first case, the conclusion being derogatory to the Nature of the Power denied, the Denier is justly charged with impiety; In the latter, as no such derogation is implied, no such crime can be reasonably inferred. But this brisk sally was only to introduce the famous declaration which follows, and hath been so often quoted † by the modern advocates of this paradox. “For my own part I had rather men should say of me, That there neither is nor ever was such a one as Plutarch ; than they should say, there

a Plutarch, an unsteady, changeable, easily-provoked, and revengeful man. These, says the noble author of the Characteristics, I are the words of honest Plutarch.

And, without doubt, did God stand only in that relation to the rest of Beings in which one creature stands to another; and were his existence no more necessary to the Universe of things than the existence of honest Plutarch, every body would say the same. But the KNOWLEDGE of a Creator and Governor is so necessary to the rational system, that a merciful Lord would chuse to have it retained and kept alive, though he might happen to be dishonoured by many false and absurd opinions concerning his Nature and Attributes. A private, man of generous morals might rather wish to continue unknown than to be remembered with infamy. But a supreme

was

"Οθεν έμοιγε και θαυμάζειν έπεισει τους την αθεότητα φάσκοντας ασέβειαν είναι, μη φάσκοντας δε την δεισιδαιμονίαν· καίτοιγε 'Αναξαγόρας δίκην έφυγεν ασεβείας επί τω λίθον ειπείν τον “Ηλιον: Κιμμερίους δε ουδείς είπεν ασεβείς ότι τον Ήλιον ουδ' είναι το παράπαν νομίζουσι.-P. 295. † “ It were better” (says Bacon) “to have no opinion of God at all, than such an opinion as is unworthy of him.-- Plutarch saith well to that purpose. Surely (saith he) I had rather a great deal men should say there was no such man as Plutarch, than that they should say there was one Plutarch that would eat his children,&c.-" Essays Civil and Moral," chap. xviii. 1 “Characteristics ;” Letter concerning Enthusiasm, sect. 5.

Magistrate, who loved the Community he governed, would certainly prefer the being known to his Subjects, even at the hazard of their mistaking him for a Tyrant : because, if the members of a Community, through ignorance of their having a Ruler, should think themselves free from subjection, every one would consult his passions and appetites, till he brought the whole into confusion. Whereas, while they knew they had a Master, their actions would be so conformed to the general measures of obedience as to support the order of Society: though their perverse notions of his Character might indeed obstruct many of those blessings which Government produces under a Ruler of acknowledged justice and goodness.

Our author proceeds; and observes next, “that the Atheist, it is true, believes there is no God; but the superstitious man wishes there were none : That the Atheist is averse to Superstition ; but the superstitious man, if he could, would shelter himself in Atheism."* It by no means true that the superstitious man ever desires to be free of the sense of a superior Being, to whom he may be accountable for his actions; as appears plainly from his abhorrence and persecution of Atheism : All that he wisheth is, to render such a Being propitious, and easily placable.

As to our author's inference, concerning the better condition of Atheism, because “the Atheist never wisheth to be superstitious, though the superstitious man wisheth to be an Atheist," it is a mere sophism : The proposition, on which it standeth, amounting to no more than this, That the Atheist doth not wish what is afflictive in Superstition : And the superstitious man doth wish what is easy in Atheism. And from those restrained premises no such general conelusion can be logically inferred.

But he hath found out another reason for preferring Atheism to Superstition. “Atheism,” he says, “was never the cause of Superstition : but, on the contrary, Superstition has very often given birth to Atheism.”+ His meaning may be, either, that an Atheist did never change to a superstitious Religionist; Or that an Atheist, while such, could never become superstitious.

In either sense, fact hath shewn that the assertion is utterly false.

In the first, we have seen, that it is of the essential weakness of humanity to run continually from one extreme to another. Modum tenere nescia est, saith the great Philosopher | very truly. And the phenomenon is no mystery. The mind, as soon as ever it becomes sensible of its excesses, striveth, from its innate abhorrence of what is wrong, to break away from them. And the force, with which it is

Νυνί δε τω μεν αθέω δεισιδαιμονίας ουδέν μέτεστιν· ο δε δεισιδαίμων τη προαιρέσει άθεος ών, ασθενέστερός έστιν ή του δοξάζειν σερί θεών και βούλεται.-P. 297. μήν ο άθεος δεισιδαιμονίας ουδαμή συναίτιος· η δε δεισιδαιμονία τη αθεότητι και γενέσθαι παρέσχεν αρχήν.-P. 297. 1 Bacon.

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then impelled, being increased by the struggle between its old prejudices, which would restrain it, and its new aversion, which drives it on, rarely remits, till it arrives at the OPPOSITE EXTREME.

The behaviour of all Ages supports this observation : and of none, more than the Present. Where a contempt of Revelation having for some time spread amongst the People, we see them now become an easy prey to fanaticism and superstition : and the Methodist and the Popish Priest succeed, with great ease and silence, to the Libertine and the Freethinker.

To say, that an Atheist, while he is such, cannot become superstitious, betrays great ignorance of human nature. How many Princes and Ministers of State hath the history of the two or three last Ages delivered down to us as Unbelievers in all Religion, and yet strongly devoted to the dotages of judicial Astrology! The Italians, in particular, have not been more noted for their irreligion and refined Politics, than for their credulity in this gross Imposture. Should I stay to enquire at large into the cause of so strange a phenomenon, it would be seen, how much honour it does to Religion. At present I shall only observe, That these men finding (and none have so good opportunities) how perpetually public events fall out beside their Expectation, and contrary to their best-laid schemes of Policy, are forced to confess that human affairs are ordered by some power extrinsical. To acknowledge a God and his Providence would be the next way to introduce a morality destructive of that public system, which they think necessary for the government of the World. They have recourse therefore to that absurd scheme of Power, which rules by no other Law than Fate or Destiny.

I have now gone through our Author's various arguments in support of his Paradox; or, to call them by their right name, a group of ill-combined sophisms, tricked off by his eloquence, or varnished over with his wit.

But there is one MASTER-SOPHISM still behind, that animates the Whole, and gives a false vigour to every Part. Let us consider the question which Plutarch invites his reader to debate with him. It is not, What the simple qualities of Atheism and Superstition, if found alone in man, are severally capable of producing : but what each really doth produce, as each is, in fact, found mingled with the rest of man's passions and appetites. He should not, therefore, have amused us with inferences from the abstract ideas of Atheism and Superstition ; but should have examined their effects in the concrete, as they are to be found in the Atheist, and in the superstitious man. For, nature having sown in the human breast the seeds of various and differing passions and appetites, the ruling passion, in each Character, is no more in its simple, unmixed state, than the predominant colour in a well-wrought picture : Both the passion and the colour are so darkened or dissipated by surrounding light and shade, so changed and varied by the reflection of neighbouring tints, as to produce very different effects from what, in their separate and simple state, whether real or imaginary, they were capable of affording. * Let the reader apply this observation to any part of Plutarch's Declamation, who considers Atheism and Superstition not in the concrete, but in the abstract only, and it will presently expose the inconsequence of his reasoning. I will but just give an example, in one instance. He prefers Atheism to Superstition, “because this is attended with passion ; that is free from all passion.” Now the only support of this remark is the sophism in question. Consider the ideas of Atheism and Superstition in the abstract, and there is a shew of truth: for Superstition, simply, implying the fear of the gods, is of the essence of passion; and Atheism, simply, implying the denial of their existence, includes nothing of the idea of passion. But consider these moral modes in the concrete, as in this question we ought to do, and Atheism will be always found accompanied with passion or affection; and of as uneasy a kind, perhaps, as Superstition. It is of no moment, to this discourse, whether Plutarch hath here imposed upon himself or his reader. It is possible, that, in the drawing his two characters, he might imitate, or be misled by, Theophrastus : Whose various pourtraits have all this fundamental defect. That is, if we understand them as given for copies of any thing really existing. But, I apprehend, this is not their true character. I rather think This curious fragment of Antiquity was only the remains of a Promptuary for the use of the Comic Poet, from whence he might be supplied with his materials, the simple passions ; in order to blend, and shade, and work them into his pictures of real life and manners. However, if Plutarch considered them under the common idea, and, under that, would make them his model, he shewed as little judgment as that painter would be found to do, who should apply his simple colours just as he received them from the colourman ; without forming them into those curious

-“Lights and shades, whose well-accorded strife

Gives all the strength and colour of our life.”

To proceed with our author's Argument: It is directed, we see, to shew the advantage of Atheism above Superstition, only as these opinions and practices regard PARTICULARS : Though, by the turn and management of his reasoning, he appears willing, you should infer that the same advantage holds equally, with regard to sociETY also : And therefore he concludes, “ That it had been better for the

• See note LL, at the end of this book.

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