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I shall prove, then, and in a very few words, that their fuct or position is first, IMPERTINENT, and secondly, FALSE. For,
Were it true, as it certainly is not, that Religion was invented by Statesmen, it would not therefore follow that Religion is false. A consequence that has been, I do not know how, allowed on all hands; perhaps on the mistaken force of one or other of these Propositions :
I. Either, that Religion was not found out, as a truth, by the use of Reason.
II. Or, that it was invented only for its Utility.
1. As to Religion's not being found out, as a truth, by the use of reason, we are to consider, that the finding out a truth by reason, necessarily implies the exercise of that faculty, in proportion to the importance and difficulty of the search : so that where men do not use their reason, truths of the utmost certainty and highest use will remain unknown. We are not accustomed to reckon it any objection to the most useful civil truths, that divers savage nations in Africa and America, remain yet ignorant of them.
Now the objection against the truth of Religion, is founded on this pretended fact, that the Lawgiver taught it to the people from the most early times. And the Infidel System is, that man from his first appearance in the world, even to those early times of his coming under the hands of the Civil Magistrate, differed little from brutes in the use of his rational faculties ; and that the improvement of them was gradual and slow; for which, Antiquity is appealed to, in the account it gives us concerning the late invention of the arts of life. Thus, according to their own state of the case, Religion was taught mankind when the generality had not begun to cultivate their rational faculties; and, what is chiefly remarkable, it was TAUGHT
BY THOSE FEW WHO HAD.
It is true, our holy Religion gives a different account of these first men : But then it gives a different account too of the origin of Religion. And let our Adversaries prevaricate as they will, they must take both or neither. For that very thing which was only able to make the first men so enlightened, as they are represented in Scripture, was Revelation ; and, this allowed, the dispute is at an end.
If it should be said, That “supposing Religion true, it is of so much importance to mankind, that God would never suffer us to remain ignorant of it :” I allow the force of the objection : but then we are not to prescribe to the Almighty his way of bringing 118 to the knowledge of his Will. It is sufficient to justify his goodness,
that he hath done it : and whether he chose the
of REVELATION, or of Reason, or of the civil MAGISTRATE, it equally manifests his wisdom. And why it might not happen to this truth, as it hath done to many others of great importance, to be first stumbled upon by chance, and mistaken for a mere utility ; and afterwards seen and proved to be what it is ; I would beg leave to demand of these mighty Masters of reason.
II. As to Religion's being invented only for its utility : This, though their palmary argument against it, is, of all, the most unlucky. It proceeds on a supposed inconsistency between utility and truth. For men perceiving much of it, between private, partial, utility and truth, were absurdly brought to think there might be the same inconsistence, between general utility and some truths. This it was which led the ancient Sages into so many errors.
For neither Philosopher nor Lawgiver apprehending that TRUTH AND UTILITY DID CoinCIDE; the First, while he neglected utility, missed (as we have seen) of the most momentous truths : and the Other, while little solicitous about truth, missed in many instances (as we shall see hereafter) of utility. But general utility and all truth, necessarily coincide. For truth is nothing but that natural or moral relation of things, whose observance is attended with universal benefit. We
therefore as certainly conclude that general utility is always founded on truth, as that truth is always productive of general utility. Take then this concession of the Atheist for granted, that Religion is productive of public good, and the very contrary to his inference, as we have seen above, must follow : namely, that Religion is true.
If it should be urged, That "experience maketh against this reasoning ; for that it was not Religion, but SUPERSTITION, that, for the most part, procured this public utility : and superstition, both sides agree to be erroneous.” To this we reply, that Superstition was so far from procuring any good in the ancient world, where it was indeed more or less mixed with all the national Religions, that the good which Religion procured, was allayed with evil, in proportion to the quantity of Superstition found therein. And the less of Superstition there was in any national Religion, the happier, cæteris paribus, we always find that people ; and the more there was of it, the unhappier. It could not be otherwise, for, if we examine the case, it will appear, That all those advantages which result from the worship of a superior Being, are the consequences only of the true principles of Religion : and that the mischiefs which result from such worship, are the consequences only of the false ; or what we call Superstition.
The wiser Ancients (in whose times, SUPERSTITION, with it's malignant embraces, had twined itself round the noble trunk of RELIGION, had poisoned her benignest qualities, deformed all her comeliness, and usurped her very NAME) were so struck and affected with what they saw and felt, that some of them thought, even ATHEISM was to be preferred before her.
PLUTARCH composed a fine rhetorical discourse in favour of this strange paradox; which hath since given frequent occasion to much sophistical declamation. M. BAYLE hath supported Plutarch's Thesis at large, in an Historical and Philosophical Commentary : Yet, by neglecting, or rather confounding, a real and material DISTINCTION, neither the ancient nor the modern Writer hath put the reader fairly into possession of the question. So that, both the subJECT and the PREDICATE of the Proposition are left in that convenient state of ambiguity which is necessary to give a Paradox the air and reputation of an Oracle.
The ambiguity in the subject ariseth from the word SUPERSTITioN's being so laxly employed as to admit of two senses : either as a TAING ADVENTITIOUS TO RELIGION, with which it is fatally apt to mix itself; or as a CORRUPT SPECIES OF RELIGION.
In the first sense, Superstition is of no use at all, but of infinite mischief ; and worse than Atheism itself: In the second sense, of a corrupt Religion, it is of great service; For, by teaching a Providence, on which mankind depends, it imposeth a necessary curb upon individuals, so as to prevent the mischiefs of mutual violence and injustice. It is likewise, indeed, of great disservice : for, by infusing wrong notions of the moral attributes of God, it hinders the progress of Virtue ; and sometimes sets up a false species of it. However, in the sense of a corrupt Religion, the Reader sees, it is infinitely preferable to Atheism: As in a Drug of sovereign efficacy, the application even of that which by time or accident is become decayed or viciated, is, in desperate disorders, greatly to be preferred to the rejection; though it may engender bad habits in the Constitution it preserves ; which, the sound and pure species would not have done. Now one of the leading fallacies, which runs through PLUTARCH's little Tract, keeps under the cover of this ambiguity, in the SUBJECT.
The ambiguity in the PREDICATE does as much service to sophistry. “Superstition” (they say) “ is worse than Atheism.” They do not tell us, TÒ WHOM; but leave us to conclude, that they mean, both to PARTICULARS and to sociETY ; as taking it for granted, that if worse to one, it must needs be worse to the other. But here they are mistaken : and so, from this ambiguity arises a new fallacy, which mixes itself with the other. The degree of mischief caused by Superstition is different, as it respects its objects, Individuals or Societies. Superstition, as it signifies only a CORRUPT RITE, is more hurtful to Societies than to Individuals ; and, to both, worse than Atheism. But as it signifies a CORRUPT RELIGION, it is less
hurtful to Societies than to Individuals ; and, to both, better than Atheism. The confounding this distinction makes the ambiguity in which Bayle principally delights to riot. And this, by the assistance of the other from Plutarch, supports him in all his gross equivocations, and imperfect estimates : Till at length, it encourages him to pronounce, in the most general terms, that Superstition is worse than Atheism. *
BAYLE is a great deal too diffused to come within the limits of this examination. But as PLUTARCH led the way; and hath even dazzled Bacon himself, with the splendour of his discourse ; I propose to examine his arguments, as they lie in order : Whereby it will appear that, besides the capital fallacies above detected, it abounds with a variety of other sophisms, poured out with a profusion which equals, and keeps pace with, the torrent of his wit and eloquence.
This famous Tract is, as we have observed, a florid declamation, adorned with all the forms and colouring of Rhetoric ; when the question demanded severe reasoning, and philosophical precision. At the same time, it must be owned, that it is of a genius very different from those luxuriant, and, at the same time, barren Dissertations of the Sophists. It is painted all over with bright and lively images, it sparkles with witty allusions, it amuses with quaint and uncommon similies; and, in every decoration of spirit and genius, equals the finest compositions of Antiquity : Indeed, as to the solidity and exactness of the Logic, it is on a level with the meanest. His REASONING is the only part I am concerned with : and no more of this, than lies in one continued COMPARISON between Atheism and Superstition : For, as to his positive proofs, from fact, of the actual mischiefs of Superstition, I am willing they should be allowed all the force they pretend to.
It will be proper, in the first place, to observe, That it is hard to say, What Plutarch intended to infer from this laboured Comparison between Atheism and Superstition ; in which, he, all the way, gives the preference to Atheism : For though, throughout the course of the argument, he considers each, only as it affects Particulars, yet, in his conclusion, he makes a general inference in favour of Atheism with regard to Society. But, it will not follow, that, because Atheism is less hurtful to Particulars, it is therefore less hurtful to Societies likewise. So that, to avoid all sophistical dealing, it was necessary these two questions should be distinguished ; and separately considered. However, let us examine his reasoning on that side where it hath most strength, The effects of Atheism and Superstition on PARTICULARS.
• Pensées diverses ecrites à un Docteur de Sorbonne à l'Occasion de la Comete qui parit au Mois de Decem:bre, 1680. Et Continuation des Pensées direrses, &c. + See his "
Essays ;" where this paradox of Plutarch is supported.
1. He sets out in this manner" Ignorance concerning the nature of the Gods, where it meets with a bold and refractory temper, as in a rough and stubborn soil, produces ATHEISM ; where it encounters flexible and fearful manners, as in rank and low land, there it brings forth SUPERSTITION.” *_This is by no means an exact, or even generally true account of the origin of these evils. There are various causes which incline men to Atheism, besides fool-hardiness; and, to Superstition, besides cowardice. . The affectation of singularity; the vanity of superior knowledge ; and, what Plutarch himself, in another place of this very Tract, assigns as a general cause, the sense of the miseries of Superstition, have frequently inclined men to this fatal obliquity of judgment. On the other hand, ignorance of Nature; impatience to pry into futurity; the unaccountable turns in a man's own fortune, to good or bad ; and, above all, a certain reverence for things established, carry them into Superstition. And as these considerations are equally adapted to affect the hardy and the pusillanimous ; so the others, mentioned before, as soon get possession of the fearful as of the bold. Nay, FEAR itself is often the very passion which most forcibly inclines a wicked man, who hath nothing favourable to expect from divine Justice, to persuade himself that there is none to fear. Plutarch owns as much ; and says expresly, that “ the end the Atheist proposes in his opinions is to exempt himself from all fear of the Deity." +- Again, we find, by the Histories of all times, that Superstition seizeth, along with the weak and fearful, the most daring and determined, the most ferocious and untractable. Tyrants, Conquerors, Statesmen, and Great Generals, with all the savage tribes of uncivilized Barbarians, submit tamely to this galling Yoke.
But our Author's account of the different births of Atheism and Superstition was no more than was necessary to support his Thesis. He all along estimates the two evils by the miseries they bring on those who are under their dominion. These miseries arise from the passions they create. But, of all the passions, fear is the most tormenting. The pusillanimous mind is most subject to fear. And it is over the fearful (he says) that Superstition gains the ascendant. This, therefore, was to be laid down as: a postulatum. The rest follows in order.
2. For now coming to his parallel, he begins with a confession“ That both errors are very bad. But as Superstition is accompanied with passion or affection, and Atheism free from all passion, Superstition must needs be the greater evil ; as in a broken limb, a compound
Της σερί θεών αμαθίας και αγνοίας ευθύς εξ αρχής δίχα ρυείσης, το μέν, ώσπερ εν χωρίοις τισί σκληρούς και αντιτύποις, ήθεσι την αθεότητα, το δε, ώσπερ έν υγρούς και απαλοίς, την δεισιδαιμονίαν έμπεποίηκεν.-Περί Δεισιδ. vol. 1. p. 286, Steph. ed. 8νο. 1 Τέλος εστίν αυτή του μη νομίζειν θεούς, το μή φοβείσθαι.-P. 287.