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The religious professions of the modern Africans are three : Paganism, Mahometanism, and Christianity. The Pagans are those who do not receive the Bible, Koran, or books esteemed sacred by any nation. Those who have travelled among them give a description of their theology, more consistent with reason than has been defined by writers in general.
They inform us, that the " intelligent Pagans believe in the existence of one Supreme Being; that man shall rise again after death, and that there are rewards and punishments after this life;" this belief is universal among the African Pagans. They have exalted ideas of the majesty of the Deity, and believe that the superintendance of things in this world is under the direction of invisible beings, to whom God has committed it. Respecting a future state, they speak with great humility, and conclude that this state of things will be far better suited to our inclinations and final happiness, than the present. Negroland, upper and lower Guinea, Caffraria, the land of the Hottentots, and Ethiopia inferior, universally profess Paganism. Egypt, Barbary, including the empire of Morocco, Nubia, Biledulgerid, or Zaara, profess Mahometanism. And the people of Ethiopia superior, or Abyssinia, profess Christianity.
The word Pagan is derived from the Hebrew y «;g Phagang, which means to approach, to intercede. But when the descendants of the ancient Pagans became an ignorant people: ignorant with regard to the true worship of God, it was used by the Rabbies to mean a rustic, a barbarian, or one uncultivated, or untaught in things appertaining to religion, and was written Pagan, with i nun, instead of W Oin, or ng, as it is now written Pagan.
From the original meaning of the word, we are naturally led to conclude, that the first Pagans were not worshippers of idols, but of the true God. They understood that a mediator, an intercessor was promised, which knowledge they must have received from the primeval people, who believed in the coming of the Messiah, the Redeemer, and who looked on things in outward nature as representing, according to their properties and propensities, the passions and propensities in themselves. But in process of time, the images of these things were placed in their temples; the original understanding and application was first neglected, then lost, and they worshipped God through the images, which were originally representative only; hence began idolatry.
This kind of worship by images and figures, now pervades many of the nations of Asia and Africa, Great Tarlary, China, India, almost the whole of the back settlements of North and South America. But whether all these populous nations, containing by far a greater number of inhabitants than are to be found in all the parts o:~ the world beside, among whom must be many sensible, learned and judicious men, as appears from the wisdom displayed in their laws and forms of civil governments long established among them; whether, I say, all these populous nations are so far lost to a sense of the dignity of human nature, as to worship images, stocks and stones, as such, believing them to be gods, (as is by some asserted)
requires better proof than we have hitherto had, concerning the credulity of so vast a proportion of the human race. When they are told, it is supposed by christians, that they worship these things, they show their disapprobation of every thing of this nature, and say, that they use them only as representative figures of the Great One, who made and governs all things.
The polytheism of the European Pagans has, by some writers of great credit, been fixed to five or six different orders, or professions. First, the polytheism of the ancient Grecians, and the Romans. Second, the Teutonic, and the Gothic. Third, the Celtic nations. Fourth, the Sclavonian. Fifth, the most northern regions of Europe, as far as Lapland, Greenland, &c. According to the best authorities, France and England were first peopled by the Celts, who established the worship of the Druids. The Goths entered Germany, Scandinavia, and thus introduced the Runic mythology.
IN NORTH AMERICA
The different professions of the Christian religion are the same as in Europe. Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Independents, are all tolerated. An£
IN SOUTH AMERICA
The religion is in general, Roman Catholic. AVaMexico, Old Mexico, Chili, Peru, Terra Firma, Brazil and Paraguay, are accounted to have received the doctrines of the church of Rome. But the natives of Amazonia are Pagans. They have a great number of idols, supposed to be subordinate to one God; but their notions concerning him are very confused. They have a great veneration for their priests, who address their worship to idols, and pretend to receive answers from them. When they go to war, they alwaj-s consult the priests, who then apply to their idols for assistance against the enemy. The priest pronounces a heavy curse in the name of the idol they worship, and when they embark on their great rivers, the idol accompanies them. They never pray but for victory, vengeance, and riches.
Before I attempt to define the particular views of the different sects of the Christian religion, I shall introduce Mahometanism here for the following reason, though Mahomet did not make his appearance till the beginning of the seventh century. Mahomet compiled the Koran, which contains the Mahometan creed, partly from the Old Testament, and partly from the books of the Pagans. It would therefore be out of order to introduce Mahomelanism, when giving an account of the different sects of the Christian religion. It appears to me most proper to introduce those sects of professors who were nearest allied to each other, as to their profession of religion; and 1is the Mahometans reject Christ, and have adopted many of the tenets of the Pagans, it certainly is more or
derly to link them with Pagans, than to introduce the Mahometan religion, when giving an account of the descent of the Christian religion.
THE MAHOMETAN RELIGION.
In the year 622, of the Christian gera, Honorius the fifth, being the bishop of Rome, and Heraclius Caesar, emperor of the west, when idolatry had spread its baneful influence over Arabia; Mahomet, an Arabian, seeing the many gross absurdities of such a religious system, and not being able to comprehend the doctrine of the Trinity, as it was then taught by the professors of Christianity; formed the plan of a new sect, by combining a part of the Pagan rites with some of the laws of Moses, and the precepts of the New Testament, and published them as a new code of laws. In order to make these laws revered, he pretended that he received them from the archangel Gabriel, by the command of God, and that he was the prophet chosen to promulgate them.
There is no other way of accounting for the great progress which this new religion made, by the conversion of the eastern nations to the Mahometan faith, unless on the ground of this impostor holding forth the unity of God, and the promise of sensual enjoyments in heaven, to those who obeyed his laws. The first commandment was taken from the Bible; it runs thus in the Mahometan code: / believe in one God only. This struck •at the root of the polytheism of the east, and was one great cause of the reception of his doctrines.
The' Koran is the sacred book of the Mahometans, written in pure Arabic, and is in as high estimation with them, as the Bible is with Christians.