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PRINCIPLES AND PROGRESS OF THEOLOGY.
S no other science can vie with theology, ei
ther in dignity or importance, it justly claims to be a favourite study with every person endued with true taste and solid judgment. From the time that writing was invented, natural religion has employed pens without number; and yet in no language is there found a connected history of it. The present work will only admit a slight sketch: which I shall glory in, however imperfect, if it excite any one of superior talents to uns dertake a complete history.
Existence of a Deity.
HAT there exists beings, one or many, power
ful above the human race, is a proposition universally admitted as true, in all ages, and among
all nations. I boldly call it universal, notwithstanding what is reported of some gross savages ; for reports that contradict what is acknowledged to be general among men, require more able vouchers than a few illiterate voyagers. Among many savage tribes, there are no words but for objects of external sense : is it surprising, that such people are incapable to express their religious perceptions, or any perception of internal sense ? and from their silence can it be fairly presumed, that they have no such perception * ? The conviction that men have of superior powers in every country where there are words to express it, is so well vouched, that in fair reasoning it ought to be taken for granted among the few tribes where language is deficient. Even the grossest idolatry affords evidence of that conviction. No nation can be so brutish as to worship a stock or a stone, merely as such : the visible object is always imagined to be connected with some invisible power; and the worship paid to the former, is as representing the latter, or as in some manner connected with it. Every family among the ancient Lithuanians, entertained a real serpent as a household-god; and the same practice is at present universal among the negroes in the kingdom of Whidah: it is not the serpent that is worshipped, but some deity imagined to reside in it. The ancient Egyptians were not idiots, to pay divine honours to a bull or a cat, as such : the divine honours were paid to a deity, as residing in these animals. The sun is to man a familiar object : being frequently obscured by clouds, and totally eclipsed during night, a savage naturally conceives it to be a great fire, sometimes flaming bright, sometimes obscured, and sometimes extinguished. Whence then sun-worship, once universal among savages ? Plainly from the same cause : it is not properly the sun that is worshipped, but a deity who is supposed to dwell in that lumi. nary.
* In the language even of Peru, there is not a word for exa pressing an abstract idea, such as time, endurance, space, exist. ence, substance, matter, body. It is no less defective in
expressing moral ideas, such as virtue, justice, gratitude, liberty. The Yameos, a tribe on the river Oroonoko, described by Condamine, used the word poettarraroincouroac to express the number three, and have no word for a greater number. The Brasilian language is nearly as barren.
Taking it then for granted, that our conviction of superior powers has been long universal, the important question is, From what cause it proceeds. A conviction so universal and so permanent, cannot proceed from chance; but must have a cause operating constantly and invariably upon all men in all ages. Philosophers, who believe the world to be eternal and self-existent, and imagine it to be the only deity, though without intelligence, endeavour to account for our conviction of superior powers, from the terror that thunder and other elementary convulsions raise in savages ;
and and thence conclude that such belief is no evidence of a deity. Thus Lucretius * :
Præterea, cui non animus formidine divum
And Petronius Arbiter,
Primus in orbe deos fecit timor: ardua colo
It will readily be yielded to these gentlemen, that savages, grossly ignorant of causes and effects, are apt to take fright at every unusual appearance, and to think that some malignant being is the cause. And if they mean only, that the first perception of deity among savages is occasioned by fear, I heartily subscribe to their opinion. But if they mean, that such perceptions proceed from fear solely, without having any other cause, I wish to be informed from what source is derived the bea lief we have of benevolent deities. Fear cannot be the source: and it will be seen anon, that though malevolent deities were first recognised among savages, yet that in the progress of society, the existence of benevolent deities was universally believed. The fact is certain ; and therefore fear is not the sole cause of our believing the existence of superior beings.
solely, Lib. 5. + What man can boast that firm undaunted soul,
That hears, unmov'd, when thunder shakes the pole ;
It is beside to me evident, that the belief even of malevolent deities, once universal among all the tribes of men, cannot be accounted for from fear solely. I observe, first, That there are many men, to whom an eclipse, an earthquake, and even thunder, are unknown: Egypt, in particular, though the country of superstition, is little or not at all acquainted with the two latter; and in Peru, though its government was a theocracy, thunder is not known. Nor do such appearances strike terror into every one who is acquainted with them. The universality of the belief, must then have some cause more universal than fear.' I observe next, That if the belief were founded solely on fear, it would die away gradually as men improve in the knowledge of causes and effects : instruct a savage, that thunder, an eclipse, an earthquake, proceed from natural causes, and are not threatenings of an incensed deity ; his fear of malevolent beings will vanish; and with it his belief in