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in it than the generality of readers imagine. Did they know how many thoughts occur in a point of honour, which a discreet author in modesty suppresses; how many strokes of raillery present themselves, which could not fail to please the ordinary taste of mankind, but are stifled in their birth by reason of some remote tendency which they carry in them to corrupt the minds of those who read them : did they know how many glances of illnature are industriously avoided for fear of doing injury to the reputation o another; they would be apt to think kindly of those writers who endeavour to make themselves diverting without being immoral. One may apply to these authors that passage in Waller :
'Poets lose half the praise they would have got,
Were it but known what they discreetly blot.' As nothing is more easy than to be a wit, with all the above-mentioned liberties, it requires some genius and invention to appear such without them.
There is nothing in which men more deceive themselves than in what the world calls zeal. There are so many passions which hide themselves under it, and so many mischiefs arising from it, that some have gone so far as to say it would have been for the benefit of mankind if it had never been reckoned in the catalogue of
virtues. It is certain, where it is once laudable and prudential, it is an hundred times criminal and erroneous; nor can it be otherwise, if we consider that it operates with equal violence in all religions, however opposite they may be to one another, and in all the subdivisions of each religion in particular.
We are told by some of the Jewish rabbins, that the first murder was occasioned by a religious controversy ; and if we had the whole history of zeal from the days of Cain to our own times, we should see it filled with so many scenes of slaughter and bloodshed, as would make a wise man very careful how he suffers himself to be actuated by such a principle, when it only regards matters of opinion and speculation.
I would have every zealous man examine his heart thoroughly, and I believe he will often find, that what he calls a zeal for his religion is either pride, interest, or illnature. A man, who differs from another in opinion, sets himself above him in his own judgment, and in several particulars pretends to be the wiser person. This is a great provocation to the proud man, and gives a very keen edge to what he calls his zeal. And that this is the case very often, we may observe from the behaviour of some of the niost zealous for orthodoxy, who have often great friendships and intimacies with vicious immoral men, provided they do but agree with them in the same scheme of belief. The reason is, because the vicious believer gives the precedency to the virtuous man, and allows the good Christian to be the worthier person, at the same time that he cannot come up to his perfections.
This we find exemplified in that trite passage
which we see quoted in almost every system of ethics, though upon another occasion :
_Video meliora proboque,
Ovid. Met. vii, 20.
• I see the right, and I approve it too;
On the contrary, it is certain, if our zeal were true and genuine, we should be much more angry with a sinner than a heretic ; since there are several cases which may excuse the latter before his great Judge, but none which can excuse the former.
Ill-nature is another dreadful imitator of zeal. Many a good man may have a natural rancour and malice in his heart, which has been in some measure quelled and subdued by religion ; but if it finds any pretence of breaking out, which does not seem to him inconsistent with the duties of a Christian, it throws off all restraint, and rages in its full fury. Zeal is therefore a great ease to a malicious man, by making him believe he does God service, whilst he is gratifying the bent of a perverse revengeful temper. For this reason we find, that most of the massacres and devastations which have been in the world have taken their rise from a furious pretended zeal.
I love to see a man zealous in a good matter, and especially when his zeal shows itself for advancing morality,
and j'romoting the happiness of inankind. But when I find the instruments he works with are racks and gibbets, galleys and dungeons; when he imprisons men's persons, confiscates their estates, ruins their families, and burns the body to save the soul, I cannot stick to pronounce of such a one, that (whatever he may think of his faith and religion) his faith is in vain, and his religion unprofitable.
After having treated of these false zealots in religion, I cannnot forbear mentioning a monstrous species of men, who one would not think had any existence in nature, were they not to be met with in ordinary conversation : I mean, the zealots in atheism, One would fancy that these men, though they fall short in cvery other respect of those who make a profession of religion, would at least outshine them in this particular, and be exempt from that single fault which seems to grow out of the imprudent fervours of religion. But so it is, that infidelity is propagated with as much fierceness and contention, wrath and indignation, as if the safety of mankind depended upon it. There is something so ridiculous and perverse in this kind of zealots, that one does not know how to set them out in their proper colours. They are a sort of gamesters, who are eternally upon the fret though they play for nothing. They are perpetually teasing their friends to come over to them, though at the same time they allow that neither of them shall get any thing by the bargain. In short, the zeal of spreading atheism is, if possible, more absurd than atheism itself.
Since I have mentioned this unaccountable zeal which appears in atheists and infidels, I must farther observe, that they are likewise in a most particular manner possessed with the spirit of bigotry. They are wedded to opinions full of contradiction and impossibility, and at the same time look upon the smallest difficulty in an article of faith as a sufficient reason for rejecting it. Notions that fall in with the common reason of mankind, that are conformable to the sense of all ages and all nations, not to mention their tendency for promoting the happiness of societies or of particular persons, are exploded as errors and prejudices; and schemes erected in their stead that are altogether monstrous and irrational, and require the most extravagant credulity to embrace them. I would fain ask one of these bigoted infidels, supposing all the great points of atheism, as the casual or eternal formation of the world, the materiality of a thinking substance, the mortality of the soul, the fortuitous organization of the body, the motions and gravitation of matter, with the like particulars, were laid together and formed into a kind of creed, according to the opinions of the most celebrated atheists; I say, supposing such a creed as this were formed, and imposed upon any one people in the world, whether it would not require an infinitely greater measure of faith, than any set of articles which they so violently oppose. Let me therefore advise this generation of wranglers, for their own and for the public good, to act at least so consistently with themselves as not to burn with zeal for irreligion, and with bigotry for nonsense.