« AnteriorContinuar »
Human Depravity. It will probably not be denied, that the arguments, already used, prove no inconsiderable degree of depravity in those, to whom they apply. But whatever moral disorder exists among ourselves, or among those, who are best known to us, we are not hence to conclude, that all men are equally criminal. The present state of our country does not indicate the present moral character of other nations; much less does it indicate their morality in past ages.
To these remarks I offer no objection. On the other hand, those, who make them, will not deny, that if the moral character of other countries and other ages be found as bad, or worse than our own, whatever legitimate conclusions have already been drawn, may be fairly extended to the species in general.
A very high degree of moral corruption has been proved by our flagrant ingratitude to the Most High; by our indisposition to hold communion with him, in exercises of devotion; by our reluctance to contemplate his perfections and relation to us; by the infrequency of religious conversation ; by the little interest and pleasure, which it excites; by the universal, and almost exclusive attention, bestowed on present existence; and by the maintenance of a vicious life in opposition to motives of eternal consequence.
Do not all these facts exist in those nations, whose mor
al advantages resemble our own? Is not the course of life among them essentially the same, as among ourselves! I there not the same inconsistency between those principles, to which their intellects assent, and those, which their hearts embrace ?
This will probably not be denied. But as there are but few nations, whose moral advantages equal ours, there are few, whose external conduct and appearance, though no better, would prove the same degree of demerit, or moral baseness. Therefore, our conclusion, as it respects ourselves, and the few nations, equally enlightened, would be too se vere, in regard to others. In answer to this, it is to be said, that those countries, in which christianity has been mutilated and deformed, exhibit not only all the stupidity and vices of our own; but much in addition. We surely should not resort, either to the Greek, or Romish communion to obtain proof of human uprightness. Would such proof be obtained by searching among those nations, which have not received christianity ? Will an examination of the moral state of Me homelans, Hindoos, or nations more barbarous, lead us to e tertain an opinion less unfavourable to the human character, than that, to which we should be led, by taking into view ex clusively our own country? If not, it remains only, that we inquire, whether by some untoward circumstance, the present generation does not exhibit a degree of depravity, unknown in the general history of man. For if it can be shown, that the world in all previous ages, has been in a state, approxi. mating lo moral purity, we could, by no means, be justified in predicating deep corruption of our species in general.
But, in fact, one of the first ideas, presented to the mind, in reading history, is the identity of the human character. In climate, forms of government, degrees of light, and modes of living, there is great diversity ; but the grand outlines of character remain unaltered. Whether we judge of an Egyptian, a Persian, a Greek or Italian, it is not necessary to adopt new principles. They have all the same propensities, and the same general object. Amidst similar temptations,
there is similarity of conduct. Pride, ambition, lust, revenge, and selfishness, are their most obvious and prominent qualities.
Let us now be more particular.
1. The human character has appeared to equal disadvantage, among barbarous and civilized nations.
It is easy to praise the simplicity and innocence of uncultivated clans and communities. “ If we were to judge of the Scythians," says a modern historian,“ by the pictures, drawn by Horace and Juvenal, their virtues and morals are worthy to be held forth, as examples to mankind. But if, as Herodotus says, their daughters could not be married, until they had killed a man with their own hands; if they took pleasure in drinking out of the skulls of those, whose blood they had shed: without mentioning the human victims, which they offered up to the gods, they were certainly more deserving of detestation, than esteem.” This conclusion would perhaps have been more striking, had it been drawn from what Herodotus further says, as to the habits of these barbarians. " Their military customs are these; every Scythian drinks the blood of the first person, he slays. They suspend the skins of their enemies from the bridles of their horses: when they both use them as a napkin, and are proud of them as a trophy. This savage use of the sculls of enemies, regards not only those exclusively, who are of different clans or nations. They do the same with respect to their nearest connexions, if any dissensions have arisen, and they overcome them in combat before the King." Herod. v. 3. 236.
From the following extract it will appear, that those tribes which were settled in the north of Europe, retained the fe. rocity of their Scythian origin. “ The Normans sacrificed human victims to a deity, whose rewards were believed to be reserved for those, who slew the greatest number of warriors in battle: the happiness to which they aspired, was to intoxicate themselves in his hall. The sculls of their slain enemies were the precions cups, which were to be used in their eternal carousals." Millot, vol. 3. 154.
The resemblance between the ancient Scythians and the American natives, has often, and with good reason, been remarked. Among both, we notice the same horrible ferocity,
In treating the present subject, we are under the ne. cessity of referring to some facts, which were formerly men tioned, in showing the necessity of divine revelation. “A. mong the Mexicans, human sacrifices were deemed most acceptable, and every captive, taken in war, was cruelly tortured and sacrificed. The heart and head were the portion of the gods; while the body was resigned to the captor, who, with his friends, feasted upon it.”
The latest accounts of the Islanders in the South Sea, give us most unfavorable ideas of the moral character. The cus. tom of offering human victims is common. Nor will the mind, disgusted with this view of barbarian depravity, obtain any relief, by resorting to the islands of Asia. The inhabitants of the vast island, or rather continent of New Holland, are in the most deplorable state of ignorance and vice. In some of their ceremonies, the very form and character of man seems despised, and the superiority of brutes acknowledged. The New Zealanders treat their captives, as did the Mexicans, i. e. they devour them. Surely it is not among savage nations, that we are to look for proofs of innocence, or facts, which will enfeeble the conclusion, formerly drawn, as to the human character, from appearances, exhibited in our own country. “We find that both the ancient and modern history of the east,” says a learned author, " is a continued scene of bloodshed and treachery."
As little should we be under the necessity of altering our former conclusion, were we to consider, what the state of morals has been at those periods, which are most distinguished for civilization, refinement, and literature. When Pericles was increasing the taste and refinement of the Athenians, he was corrupting their morals. As to Roman morality at that era in their history, which produced some of the most extraordinary efforts of the human mind, we have full satisfaction from the testimony of those, who were eye witnesses,
On this subject, poets and historians perfectly coincide. It is really no easy matter, even for a person not ignorant of the vices, prevailing in our own country, to conceive that astonishing variety of appearance, which Roman depravity assumed. Whatever of selfishness, cruelty, revenge, prodigality, gluttony, and lust, the boldest imagination is able to conceive, was practised among that people, whose power gave law to all nations, and whose literary productions still excite the admiration of all.
It is evident then, that neither the simplicity of savage life, nor the highest literary cultivation, is sufficient to prevent communities of human beings from plunging into the grossest pollution.
II. The character of man appears to have been extremely vicious under various degrees of religious light. What little knowledge, we have of the first ages of the world, is obtained from the sacred scriptures. We may consider the patriarchal age, as extending from the creation, to the time, when the Israelites emigrated from Egypt. During this period, there was no standing revelation. Divine interpositions were however, occasionally made : and that light, which was conveyed to individuals, must, in a greater or less degree, have been diffused.
In the family of Adam, was committed a murder, most unnatural and impious. A brother slew a brother, because the latter had received testimony of the divine approbation; or, in the words of St. John, because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous. This individual act of violence does indeed prove nothing with certainty, but the character of its author. But that a crime, so atrocious, should have been committed at so early a period, when but a few individuals existed, and when there was almost no possibility of being injured by example, is a fact, which well deserves our consideration, while making inquiries as to the character of
The next prominent fact, which arrests our attention, in reading the early history of our race, is more clearly to our