« AnteriorContinuar »
declamations, and successful ones too, about the throne and the altar, from some who cared about the throne but for the sake of its trappings, and worshipped at no altars but those raised to their own interest or vanity.
4. Impostors of various classes, pretended prophets, priests, pontiffs, conquerors, have done homage to the power of religion over society by appealing to it in the breasts of the multitudes whom they have cajoled, or plundered, or trampled under foot. Infidelity has sometimes lurked in lawn, and chuckled at its gains beneath the triple crown. In many instances, besides that of Mahomet, has fanaticism sharpened the sword of conquest. So much art is not wasted in counterfeiting trifles. Such men would not have cared for the name of religion, had it not been a passport to power, wealth, or fame.
The effects of religion, true or false, are chiefly produced by two means. It influences the mind by tlíe belief of its creed, and the habits by its institutions and observances. Both are usually employed, although in very different proportions. The religions of ancient Egypt, of Hindostan, of Greece, and in a less degree Mahometanism, had more of ceremony than of faith: Christianity has more of faith than of ceremony, which indeed it employs but little, if at all. In Judaism they are combined, but ceremony seems to preponderate, Popery is a religion of ceremony compared
with Protestantism. In general, we may observe that religions of ceremony prevail with the ignorant; those of faith with the intelligent: these combine with fixedness and slavery; those with change, liberty and improvement. The philosophers, whose names raise Greece so high, had a religion of their own, of free speculation, which led them on to glorious truths and high excellence, while the mass of their countrymen seemed another race. The prayers, five times in a day, and frequent ceremonies of the Turks, have had no inconsiderable effect in keeping down their national character, and throwing them so far behind that Europe, whose proudest states they might have rivalled. Could the natives of Hindostan be, by some miracle, transformed into Christians, and the distinction of castes and all their other debasing institutions obliterated, where would be their feebleness, their subjection to foreigners, and all that now makes them a property and not a people?
The religion of ceremony tends to reduce man to a mere machine; a puppet, bowing before altars, fingering beads, walking in procession, and kneeling to images. The fire of intellect, being unfed, wastes and expires. The character becomes devoid of that consistency and elevation which can only result from understanding and believing great moral principles. Establishment, repose and antiquity, often make the ceremonial
part of a system preponderate over the intellectual. The military faith of predestination was most conspicuous in Mahometanism, while associated with energy; and its ritual became elevated, as the character of its votaries sunk into feebleness. The affinity of the Mosaic Institutions to that class of religions which has the least favourable operation on human improvement, appears at first, inconsistent with their divine origin. The fact is explained by a reference to their design, which was not to bring the Jews to an advanced state of knowledge, but to make them the keepers of the records of revelation, and the worship of the One God, till the coming of Christ. The ritual was a thorny fence around the pure religion of the patriarchs. By rendering the Jewish character nearly stationary, two great advantages were gained for mankind. Revelation was securely preserved at a period when the world was so debased that extension would have led to its total loss : and afterwards, when it was proffered to the nations, the inferiority of its guardians was a pledge of its divinity.
There is another species of religion, which neither exercises the intellect upon important truth, nor governs life by prescribed ceremonies, but appeals to the imagination. It peoples caves, woods, rivers, mountains, with tutelary deities, to whom it not only gives “ a local habitation and a name," but paints their forms and tunes
their voices. This is not powerful in its influence upon character, and, except in rare circumstances, speedily assimilates itself to the other classes, either rising into faith by the aid of philosophy, or degenerating into the external worship of material images. The mythology of antiquity was “a creed outworn,” long before Christianity swept it from the earth. The speculating few, if they did not disregard the whole as mere fable, considered gods as personifications, and their histories as allegories; while the ignorant many adored, not the creations of the poet, with whom they had no fellowship of fancy, but of the sculptor, whose art furnished a visible and tangible deity to tenant their village temple. The researches of the wise, and the stupidity of the vulgar, alike dissolve the enchantments of poetic imigination. There is also, generally, a locality about such superstitions which forbids their permanence after much intercourse with other countries. They are equally transitory, when superinduced upon a rational faith. The living animals of Egypt, and the monstrous images of India, though at first mystic emblems of real or supposed truths, soon usurped supreme worship. The invocation of saints entailed that of their images on both the Greek and Latin churches. It would not long survive their disuse.
Religions which lay their foundation, where
alone a solid foundation can be laid, in the understanding, are liable to be perverted into useless speculation. Thus while Christianity was burdened with rites, borrowed from Judaism or Paganism, till with the unthinking it became a mere round of unmeaning forms; its faith was frittered away by the schoolmen into a series of metaphysical subtleties. It would be vain to expect from the endless quibbles which have been occasioned by mysterious doctrines, the beneficial results upon the heart and life which arise from just reasoning upon plain and certain principles.
Although relying principally upon the power of mind, Christianity at first employed that of habit with great success, not like other systems, for purposes of ceremony, but in aid of morality, by the discipline of its churches, whose members watched over, reproved, instructed and strengthened each other. And when this discipline ceased, or was misdirected, its place was partially supplied by the influence gained over public opinion.
The philosophical historian cannot tell the tale of eighteen centuries without assigning a conspicuous place to Christianity among the operating causes upon the state, comforts and liberties of
Without enlarging upon results, which might fill volumes, let it suffice barely to mention, the general abolition of domestic sla