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CHRISTIANITY HAS NOT ONLY PRODUCED GOOD EFFECTS IN THOSE WHO CORDIALLY BELIEVE IT, BUT HAS GIVEN TO THE MORALS OF SOCIETY AT LARGE A TONE, WHICH DEISM SO FAR AS IT OPERATES, GOES TO COUNTERACT.
No man walks through life without a rule of some kind, by which his conduct is directed, and his inclinations restrained. They who fear not God are influenced by a regard to the opinions of men. To avoid the censure, and gain the applause of the public, is the summit of their ambition.
Public opinion has an influence, not only on the conduct of individuals in a community, but on the formation of its laws. Legislators will not only conform their systems to what the humours of the people will bear, but will themselves incline to omit those virtues which are the most ungrateful, and to spare those vices which are the most agreeable.
Nor is this all: so great is the influence of public opinion that it will direct the conduct of a community against its own laws. There are obsolete statutes, as we all know, the breach of which cannot be punished: and even statutes which are not obsolete, where they operate against this principle, have but little effect; witness the connivance at the atrocious practice of duelling.
Now, if public opinion be so potent a principle, whatever has a prevailing influence in forming it, must give a decided tone to what are considered as the morals of a nation. I say, to what are considered as the morals of a nation: for, strictly speaking, so much of the love of God and man, as prevails in a nation, so much morality is there in it, and no more. But, as we can judge of love only by VOL. III.
its expressions, we call those actions moral, though it is possible their morality may be only counterfeit, by which the love of God and man is ordinarily expressed. If we perform those actions which are the ordinary expressions of love, from some other motive, our good deeds are thereby rendered evil in the sight of Him who views things as they are: nevertheless what we do may be equally beneficial to society as though we acted from the purest motive. In this indirect way Christianity has operated more than any thing that has been called by the name of religion, or by any other name, towards meliorating the state of mankind.
It has been observed, and with great propriety, that, in order to know what religion has done for an individual, we must consider what he would have been without it. The same may be said of a nation, or of the world. What would the nations of Europe have been at this time, if it had not been for the introduction of Christianity? It cannot reasonably be pretended that they would have been in any better situation, as to morality, than that in which they were previously to this event: for there is no instance of any people having by their own efforts, emerged from idolatry, and the immoralities which attend it. Now, as to what that state was, some notice has been taken already, so far as relates to the principles and lives of the old philosophers. To this I shall add a brief review of the state of society among them.
Great praises are bestowed by Plutarch on the customs and manners of the Lacedemonians. Yet the same writer acknowledges, that theft was encouraged in their children by a law; and that in order to "sharpen their wits, to render them crafty and subtle, and to train them up in all sorts of wiles and cunning, watchfulness and circumspection, whereby they were more apt to serve them in their wars, which was upon the matter the whole profession of this Commonwealth. And if at any time they were taken in the act of stealing, they were most certainly punished with rods, and, the penance of fasting; not because they esteemed the stealth criminal, but because they wanted skill and cunning in the management and conduct of it."* Hence, as might be expected, and as Herodotus observes, their actions were gen*Plutarch's Morals, Vol. I. p. 96.
erally contrary to their words; and there was no dependance upon them in any matter.
As to their chastity, there were common baths in which the men and women bathed together; and it was ordered that the young maidens should appear naked in the public exercises, as well as the young men, and that they should dance naked with them at the solemn festivals and sacrifices. Husbands also were allowed to impart the use of their wives to handsome and deserving men, in order to the producing of healthy and vigorous children for the Commonwealth.
Children which were deformed, or of a bad constitution, were murdered. This inhuman custom was common all over Greece; so much so, that it was reckoned a singular thing among the Thebans, that the law forbad any Theban to expose his infant, under pain of death. This practice, with that of procuring abortion were encouraged by Plato and Aristotle.
The unnatural love of boys was so common in Greece, than in many places it was sanctioned by the public laws, of which Aristottle gives the reason: namely, to prevent their having too many children. Maximus Tyrius celebrates it as a most singular heroic act of Agesilaus, that, being in love with a beautiful barbarian boy, he suffered it to go no farther than looking at him and admiring him. Epictetus also praises Socrates in this manner: "Go to Socrates, and see him lying by Alcibiades, yet slighting his youth and beauty. Consider what a victory he was conscious of obtaining! What an Olympic prize! So that, by heaven, one might justly salute him, Hail, incredibly great, universal victor!" What an implication does such language contain of the manners of those times!
The Romans were allowed by Romulus to destroy all their female children, except the eldest and even with regard to their male children, if they were deformed, or monstrous, he permitted the parents to expose them, after having shown them to five of their nearest neighbours. Such was their cruelty to their slaves, that it was not unusual for their masters to put such of them as were old, sick, and infirm, into an island in the Tiber, where they left them to perish. So far did some of them carry their
luxury and wantonness as to drown them in the fish-ponds, that they might be devoured by the fish, to make the flesh more delicate !
Gladiatory shows were common among them; in which a number of slaves were engaged to fight for the diversion of the multitude, till each one slew or was slain by his antagonist. Of these brutish exercises the people were extremely fond; even the women ran eagerly after them, taking pleasure in seeing the combatants kill one another, desirous only that they should fall genteelly, or in an agreeable attitude! They were exhibited at the funerals of great and rich men, and on many other occasions. So frequent did they become, that no war, it is said, caused such slaughter of mankind as did these sports of pleasure, throughout the several provinces of the Roman empire.
That odious and unnatural vice, which prevailed among the Greeks, was also common among the Romans. Cicero introduces, without any mark of disapprobation, Cotta, a man of the first rank and genius, freely and familiarly owning to other Romans of the same quality, that worse than beastly vice as practised by himself, and quoting the authorities of ancient philosophers in vindication of it. It appears also from Seneca, that in his time it was practised at Rome, openly and without shame. He speaks of flocks and troops of boys, distinguished by their colours and nations, and that great care was taken to train them up for that detestable employ
The religious rites performed in honor of Venus, in Cyprus, and at Aphac, on Mount Libanus, consisted in lewdness of the grossest kinds. The young people, of both sexes, crowded from all parts to those sinks of pollution; and, filling the groves and temples with their shameless practises, committed whoredom by thousands, out of pure devotion.
All the Babylonian women were obliged to prostitute themselves once in their lives, at the temple of Venus or Mylitta, to the first man that asked them: and the money earned by this means was always esteemed sacred.
Human sacrifices were offered up in almost all heathen countries. Children were burnt alive by their parents, to Baal, Moloch, and other deities. The Carthaginians, in times of public
calamity, not only burnt alive the children of the best families to Saturn, and that by hundreds, but sometimes sacrificed themselves in the same manner, in great numbers. Here in Britain, and in Gaul, it was a common practice to surround a man with a kind of wicker-work, and burn him to death, in honor of their Gods.*
In addition to the above, Mr. Hume has written as follows: "What cruel tyrants were the Romans over the world, during the time of their Commonwealth! It is true, they had laws to prevent oppression in their provincial magistrates; but Cicero informs us that the Romans could not better consult the interest of the provinces than by repealing these very laws. For in that case, says he, our magistrates having entire impunity, would plunder no more than would satisfy their own rapaciousness: whereas, at present, they must also satisfy that of their judges, and of all the great men of Rome, of whose protection they stand in need."
The same writer, who certainly was not prejudiced against them, speaking of their Commonwealth in its more early times, farther observes, "The most illustrious period of the Roman history, considered in a political view, is that between the beginning of the first and the end of the last Punic war; yet at this very time, the horrid practice of poisoning was so common, that during part of a season, a prætor punished capitally, for this crime, above three thousand persons in a part of Italy; and found informations of this nature still multiplying upon him! So depraved in private life," adds Mr. Hume, "were that people, whom, in their history, we so much admire."†
From the foregoing facts, we may form some judgment of the justness of Mr. Paine's remarks. "We know nothing," says he,
"of what the ancient Gentile world was before the time of the Jews, whose practice has been to calumniate and blacken the char
* The authorities on which this brief statement of facts is founded, may be seen in Dr. Leland's Advantages and Necessity of the Christian Revelation, Vol. II. Part II. Chap. III. IV. where the subject is more particularly handled. See also, Deism Revealed, Vol. I. pp. 77, 78.
+Essay on Politics a Science.