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any one uni
mistaken Principles upon the common Conduct of Life.
And as the Original of the Term of Superskition is thus uncertain, and no precise Idea can be collected merely from the Word itself, so neither is the Use of it more determinate amongst Heathen Authors, nor can it be asserted that form Meaning is affixed to it in their Writings. In some Places it is used as a Word of the same Signification with Religion itself, in others it means very plainly false Religion ; and it is highly probable that this ambiguous Signification was sometimes artfully introduced, with the same finister Intention, with which, as I before observed, the Terms of Superstition and Religion are designedly confounded in our Days. Piety has in all Times, as well as in ours, had its Enemies in Disguise, who under the plausible Pretence of ridiculing Superftition, have designed to expose all Worship of the Deity. To this may in some Measure be imputed the various Acceptation of this Term in prophane Authors; though Something must be allowed for the indeterminate Meaning of the Word in itself, and the Want of Accuracy in their common Discourse on this Subject. And it may be observed of almost all Writers, the Modern as well as the Ancient, that They have been more clear in their Descriptions
than in their Definitions, and have succeeded bet. ter in illustrating the Thing than in deriving or explaining the Word.
The Original Words in the Text here emphatically translated superstitious Vanities are not those by which Superftition is usually expressed; but they are Words exactly of the same Import, and convey the same Idea to the Mind. In our other Version they are rendered lying Vanities, which answers more nearly to the Original Words, which signify Vanities of Deceit, or according to the full Import of the Hebrew Phraseology the vainest and most useless Things, which can be imagined. By this Phrase the Nature of Superftition is better described than by any Derivation of the Word. The Pfalmift speaks of some unprofitable Practices founded on erroneous Notions with Respect to the Worship of the Deity, and there can be no clearer Idea given of the Fault under Censure. The One of the Terms here us'd implies that the Observances referred to were not founded on Truth, and the Other that they answer'd no Use; the one that they were falfe, the Other that they were unprofitable : and these are the very distinguishing, Characteristicks of Superstition. These lying Vanities are only a more explicit and determinate Expression for the fame Thing; for by this Rule
strictly strictly We may state this Question, and may adhere to it in all our Determinations. Whatever lays any Pretence to Religion, and is directly or indirectly connected with it; Whatever under this Claim or Connection is advanced from Speculation to Practice, and made a Rule of Action in Life; whatever thus supported and observed, is yet really founded on no Authority, and subservient to no Purpose, or at least to no good one, This is strictly and properly Superstition : and Nothing is justly chargeable as such, which does not answer each Branch of this Description.
Let us review it a little more particularly.
Superstition is here spoken of as an Object of Detestation. It is considered as a Sin, as an Offence incurring the Wrath of God, and the Indignation of all good Men; It must therefore be Something, which either lays a groundless Pretence. to Religion, or is directly or indirectly connected with some real Violation of it. There may be innumerable Errors, and Absurdities and Follies amongst Men in private Life, which may move our Contempt or Compassion, but which cannot reasonably be interpreted as a Breach of Duty in them, or a Cause of Abhorrence in us. This can only be, either when a false Religion is professedly maintained, or a true one avowedly, or by Implication, applied to support Practices
which it has prohibited, or at least has not enjoined, or has not enjoined alone, in Prejudice to Other Duties. In the Cases of Idolatry or Enthufiasm, where false Pretensions are openly advanced, where the Worship of any
other than the true God is maintained, or where fictitious Claims are directly made to Inspiration from Him, there the Sinfulness of these Errors may be more flagrant and more heinous, but some Connection with the Belief or Worship of the Deity must be supposed to make any Errors finful; and when supposed, will make them so in Proportion to the Light which was afforded, and the Degree of its Inconsistency with that Light.
The Context, and the Antithesis here used, shew that Superstition is considered as a Violation or Perversion of Religious Truths, and common Reason will confirm this Sentiment. Less important Mistakes, which are not inconsistent with Religion or Morality, however they may make us ridiculous, yet will not make us wicked; They may reflect on our Understandings, but not on our Consciences; whilst those Opinions only, which someway or other pervert the Worship of the Creator, or depreciate the Cause of Virtue amongst our Fellow-Creatures, will render us criminal in the Sight of God, and odious in the Sight of Men.
Again, it must be some Scheme of Action in Life founded on this erroneous Principle, it must be Somewhat deduced from Speculation into Practice, which alone can justly be charged as superstitious. I doubt not but that speculative Errors may be blameable, if in Doctrines revealed with sufficient Clearness, they are owing to Prejudice or Inattention, but they are not blameable either in the Kind or Degree with that Iniquity now under Consideration. Whilst They rest in the Mind, they cannot be subject to the Cognizance of Others; and even if communicated in Discourse, yet if they no way
affect the Worship of the Deity, nor weaken a due Spirit of Dependance upon Him, nor tend to violate the reciprocal Duties between Man and Man, nor the Restraints of Personal Obligations, whatever 0ther Character such deluded Persons
deserve, yet certainly They cannot be call’d Superstitious a.
a Plutarch distinguishes in this Case, and observes that Atheism is strictly an Error of the Understanding, Superftition an Affection or Pallion of the Mind founded upon an Error. He meant not here (as his whole Discourse shews) to intimate that the former was involuntary and blameless, but to observe that tho' the Will had its Share in both, the Affections were more apt to be excited by the latter. Atheism, He remarks, naturally leads to Inactivity and Indifference as to all Events, whereas Superstition, like all other Pasions, prompts to Action, and disposes Men to pursue with Earnestness the End which their mistaken Principle would