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compellers to come in,' propagators of the faith by sword, halter, and faggot, who have been viler persons than several atheists; and religion may be corrupted to such a degree, as to be worse than unbelief: but if a man will needs draw the comparison between atheism and idolatry, it is not fair to take the worst kind of superstition, and the most ignorant, flagitious and infamous Pagans who were infected with it, and oppose to them the better sort of atheists, antient and modern, who lived reputably, and tell us that Epicurus, and Cassius, and Atticus, and Pliny, and Spinoza were more to be esteemed than many believing Pagans, or perhaps Christians.
We must consider Paganism in the whole, as it has been from the time when it began to this day, in all ages, and in all places; and the question is, whether, if all these Pagans had been atheists, it had been better for civil society in general, or no. On this question, most of those who are not atheists, I presume, will choose the negative; and of the atheists, all will not take the affirmative, for there have been atheists who have thought that infidelity was only fit for polite gentlemen, and that religion was of use amongst the vulgar, and a good state-engine. The remark, therefore, of this author is rather lively than pertinent, that he is not a greater madman who pays adoration to no being, than he who should devoutly worship his dog, his hat, or his breeches.'
Homer has described to us a republic, if we may call it so, of a sort of atheists, or despisers of the gods. Polyphemus says to Ulysses, 'Stranger, thou art a fool, or thou comest from a far country, to talk to me of the gods: we are superior to them, and value them not.' The Cyclopes, says Homer, have no religion, no magistrates, no assemblies, no laws, no industry, no arts and sciences, no civility, no respect for one another; but each Cyclops, in his den, rules over his wife and children as he thinks fit, and eats all the stragglers that fall into his hands. An excellent image of atheistical polity! Odyss. I. 273.
Bayle had confirmed himself in an opinion, that the Pagans
worshipped a rabble of coëqual, imperfect, vicious gods; not considering how much the doctrine of one supreme and of many inferior gods prevailed; and for this reason he is the more excusable when he prefers atheism to such idolatry.
As to the grace of God, says Bayle, the Pagans and the atheists are equally destitute of it; and none have it besides the regenerate, who cannot lose it, and who are predestinated to life eternal. Who taught him all this? Not the scriptures, from which he could not prove it; not the antient fathers, who were generally of a contrary opinion, and entertained favourable sentiments of the wiser Pagans; not human reason, which, according to him, was only a jack-a-lanthorn leading those who followed it into bogs and ditches; not the synod of Dort, and some modern supralapsarians, whom he despised in his heart. He only threw out this as an argumentum ad hominem; and he uses the same sort of argument when he tells us, with a serious face, that Epiphanius, Jerom, and other doctors of divinity, antient and modern, have declared heresy to be worse than atheism ! As if there were any absurdity, that some doctor, as well as some philosopher, has not maintained! Jerom's learning and abilities deserve to be honoured, but his impetuous temper is no secret to those who have looked into his writings. When he was warmed with disputing, he would call
Hunc Furiam, hunc aliud, jussit quod splendida bilis.'
There have been Pagans who have believed in one God, great and good, and in inferior deities deriving their powers and perfections from the Father of gods and men, themselves good and beneficent, and guilty of none of those vices and follies which poetical and fabulous history ascribed to them; they have also perhaps believed that there were malevolent dæmons, who were sometimes permitted to do mischief, but who were subject to the power and control of the deity; and certainly such a religion (though accompanied with some degree of superstition, together with a belief of the honestum and the turpe, and with a tolerable system of mo
See The imperfect Promulgation of the Gospel considered,' in a very good sermon, by Bishop Bradford.
rality, and with some conjectural hopes of a life after this, is far preferable to atheism, to the doctrine that a God, and a Providence, and another state, are
Rumores vacui, verbaque inania,
Et par sollicito fabula somnio.'
I pretend not to deny that some atheists of old had notions of the honestum and the turpe, and might act suitably to them: yet surely they had not so many motives to virtue as the Pagans of whom I am now speaking.
But, says Bayle, if you had examined these Pagans, and reasoned with them concerning the supreme God, you would have found that they entertained some notions, the consequences of which were absurd, and would have destroyed the fair idea. And is not that the case of some Jews and Christians? Men must not be charged with all the consequences which may, perhaps, regularly follow from their notions, whilst they neither draw them, nor perceive them, nor own them.
Which system is best, that of Socrates, or that of Epicurus? that of the Platonics, or Stoics, or that of Hobbes, of Spinoza, and perhaps of Bayle, who too often made a bad use of his great abilities; and who taught that a man could not believe that God was good and wise, and that Christianity was true, without sacrificing reason to faith,' or, in plain English, without renouncing common sense?
This ingenious and unaccountable author had frequent
Spinoza has endeavoured to show that there can be no such thing as liberty, and that there is no God. But how? By a system of jargon, adorned at proper distances with Q. E. D. Great is the force of initial letters! Yet has this absurd and cloudy philosopher found admirers and disciples, who have followed him, as they say the tiger follows the rhinoceros, to eat his excrements. Spinoza held a plenum, which was necessary for his purpose. If there be a vacuum, Spinoza's god, or the material world, is a limited, imperfect substance, and depends on some cause. Absolute perfection neither requires nor admits a cause, or an antecedent reason; but of limitation and imperfection there must be some cause. Spinoza would have owned this consequence from the admission of a vacuum; for he says, that what is necessarily existing must be infinite. He should therefore have proved the existence of a plenum: 'Quod erat demonstrandum,' The doctrine of a vacuum is the spunge of all atheistical systems.
quarrels with reason, which at last ran so high, that he gave her a bill of divorce, and turned her out of doors, with Res tuas tibi habeto.' And yet, when he had discarded her, he would reason against her. That is,
Nec tecum possum vivere, nec sine te:
an absurdity which sticks, like the shirt of Hercules, to all those, of all denominations, who argue against reason as against a false and fallacious guide. To rail at her, and call her names, though it be not so genteel, yet is rather less ridiculous, for she will never furnish arms against herself. But these persons are usually as fond of their notions as Job was of his integrity; they hold them fast, and will not let them go:' and who would dispute with those, who, upon their own principles, must neither give nor take a reason?
'Mr. Bayle a prétendu prouver qu'il valoit mieux être athée qu'idolâtre; c'est à dire en d'autres termes, qu'il est moins dangereux de n'avoir point de tout de religion, que d'en avoir une mauvaise.
Dire que la religion n'est pas un motif réprimant, parce qu'elle ne réprime pas toûjours, c'est dire que les loix civiles ne sont pas un motif réprimant non plus. C'est mal raisonner contre la religion de rassembler dans un grand ouvrage une longue énumération des maux qu'elle a produits, si l'on ne fait de même celle des biens qu'elle a faits. Si je voulois raconter tous les maux qu'ont produit dans le monde les loix civiles, la monarchie, le gouvernement républicain, je dirois des choses effroyables. Quand il seroit inutile que les sujets eussent une religion, il ne le seroit pas que les princes en eussent, et qu'ils blan chissent d'écume le seul frein, que ceux qui ne craignent pas les loix humaines puissent avoir.
'La question n'est pas de sçavoir, s'il vaudroit mieux qu'un certain homme ou qu'un certain peuple n'eut point de religion, que d'abuser de celle qu'il a; mais de sçavoir quel est le moindre mal, que l'on abuse quelquefois de la religion, ou qu'il n'y en aît point du-tout parmi les
Pour diminuer l'horreur de l'athéisme on charge trop l'idolatrie.
Il convient que (dans le gouvernement despotique) il y
ait quelque livre sacré qui serve de règle.-Le code religieux supplée au code civil, et fixe l'arbitraire.
Le roi de Perse est le chef de la religion, mais l'Alcoran règle la religion : l'empéreur de la Chine est le souverain pontife, mais il y a des livres qui sont entre les mains de tout le monde, auxquels il y doit lui-même se conformer. En vain un empéreur voulut-il les abolir; ils triomphèrent de la tyrannie.' L'Esprit des Loix, l. xxiv. ch. 2. 1. xii. ch. 29. l. xxv. ch. 8.
Je ne suis pas du sentiment (de Mr. Bayle) que l'athéisme soit préferable à l'idolatrie Payenne, en tout sens. Pour repondre à la question, il faudroit, ce me semble, premièrement distinguer des societez, les opinions considerées d'une manière abstraite, et faire d'un côté la déscription de l'athéisme, et de l'autre celle de l'idolatrie. L'on trouveroit peut-être qu'il y a telle idolatrie, qui seroit préférable à l'athéisme, et telle autre qui seroit pire. Ainsi, je ne puis répondre ni oui, ni non, à la question géneralle de Mr. Bayle. En second lieu, quand il s'agiroit de considérer, non les opinions en général, mais les sociétez en elles mêmes, qui feroient profession de l'idolatrie Payenne, ou de l'athéisme; il faudroit encore faire de grandes distinctions, et diviser la question en plusieurs propositions, selon les différens cas que l'on poseroit, et auxquels on répondroit négativement, ou affirmativement, suivant leur diversité. Je n'ai ni le loisir ni la volonté de m'appliquer à cette sorte de recherche, et je n'en aurois même rien dit, si Mr. Bayle ne m'avoit fait l'honneur de me citer entre ceux qu'il croit être de son sentiment, dans l'Article lxxvii. de la Continuation des Pensées diverses sur les Cometes.' Le Clerc, Bibl. Chois. v. 202.
'Si ce qu'on nous dit des opinions, des loix, et des mœurs des sujets des Yncas est vrai, il n'y a point eu d'empire idolâtre dans les autres parties du monde, sans en excepter ceux des nations les plus polies et les plus savantes, où il y ait eu de si bonnes loix, et où elles aient été si bien observées. La religion, qui consistoit principalement à adorer et à sacrifier au soleil-non des victimes humainesmais des bêtes et d'autres choses, a été la moins gâtée, qu'il y ait eu parmi les idolatres. Outre le Soleil, ils disoient qu'il y avoit une autre divinité. Ils parloient de ce Dieu,