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causes, but true philosophers admit them; and, as is elsewhere observed,* a catechist announces God to children, and Newton demonstrates him to the wise.
If there be atheists, who are to blame?—who but the mercenary tyrants of our souls, who, while disgusting us with their knavery, urge some weak spirits to deny the God whom such monsters dishonour? How often have the people's bloodsuckers forced overburdened citizens to revolt against the king !
Men who have fattened on our substance, cry out to us-Be persuaded that an ass spoke; believe that a fish swallowed a man, and threw him up three days, after, safe and sound, on the shore: doubt not that the God of the universe ordered one Jewish prophet to eat excrement; and another to buy two prostitutes, and have bastards by them :-—such are the words put into the mouth of the God of purity and truth! Believe a hundred things either visibly abominable or mathematically impossible: otherwise the God of Mercy will burn you in hell-fire, not only for millions of millions of ages, but for all eternity, whether you have a body or have not a body.
These brutal absurdities are revolting to rash and weak minds as well as to firm and wise ones. They say-Our teachers represent God to us as the most in sensate and barbarous of all beings; therefore, there is no God. But they ought to say-Our teachers represent God as furious and ridiculous, therefore God is the reverse of what they describe him ; he is as wise and good as they say he is foolish and wicked. Thus do the wise decide. But, if a fanatic hears. them, he denounces them to a magistrate, a sort of priest's officer, which officer has them burned alive, I thinking that he is therein imitating and avenging the Divine Majesty which he insults. * Article Atheist. + See FRAUD.
In our own days, by a legal fiction, they are imprisoned during pleasure or for life.-T.
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SECTION I. Tuert were once many atheists among the Christians; they are now much fewer. It at first appears to be a paradox, but examination proves it to be a truth, that theology often threw men's minds into atheism, until philosophy at length drew them out of it. It must indeed have been pardonable to doubt of the Divinity, when his only announcers disputed on his nature. Nearly all the first Fathers of the Church made God corporeal; and others, after them, giving him no extent, lodged him in a part of heaven. According to some, he had created the world in Time; while, according to others, he had created Time itself. Some gave him a son like to himself; others would not grant that the son was like to the father. It was also disputed in what way'a third person proceeded from the other two.
It was agitated whether the son had been, while on earth, composed of two persons. So that the question undesignedly became, whether there were five persons in the Divinity-three in heaven and two for Jesus Christ upon earth; or four persons, reckoning Christ upon earth as only one; or three persons, considering Christ only as God. There were disputes about his mother, his descent into hell and into limbo; the manner in which the body of the God-man was eaten and the blood of the God-man was drunk; on grace; on the saints, and a thousand other matters.
When the confidants of the Divinity were seen so much åt variance among themselves, anathematising one another from age to age, but all agreeing in an immoderate thirst for riches and grandeur,—while on the other hand were beheld the prodigious number of crimes and miseries which afflicted the earth, and of which many were caused by the very disputes of these teachers of souls, -it must be confessed that it was allowable for rational men to doubt the existence of a being so strangely ans nounced, and for men of sense to imagine that a God, who could of his own free will make so many beings miserable, did not exist.
Suppose, for example, a natural philosopher of the fifteenth century, reading these words in St. Thomas's Dream—Virtus cæli, loco spermatis, sufficit cum elementis et putrefactione ad generationem animalium imperfectorum"_“The virtue of heaven, instead of seed, is sufficient, with the elements and putrefaction, for the generation of imperfect animals.” Our philosopher would reason thus: if corruption suffices with the elements to produce unformed animals, it would appear that a little more corruption with a little more heat would also produce animals more complete. The virtue of heaven is here no other than the virtue of nature. I shall then think with Epicurus and St. Thomas, that
from the slime of the earth and the
rays of the sun ;-a noble origin too, for beings so wretched and so wicked. Why should I admit a creating God, presented to me under so many contradictory and revolting aspects ? But at length physics arose, and with them philosophy. Then it was clearly discovered that the mud of the Nile produced not a single insect, nor a single ear of corn, and men were found to acknowledge throughout germs, relations, means, and an astonishing correspondence among all beings. The particles of light have been followed, which, go from the sun to enlighten the globe and the ring of Saturn, at the distance of three hundred millions of leagues, then, coming to the earth, form two opposite angles in the eye of the minutest insect, and paint all nature on its retina. A philosopher was given to the world, who discovered the simple and sublime laws by which the celestial globes move in the immensity of space. Thus the work of the universe, now that it is better known, bespeaks a workman; and so many never-varying laws, announce a lawgiver. Sound philosophy, therefore, has destroyed atheism, to which obscure theology furnished weapons of defence.
But one resource was left for the small number of difficult minds, which, being more forcibly struck by the pretended injustices* of a supreme being than by
* See GOOD AND EVIL.
his wisdom, were obstinate in denying this first mover. Nature has existed from all eternity; everything in nature is in motion, therefore everything in it continually changes. And if everything is for ever changing; all possible combinations must take place; therefore the present combination of all things may have been the effect of this eternal motion and change alone. Take six dice, and it is 46,655 to one that you do not throw six times six; but still there is that one chance in 46,656. So, in the infinity of ages, any one of the infinite number of combinations, as that of the present arrangement of the universe, is not impossible.
Minds, otherwise rational, have been misled by these arguments; but they have not considered that there is infinity against them, and that there certainly is not in. finity against the existence of God. They should moreover consider, that if everything were changing, the smallest things could not remain unchanged, as they have so long done. They have at least no reason to advance, why new species are not formed every day On the contrary, it is very probable that a powerful hand, superior to these continual changes, keeps all species within the bounds it has prescribed themi Thus the philosopher who acknowledges a God, has a number of probabilities on his side, while the atheist has only doubts.
It is evident that in morals it is much better to acknowledge a God than not to admit one. - It is certainly the interest of all men that there should be a Divinity to punish what human justice cannot repress; but it is also clear that it were better to acknowledge no God than to worship a barbarous one, and offer him human victims, as so niany nations have done.
We have one striking example, which places this truth beyond a doubt. The Jews, under Moses, had no idea of the immortality of the soul, nor of a future state, Their lawgiver announced to them, from God, only rewards and punishments purely temporal; they therefore had only this life to provide for. Moses commands the Levites to kill twenty-three thousand of their brethren, for having had a golden or gilded calf.
On another occasion, twenty-four thousand of them are massacred for having had commerce with the young women of the country; and twelve thousand are struck dead, because some few of them had wished to support the ark, which was near falling. It may, with perfect reverence for the decrees of Providence, be affirmed, humanly speaking, that it would have been much better for these fifty-nine thousand men, who believed in no future state, to have been absolute atheists and have lived, than to have been massacred in the name of the God whom they acknowledged.
It is quite certain that atheism is not taught in the schools of the learned of China ;
of those learned men are atheists, for they are indifferent philosophers. Now it would undoubtedly be better to live with them at Pekin, enjoying the mildness of their manners and their laws, than to be at Goa, liable to groan in irons, in the prisons of the Inquisition, until brought out in a brimstone-coloured garment, variegated with devils, to perish in the flames.
They who have maintained that a society of atheists may exist, have then been right; for it is laws that form society; and these atheists, being moreover philosophers, may lead a very wise and very happy life under the shade of those laws. They will certainly live in society more easily than superstitious fanatics. People one town with Epicureans such as Simonides, Protagoras, Des Barreaux, Spinosa; and another with Jansenists and Molinists;- in which do you
think there will be the most quarrels and tumults ? Atheism, considering it only with relation to this life, would be very dangerous among a ferocious people; and false ideas of the Divinity would be no less pernicious. Most of the great men of this world live as if they were atheists. Every man who has lived with his eyes open, knows that the knowledge of a God, his presence, and his justice, have not the slightest influence over the wars, the treaties, the objects of ambition, interest, or pleasure, in the pursuit of which they are wholly occupied. Yet we do not see that they grossly violate the rules established in society. It is much more agreeable