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to pass our lives among them than among the super stitious and fanatical. I do, it is true, expect more justice from one who believes in a God than from one who has no such belief; but from the superstitious I look only for bitterness and persecution. Atheism and fanaticism are two monsters, which may tear society in pieces : but the atheist preserves his reason, which checks his propensity to mischief, while the fanatic is under the influence of a madness which is constantly urging him on.
In England, as everywhere else, there have been, and there still are, many atheists by principle; for there are none but young inexperienced preachers, very ill: informed of what passes in the world, who affirm that there cannot be atheists. I have known some in France, who were very good natural philosophers; and have, I own, been very much surprised that men, who could so ably develope the secret springs of nature, should obstinately refuse to acknowledge the hand which so evidently puts those springs in action.
It appears to me that one of the principles which lead them to materialism is, that they believe in the plenitude and infinity of the universe and the eternity of matter. It must be this which misleads them ; for almost all the Newtonians whom I have met with, admit the void and the termination of matter, and consequently admit a God.
Indeed, if matter be infinite, as so many philosophers, even including Descartes, pretend, it has of itself one of the attributes of the Supreme Being: if a void be impossible, matter exists of necessity, it has existed from all eternity. With these principles, therefore, we may dispense with a God, creating, modifying, and preserving matter.
I am aware that Descartes, and most of the schools which have believed in the plenum, and the infinity of matter, have nevertheless admitted a God; but this is only because men scarcely ever reason or act upon their principles.
Had men reasoned consequentially, Epicurus' and his apostle Lucretius must have been the most religious assertors of the Providence which they combated; for when they admitted the void and the termination of matter, a truth of which they had only an imperfect glimpse, it necessarily followed that matter was the being of necessity, existing by itself, since it was not indefinite: they had, therefore, in their own philosophy, and in their own despite, a demonstration that there is a Supreme Being, necessary, infinite, the fabricator of the universe. Newton's philosophy, which
admits and proves the void and finite matter, also ! demonstratively proves the existence of a God.
Thus I regard true philosophers as the apostles of the Divinity. Each class of men requires its particular ones: a parish catechist tells children that there is a God, but Newton proves it to the wise.
In London, under Charles II. after Cromwell's wars, as at Paris under Henry IV. after the war of the Guises, people took great pride in being atheists : having passed from the excess of cruelty to that of pleasure, and corrupted their minds successively by war and by voluptuousness, they reasoned very indifferently: since then, the more nature has been studied the better its author has been known.
One thing I will venture to believe, which is, that of all religions, theism is the most widely spread in the world: it is the prevailing religion of China; it is that of the wise among the Mahometans; and, among Christian philosophers, eight out of ten are of the same opinion. It has penetrated even into the schools of theology, into the cloisters, into the conclave; it is a sort of sect without association, without worship, without ceremonies, without disputes, and without zeal, spread through the world without having been preached. Theism, like Judaism, is to be found amidst all religions; but it is singular that the latter, which is the extreme of superstition, abhorred by the people, and contemned by the wise, is everywhere tolerated for money; while the former, which is the opposite of superstition, unknown to the people, and embraced by philosophers alone, is publicly exercised nowhere but in China.
There is no country in Europe where there are more theists than in England. Some persons ask whether they have a religion or not.
There are two sorts of theists. The one sort think that God made the world without giving man rules for good and evil. It is clear that these should have no other name than that of philosophers.
The others believe that God gave to man a natural law: these, it is certain, have a religion, though they have no external worship. They are, with reference to the Christian religion, peaceful enemies, which she carries in her bosom; they renounce without any design of destroying her. All other sects desire to predominate, like political bodies, which seek to feed on the substance of others, and rise upon their ruin: theism alone has always lain quiet. Theists have never been found caballing any
state. There was in London a society of theists, who for some time continued to meet together. They had a small book of their laws, in which religion, on which so many ponderous volumes have been written, occupied only two pages. Their principal axiom was this
Morality is the same among all men, therefore it comes from God; worship is various, therefore it is the work of man.
The second axiom was, “That men being all brethren, and acknowledging the same God, it is execrable that brethren should persecute brethren, because they testify their love for the common father in a different manner. Indeed,” said they, “what upright man would kill his elder or his younger brother, because one of them had saluted their father after the Chinese, and the other after the Dutch fashion, especially while it was undecided in what way the father wished their reverence to be made to him? Surely, he who should act thus, would be a bad brother rather than a good son."
I am well aware that these maxims lead directly to “ the abominable and execrable dogma of toleration;"
but I do no more than simply relate the fact. I am very careful not to become a controversialist. It must, however, be allowed, that if the different sects into which Christians have been divided had possessed this moderation, Christianity would have been disturbed by fewer disorders, shaken by fewer revolutions, and stained with less blood.
Let us pity the theists for combating our holy revelation. But whence comes it that so many Calvinists, Lutherans, Anabaptists, Nestorians, Arians, partisans of Rome, and enemies of Rome, have been so sanguinary, so barbarous, and so miserable, now persecuting, now persecuted ? It is because they have been the multitude. Whence is it that theists, though in error, have never done harm to mankind ? Because they have been philosophers. The Christian religion has cost the human species seventeen millions of men, reckoning only one million per century, who have perished, either by the hands of the ordinary executioner, or by those of executioners paid and led to battle,--all for the salvation of souls and the greater glory of God."
I have heard men express astonishment, that a religion so moderate, and so apparently conformable to reason, as theism, has not been spread among the people.
Among the great and little vulgar may be found pious herb-women, Molinist duchesses, scrupulous sempstresses who would go to the stake for anabaptism,--devout hackney-coachmen, most determined in the cause of Luther or of Arius, but no theists: for theism cannot so much be called a religion as a system of philosophy; and the vulgar, whether great or little, are not philosophers.
Locke was a declared theist. I was astonished to find in that great philosopher's chapter on innate ideas, that men have all different ideas of justice. Were such the case, morality would no longer be the same; the voice of God would not be heard by man; natural religion would be at an end. I am willing to believe with him, that there are nations in which men eat their fathers, and where to lie with a neighbour's wife is to do him a friendly office: but if this be true, it does not prove that the law, “ Do not unto others that which you would not have others do unto you,” is not general. For if a father be eaten, it is when he has grown old, is too feeble to crawl along, and would otherwise be eaten by the enemy; and, I ask, what father would not furnish a good meal to his son rather than to the enemies of his nation?. Besides, be who eats his father, hopes that he in turn shall be eaten by his children.
If a service be rendered to a neighbour by lying with his wife, it is when he cannot himself have a child, and is desirous of having one: otherwise, he would be very angry. In both these cases, and in all others, the natural law, “Do not to another that which you would nothave another do to you,” remains unbroken. All the other rules, so different and so varied, may be referred to this. When, therefore, the wise metaphysician Locke, says that men have no innate ideas, that they have different ideas of justice and injustice, he, assuredly, does not mean to assert that God has not given to all men that instinctive self-love by which they are of necessity guided.*
EPICURUS, equally great as a genius, and respectable in his morals; and after him Lucretius, who forced the Latin language to express philosophical ideas,-and, to the great admiration of Rome, to express them in verse ;-Epicurus and Lucretius, I
say, admitted atoms and the void : Gassendi supported this doctrine, and Newton demonstrated it. In vain did a remnant of Cartesianism still combat for the plenum; in vain did Leibnitz, who had at first adopted the rational system of Epicurus, Lucretius, Gassendi, and Newton, change his opinion respecting the void, after he had embroiled himself with his master Newton: the plenum is now regarded as a chimera.
* See articles Self-Love, ATHEISM, and Theism.