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XVI.—OF ATHEISM. I had rather believe all the fables in the legend, and the Talmud, and the Alcoran, than that this universal frame is without a mind; and, therefore, God never wrought miracle to convince atheism, because his ordinary works convince it. It is true, that a little philosophy 8 inclineth man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion ; for while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may some. times rest in them, and go no further; but when it beholdeth the chain of them confederate, and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity. Nay, even that school which is most accused of atheism, doth most demonstrate religion: that is, the school of Leucippus,4 and Democritus, and Epicurus; for it is a thousand times more credible that four mutable elements, and one immutable fifth essence,& duly and eternally placed, need no
1 He probably alludes to the legends or miraculous stories of the saints; such as walking with their heads off, preaching to the fishes, sailing over the sea on a cloak, &c. &c."
2 This is the book that contains the Jewish traditions, and the rabbinical explanations of the law. It is replete with wonderful narratives.
3 This passage not improbably contains the germ of Pope's famous lines:
“ A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring." 4 A philosopher of Abdera; the first who taught the system of atoms, which was afterwards more fully developed by Democritus and Epicurus.
5 He was a disciple of the last-named philosopher, and held the same principles; he also denied the existence of the soul after death. He is considered to have been the parent of experimental philosophy, and was the first to teach, what is now confirmed by science, that the Milky Way is an accumulation of stars.
God, than that an army of infinite small portions, or seeds unplaced, should have produced this order and beauty without a divine marshal. The Scripture saith, “ The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God;" 1 it is not said, “ The fool hath thought in his heart;” so as he rather saith it by rote to himself, as that he would have, than that he can thoroughly believe it, or be persuaded of it; for none deny there is a God, but those for whom it maketh 2 that there were no God. It appeareth in nothing more, that atheism is rather in the lip than in the heart of man, than by this, that atheists will ever be talking of that their opinion, as if they fainted in it within themselves, and would be glad to be strengthened by the consent of others; nay more, you shall have atheists strive to get disciples, as it fareth with other sects; and, which is most of all, you shall have of them that will suffer for atheism, and not recant; whereas, if they did truly think that there were no such thing as God, why should they trouble themselves ? Epicurus is charged, that he did but dissemble for his credit's sake, when he affirmed there were blessed natures, but such as enjoyed themselves without having respect to the government of the world. Wherein they say he did temporize, though in secret he thought there was no God; but certainly he is traduced, for his words are noble and divine: “Non Deos vulgi negare profanum ; sed vulgi opiniones Diis applicare profanum.” 3 Plato could have said
1 Psalm xiv. 1, and liii. 1.
2 To whose (seeming) advantage it is; the wish being father to the the
3“ It is not profane to deny the existence of the deities of the vulgar; but, to apply to the divinities the received notions of the vulgar, is profane." - Diog. Laert. x. 123.
no more ; and, although he had the confidence to deny the administration, he had not the power to deny the nature. The Indians of the west have names for their particular gods, though they have no name for God; as if the heathens should have had the names Jupiter, Apollo, Mars, &c., but not the word Deus, which shows that even those barbarous people have the notion, though they have not the latitude and extent of it; so that against atheists the very savages take part with the very subtlest philosophers. The contemplative atheist is rare; a Diagoras, a Bion, a Lucian, perhaps, and some others, and yet they seem to be more than they are; for that all that impugn a received religion, or superstition, are, by the adverse part, branded with the name of atheists. But the great atheists indeed are hypocrites, which are ever handling holy things, but without feeling, so as they must needs be cauterized in the end. The causes of atheism are: divisions in religion, if they be many; for any one main division addeth zeal to both sides, but many divisions introduce atheism. Another is, scandal of priests, when it is come to that which St. Bernard saith : “Non est jam dicere, ut populus, sic
1 He alludes to the native tribes of the continent of America and the West Indies.
2 He was an Athenian philosopher, who, from the greatest superstition, became an avowed atheist. He was proscribed by the Areiopagus for speaking against the gods with ridicule and contempt, and is supposed to have died at Corinth.
8 A Greek philosopher, a disciple of Theodorus the atheist, to whose opinions he adhered. His life was said to have been profligate, and his death superstitious.
4 Lucian ridiculed the follies and pretensions of some of the ancient philosophers; but though the freedom of his style was such as to cause him to be censured for impiety, he hardly deserves the stigma of atheism here cast upon him by the learned author.
sacerdos ; quia nec sic populus, ut sacerdos.” 1 A third is, custom of profane scoffing in holy matters, which doth by little and little deface the reverence of religion : and, lastly, learned times, specially with peace and prosperity ; for troubles and adversities do more bow men's minds to religion. They that deny a God destroy a man's nobility, for certainly man is of kin to the beasts by his body; and if he be not of kin to God by his spirit, he is a base and ignoble creature. It destroys likewise magnanimity, and the raising of human nature; for, take an example of a dog, and mark what a generosity and courage he will put on when he finds himself maintained by a man, who, to him, is instead of a God, or “ melior natura ; ” 2 which courage is manifestly such as that creature, without that confidence of a better nature than his own, could never attain. So man, when he resteth and assureth himself upon divine protection and favor, gathereth a force and faith, which human nature in itself could not obtain ; therefore, as atheism is in all respects hateful, so in this, that it depriveth human nature of the means to exalt itself above human frailty. As it is in particular persons, so it is in nations : never was there such a state for magnanimity as Rome. Of this state hear what Cicero saith: “ Quam volumus, licet, Patres conscripti, nos amemus, tamen nec numero Hispanos, nec robore Gallos, nec calliditate Pænos, nec artibus Græcos, nec denique hoc ipso hujus
1“ It is not for us now to say, 'Like priest like people,' for the people are not even so bad as the priest." St. Bernard, abbot of Clairvaux, preached the second Crusade against the Saracens, and was unsparing in his censures of the sins then prevalent among the Christian priesthood. His writings are voluminous, and by some he has been considered as the latest of the fathers of the Church.
2“ A superior nature."
gentis et terræ domestico nativoque sensu Italos ipsos et Latinos; sed pietate, ac religione, atque hâc unâ sapientiâ, quod Deorum immortalium numine omnia regi, gubernarique perspeximus, omnes gentes, nationesque superavimus." I
XVII.—OF SUPERSTITION. It were better to have no opinion of God at all, than such an opinion as is unworthy of him ; for the one is unbelief, the other is contumely,” and certainly superstition is the reproach of the Deity. Plutarch saith well to that purpose: “ Surely," saith he, “I had rather a great deal men should say there was no such man at all as Plutarch, than that they should say that there was one Plutarch that would eat his children 8 as soon as they were born," as the poets speak of Saturn; and, as the contumely is greater towards God, so the danger is greater towards men. Atheism leaves a man to
1“ We may admire ourselves, conscript fathers, as much as we please; still, neither by numbers did we vanquish the Spaniards, nor by bodily strength the Gauls, nor by cunning the Carthaginians, nor through the arts the Greeks, nor, in fine, by the inborn and native good sense of this our nation, and this our race and soil, the Italians and Latins themselves; but through our devotion and our religious feeling, and this, the sole true wisdom, the having perceived that all things are regulated and governed by the providence of the immortal Gods, have we subdued all races and nations." - Cic. de Harus. Respon. 9.
2 The justice of this position is, perhaps, somewhat doubtful. The superstitious man must have some scruples, while he who believes not in a God, (if there is such a person,) needs have none.
8 Time was personified in Saturn, and by this story was meant its tendency to destroy whatever it has brought into existence. - Plut. de Superstit. x.