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his hypothefis might be received with the lefs oppofition, they thought it neceffary to remove the ignominious character of impiety, under which their philofopher had long lain. And it is indeed very natural for a man, who has embraced another's notions and principles, to believe well of his mafter, and to stand up in the defence of his reputation. The learned Gaffendus is eminent above all others for the warm zeal he had expreffed, and the great pains he has taken, to vindicate the honour of Epicurus, and clear his character from the imputation of irreligion.
After the unhappy fate of Anaxagoras and the great Socrates, it is no wonder that the philofophers, who fucceeded, fhould grow more cautious in propagating their opinions, for fear of provoking the magiftrate, and making themfelves obnoxious to the laws of their country: and, if any had formed irreligious fchemes, it is to be fuppofed, they would take care to guard, as well as they could, against the punishment to be inflicted on all who denied the Gods, and derided the established worship. An Atheist cannot be supposed to be fond of fuffering, when pain and death are what he chiefly abhors: and therefore Epicurus, who, if Cicero and Plutarch knew his opinion, was a downright profeffed Atheist, has not in terms denied, but indeed afferted, the being of the Gods; and speaks honourably of them, fo far as regards the excellence of their nature, and their happinefs. But when he describes his Gods, and gives them a human face and limbs, and fays they are neither incorporeal nor corporeal,
poreal, but as it were corporeal; while he excludes them from any hand in making, or care in guiding and governing, the world, and undertakes to fhew that all things were brought about by mere chance, without any help or direction of the Gods, who are altogether unconcerned with human affairs, and regardless of our actions; he muft laugh in himself, and be suppofed to have formed this ridiculous idea of a Divine Being merely to escape the character of an impious philofopher. For though he owns the name of a God, by his description he intirely deftroys the Divine Nature. Nor do I think, that Ariftotle can be defended from the charge of Atheism; for while he affirms, that the world as to its formation, as well as its progreffion and duration, is independent on the Gods, and owes nothing to their power, wisdom, or providence, he utterly fubverts all pretence to religion and divine worship, and comes at laft into the dregs of the Epicurean fcheme: this, I believe, I have plainly proved in the following poem.
As to the modern Atheists, Vaninus, Hobbes, and Spinofa; I have spoken of them in their turn, and fhall not anticipate what is faid hereafter.
I have been determined to employ fome of my leifuré hours in writing on this fubject, by the melancholy reflection I have often made on the growth of prophanenefs, and the prevailing power of loose and irreligious principles in this nation.
It is a mortifying confideration to all who love mankind, and with well to their country, that this opinion has of late years, above the example of paft ages,
fpread its contagious influence fo far and wide, that now, emboldened by the power and number of its affertors, it becomes infolent and formidable. Thofe impious maxims, which a small party in the last age,. when inflamed with wine, vented in private, are now the entertainment of the coffee-houfe, publicly profeffed, and in many companies spoken of in cool blood,. as the ordinary subjects of converfation.
All ages have brought forth fome monfters, fome profeffors and patrons of irreligion monsters in re-fpect of their scarcenefs, as well as deformity; but the amazing abundance of thefe odious productions is, Ibelieve, peculiar to this fertile age. I am apt to think, that moft who were reckoned Atheifts in former reigns were rather unbridled libertines, than irreligious in principle but now we are fo far advanced, that the infection has feized the mind; the Atheift in practice is become one in fpeculation, and loosenefs of manners improved to intellectual impiety.
Many (which is without example) exprefs an ardent› zeal for prophaneness, are grown bigots in Atheism, and with great industry and application propagate theirprinciples, form parties, and concert measures to carry on with vigour the cause of irreligion. They carefs,. and are very fond of, thofe who boldly declare for impiety, and mock all religion as cheat and impos-ture. Thefe are wits, men of fenfè, of large and free. thoughts, and cannot fail of being men in fashion.. And as the renegades and deferters of Heaven, who renounce their God for the favour of men, and chufe
to grow popular at the dearest rate, are by many protected and applauded; fo there are places where a man, that has the affurance to own the belief of a Deity and a future ftate, would be exposed and laughed out of countenance. Hence many are tempted to conceal their notions of religion, for fear of blafting their reputation, and of being neglected and defpifed by those from whofe favour they expect profit or pro
Immediately after the Restoration, the people, intoxicated with the pleafures of peace, and influenced by the example of a loofe court, as well as from their great averfion to the former fanatical ftrictness and feverity of converfation, which they detefted as hypocrify, indulged themfelves in fenfual liberties, and by degrees funk deep into luxury and vice. Then it was that fome irreligious men, taking advantage of this growing diffolution of manners, began to propagate. their deteftable notions, and fow the feeds of prophanenefs and impiety, which sprung up apace, and flourished in proportion to the growth of immorality. Thus vice and irreligion, mutually affifting each other, extended their power by daily encroachments; and the folid temper and firmness of mind, which the people once poffeffed, being flackened and diffolved by the power of riot and forbidden pleasure, their judgement foon became vitiated; which corruption of taste has ever fince gradually increased, as the confederate powers of vice and prophaneness have fpread their infection, and gained upon religion.
While loofe principles and impious opinions pervert the judgment, a petulant humour that inclines men to give an air of levity and ridicule to all their difcourfes, and turn every thing to mirth and raillery, does in proportion get ground; this being efteemed the most successful method to weaken the power and authority of religion in the minds of men.
I would not here be underflood as if I condemned the qualifications of wit and pleafantry, but only the mifapplication of them. I fhall always retain a great value for ingenious men, provided they do not abuse and proftitute their talents to the worft purposes; I mean the deriding all fobriety of manners, and turning into jeft the principles which conflitute our duty here, and affure our happinefs hereafter. But can any man who reveres a God, and loves his country, ftand by unconcerned, while hoofe and prophane wits thew fo much zeal and diligence in propagating maxims, which tend fo directly to the dishonour of the one, and the ruin of the other?
Should Atheism and corruption of manners, those infeparable companions, which, as caufes and effects, mutually introduce and fupport each other, prevail much farther; fhould impious notions in any age hereafter generally infect the higheft, as well as the inferior ranks of men; what confufion of affairs must enfue! It would be impoffible to find men of principle to fill the places of truft and honour, or patrons to promote them: merit would incapacitate and difqualify for the favour of great men, and a religious C character