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CHAP. VIII.

MYSTERIES AND DOGMAS OF CHRISTIANITY.

NOT content with having enveloped their God in mysterious clouds and Judaic fables, the teachers of Christianity seem to be still busied in the multiplication of mysteries, and embarrassing more and more the reason of their disciples. Religion, designed to enlighten mankind, is only a tissue of enigmas; a labyrinth which sound sense can never explore. That which ancient superstitions found most incomprehensible, seems not unaptly to be interwoven with a religious system, which imposes eternal silence on reason. The fatalism of the Grecians has been transformed, in the hands of Christian priests, into predestination. According to this tyrannic dogma, the God of mercies has destined the greatest part of mankind to eternal torments. He places them in this world that they, by the abuse of their faculties and liberty, may render themselves worthy of the implacable wrath of their creator. A benevolent and prescient God gives to mankind a free will, of which he knows they will make so perverse an use, as to merit eternal damnation. Thus, instead of punishing them with the propensities necessary to their happiness, he permits them to act, only that he may have the pleasure of plunging them into hell. Nothing, can be more horrid than the description given us by Christians of this place, destined to be the future residence of almost all mankind. There a merciful God will, throughout an eternity, bathe himself in the tears of wretches, whom he created for misery. Sinners, shut up in this awful dungeon, will be delivered up for ever to devouring flames. There shall be heard weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth. The torments of this place shall, at the end of millions of years, have only begun. The consoling hope of a distant mitigation of pain shall be unknown. In one word, God, by an act of his omnipotence, shall render man capable of miseries uninterrupted, and interminable. His justice will punish finite crimes, the effects of which are limited by time, by torments infinite in degree and duration. Such is the idea a Christian forms of the God that demands his love. This tyrant creates him only to render him miserable; he gives him reason to deceive him, and propensities to lead him astray. He gives him liberty, that he may incur eternal ruin. He gives him advantages above the beasts, that he may be subjected to torments, which beasts, like inanimate substances, are incapable of suffering. The dogma of predestination represents the lot of man as worse than, that of brutes and stones. [45:1]

It is true, the Christian religion promises a blissful residence to those whom God shall have chosen to be objects of his love. But this place is reserved only for a small number of elect, who, without any merit in themselves, shall, nevertheless, have unbounded claims upon the grace of God.

Thus, the Tartarus and Elysium of the heathen mythology, invented by impostors to awe and seduce mankind, have been transplanted into the system of the Christians, who have given them the new appellation of Heaven and Hell.

The followers of the Christian religion believe in a race of invisible beings, different from man and subordinate to God, part of whom is employed in executing the wrath of God upon offenders; and part in watching over his works, and particularly the preservation of man. The former, being malevolent spirits, are called devils, demons, &c., the latter, being benevolent spirits, are called angels. They are supposed to leave the faculty of rendering themselves sensible, and taking the human form. Good angels are, in the imagination of Christians, what the Nymphs, Lares, and Pernates, were imagined to be by the heathens, and what the Fairies were with writers of romances. The sacred books of the Jews and Christians are replete with these marvellous beings, whom God has sent to his favourites to be their guides, protectors, and tutelar deities.

Devils are considered as the enemies and seducers of the human race, and perpetually busied in drawing them into sin. A power is attributed to them of performing miracles, similar to those wrought by the Most High; and, above, a power that counteracts his, and renders all his projects abortive. In fact, the Christian religion does not formally allow the same power to the devil as to God; nevertheless, it supposes that malevolent Being prevents mankind from entering into the enjoyment of the felicity destined them by the goodness of God, and leads most of them into eternal Perdition. Christians, however, do virtually attribute to the devil an empire much more extensive than that of the Supreme Being. The latter, with difficulty, saves a few elect; while the former carries off, in spite of him, the greater part of mankind, who listen to his destructive temptations, rather than the absolute commands of God. This Satan, the cause of so much terror to Christians, was evidently borrowed from the doctrine of two principles, formerly admitted in Egypt and all the East. The Osyris and Typhon of the Egyptians, the Orosmades and Aharimanes of the Persians and Chaldeans, have undoubtedly given birth to the continual war between the God of Christians and his formidable adversary. By this system mankind have endeavoured to account for all the good and evil with which life is chequered. An Almighty Devil serves to justify the Supreme Being with respect to all necessary and unremitted evils which afflict the human race.

Such are the dreadful and mysterious doctrines upon which Christians in general are agreed. There are many others which arc peculiar to different sects. Thus, a numerous sect of Christians admit an intermediate state between heaven and hell, where souls, too sinful for the former and too innocent for the latter, are subjected for a time, in order to expiate by their sufferings the sin they commit in this life; after undergoing this punishment, they are received into the abodes of eternal felicity. This doctrine, which was evidently drawn from the reveries of Plato, has, in the hands of the Roman priests, been converted into an inexhaustible source of riches. They have arrogated to themselves the power of opening the gates of purgatory, and pretend that, by their prayers, they can mitigate the rigour of the divine decrees, and abridge the torments of the souls, condemned to this place by a just God. [46:1]

The preceding remarks show, that the Christian religion has been often inculcated and spread by dint of terror. By striking mankind with horror they render them submissive, and remove all his dependence on his reason. [47:1]


[45:1] The doctrine of predestination was also a tenet of the Jews. In the writings of Moses, a God is exhibited, who, in his decrees, is partially fond of a chosen people, and unjust to all others. The theology and history of the Greeks represent men as punished for necessary crimes, foretold by oracles. Of this Orestes, Oedipus, Ajax, &c. are examples. Mankind have always described God as the most unjust of all beings. According to the Jansenists, God bestows his grace on whom he pleases, without any regard to merit. This is much more conformable to the Christian, Pagan, and Jewish fatalism, than the doctrine of the Molinists, that God grants his grace to all who ask and deserve it. It is certain that Christians in general are true fatalists. They evade this accusation, by declaring that the designs of God are mysteries. If so, why do they eternally dispute about them?

[46:1] It is evident that the Roman Catholics are indebted to Plato for their Purgatory. That great philosopher divided souls into three classes; the pure, the curable, and the incurable. The first returned, by refusion, to the universal soul of the world, or the divinity, from which they had emanated; the second went to hell, where they passed in review every year before the judges of that dark empire, who suffered them to return to light when they had sufficiently expiated their faults; the incurables remained in Tartarus, where they were to suffer eternal torment. Plato, as well as Christian casuists, described the crimes, faults, &c. which merit those different degrees of punishment.

Protestant Divines, jealous probably of the riches of the Catholic clergy, have imprudently rejected the doctrine of a Purgatory, whereby they have much diminished their own credit. It would, perhaps, have been wiser to have rejected the doctrine of an hell, whence souls can never be released, than that of Purgatory, which is more reasonable, and from which the clergy can deliver souls by means of that all-powerful agent, money.

[47:1] Mahomet perceived, as well as Christian Divines, the necessity of frightening mankind, in order to govern them. "Those," says the Alcoran, "who do not believe, shall be clothed in a garment of fire; boiling water shall he poured on their heads; their skins and their entrails shall be smitten with rods of iron. Whenever they shall Strive to escape from hell, and avoid its torments, they shall be thrust again into it; and the devils say unto them: 'taste the pain of burning'." See Alcoran, ch. viii.


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