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Fear. Fear is, of all human infirmities, the most degrading : in the same degree as it takes possession of the human soul, it deprives it of rationality. But no fear has this fatal power in an equal extent with that which arises from the vague terrors of the imagination. Doloris modus est, timoris non item,* is a profound observation quoted by Bacon as from St. Augustin. Hence the immensurable power of religious fears : they extend as far as imagination has power to fly. Such being their nature, could they have been neglected by the designing and ambitious ? Since mankind has ever been divided into two parties those who by force and deceit are made to obey, and the authors and managers of that oppression—it is impossible but that imaginary fears should have been used, at all times, for the purpose of keeping the inferior classes of society in subjection. This explains why no society has hitherto existed without a religion, and its inseparable concomitant-a priesthood, whose art and employment are to subdue the human mind by mental, or, as they are more properly called, spiritual fears.t
It is a remarkable property of religious Fear that it
• There is a limit to pain, but none to fear.
+ Is there no exception made for the one true religion ?-No. The true religion does not employ the subduing Fear I speak of: Awe and Reverence it fully acknowledges ; but Fear is no source of Virtue.
may be made to rise from the conduct and opinions of others. It is not difficult to persuade the multitude, that the fierce anger of a Deity, who is represented as jealous and irritable, is excited against them, not only for their own misconduct, but for allowing others to act according to their will and judgment. The result of this persuasion must be a fierce hatred and indignation against those who expose the majority of a people to calamities, for which the sufferers would not have the gratification of sin. That a plague, a destruction by war or conflagration, should be occasioned (as people believe) for their own sins, is certainly much to be regretted; but that such evils fall indiscriminately upon a whole nation for the stubbornness of only a portion of the people, who will not conform with the majority in the established manner of worship or belief, requires more than human patience to endure. All the angry passions which dwell in the human breast arm themselves against the supposed offenders, and even the love of God knows no better method to exhibit itself than by the persecution of his enemies.
The history of the Jews presents many instances of this ardent zeal; but the same violence of religious feeling is found in all countries where the priesthood urge their followers to defend the honour of God from profanation. As the priesthood is the source of all information concerning God and his dealings with men, the effect of their exhortations must be the same as if God had exactly the character and passions of the Priests. The interests and passions of their followers, unchecked by remorse, nay, raised by the certain hope of reward, and even by the generous feelings of loyalty, must possess the souls of all who wish to escape the fury of Divine anger, or wish to secure to themselves the blessings of Divine favour.
When the Priest calls out: “Those that are for God, let them follow me,” who but dastardly cowards or impious men will not draw the sword for the Lord? How will the public indignation be kindled when every man and woman is reminded that the offence to be avenged is the cause of a plague which is rapidly devouring the people, and may soon carry off those who are dearer than life ?—The Jews, fol. lowers of Moses and Aaron, saw the victims of national disobedience fall by the hand of the avenging angel : such visible demonstration was necessary to the grossness of their hearts: the disciples of an infallible Church, or a self-interpreting inspired Bible, do not require this sensuous demonstration: they see by the eyes of Faith that the opponents of Divine truth insult the Deity, and endanger the congregation of the Saints: they know those impious men by the declaration of the Church, or the demonstration of the Spirit,—why, then, should they spare these monsters till the spiritual plague should have devoured their Israel ?
Death. When every one expected my speedy dissolution, I could not believe that my end was so near: now that others seem not to think me on the brink of my grave, I have an intimate persuasion that I shall not see the renewal of the leaves which are fast dropping to the ground. I feel my strength quite gone: my life flickers like an exhausted candle: a breath, a mere sigh, can extinguish the feeble flame: and nothing can shelter it much longer. There is nothing terrible in this closing scene, my God! The only thing I shrink from is bodily pain attended with that anguish to which my peculiar nervous system disposes me; but when the struggle between life and disease shall be over, the approach of the last repose must be perceived with pleasure—it must be somewhat like that moment when acute pain gives way to sleep.
Among the injuries which the prevalent Christianity has done in the countries where it is professed, the fear of death is, in my view, one of the greatest. What can be more cruel than to have surrounded with terrors the inevitable end assigned to us all ? But Priests are necessarily cruel : their whole power depends on the fears of mankind. Death, and the invisible regions to which Death is said to be the entrance, are the sources of all priestly influence. Paul taught his followers to boast of their exemption from the fear of death. “Oh! death, where is thy
sting?” resounds from every pulpit ; but how few utter that exclamation with perfect truth! In many individuals those words express the delirium of fear, which puts on the appearance of extravagant joy. No, no: the soul on which dogmatic Christianity has done its work cannot meet death with the quiet dignity of a rational being. We must look for examples of dignified deaths among the ancients, both classical and biblical. Before the Jews had introduced their mythological Hades, their sacred books never connected death with terror. Their early Fathers composed themselves to die, as they prepared themselves to sleep. They knew little or nothing of a life after death; and as they had come into existence without preparation on their part, they did not conceive it necessary for their departure: they ended this life thanking Thee, oh Source of all Life, for the blessings they had received, perhaps breathing a sigh at the recollection of the evils they had endured, and expressing their gratitude to Thee for the repose which Thou wert about to grant them with their departed Fathers.* They enjoyed the prospect of future existence in the life and prosperity of their children's children, and they rejoiced, not in their own eternal life, but in the eternal stream of life
* “ Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years, and was gathered to his people.”— Gen. xxv. 8. It is not easy to conceive how either Abraham or his historian could believe in that future life which gives such anxiety to our contemporaries