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another. All this is plain and clear ; to find difficulties in it is mere perverseness.”
Of this kind of perverseness, neither you, my friend, nor I myself, can ever be cured. It is, indeed, so perversely perverse, that it is constantly endeavouring to make others catch it. Let us, then, try to find methods of infection, in regard to the point before us. They tell us that nothing can be more certain than the nature of idolatry. But they tell us this while their clamour against the idolatry of the Roman Catholic, and the indignant cries of those who wish to repel the imputation, resound from one end of these Islands to the opposite. Curious! that in the teeth of, what is supposed, a plain and accurate definition, given, audibly, by God himself, a large majority of those who receive it as such should contend that the Protestants misunderstand the defining Legislator! The case is truly remarkable ; and, I must add, exceedingly instructive, as exhibiting the total inability of language to fix any ideas of which we do not possess, mentally, the root and principle. In this view, the long,-I should say, the interminable,controversies of Christians concerning images, might be made the subject of a very instructive philosophical study. Whoever shall take pains to inform himself of the turns of thought to which that controversy has given rise, will be convinced that the most contradictory among them are fairly attributable to the imperfection of the language of the law itself; and still more so to the pretended ground and reason of the law—the jealousy of the Divine Legislator. Such laws and such reasons may answer a temporal purpose—one of the kind to which the object of the Mosaic precept belonged, namely, keeping a rude people separate from their idolatrous neighbours; but it is totally unfit to
convey to an improving race the idea of pure, divine worship, of which idolatry is the natural antagonist. So far is that precept from being a barrier against idolatry, that, carefully examined, it will be found to proceed upon idolatrous views and modes of thinking.
Can any one doubt this who reflects upon the jealousy attributed to God? “Oh! (it will be said) that is plainly a figure.”—Indeed !-And what is idolatry but the use of figures in the attempt to form a conception of God ?—This is the true evil of idolatry: all other notions of the source of its sinfulness are fit only for infant minds ;—by Fit, I mean capable of producing a deep impression, whether right or wrong; otherwise I do not know a more UNFIT, or improper method of directing the opening intellect to its Divine Parent.
It is a gross mistake to believe that, though it is idolatry to fall down before a material image, even for the purpose of addressing ourselves to the true, the spiritual, the invisible God, yet we may, without moral loss or injury, worship the figures raised by our imagination. Between the Jupiter of Phidias, and the monsters which Christians raise upon the altars of their minds, the former would be unquestionably preferable in a moral point of view; for the human form, animated by every thing which being divine in man can appear through the external forms, as under a transpa. rent veil, is the worthiest emblem of the Deity. But the mental idols of Christians, though more misty and indistinct in form than a statue, bear the expression of the worst passions of the human race with a ghastly effect, which must be destructive to the soft lineaments of our Maker's original likeness in us. I believe that if the image of God before which a consistent Calvinist prostrates himself, in spirit, could be rendered visible, it would resemble the Principle of Evil much more accurately than any emblem of the Indian God Siva ; for, indeed, Siva is believed to destroy only for the purpose of regenerating, while the Calvinists' God employs himself in the work of hopeless and final, not destruction, but conscious misery. Let us, however, turn away from this most monstrous of all idols ever raised up by man. Moloch would certainly have struck less horror into a strict Jew's mind than this impious misrepresentation excites in me.
I will now endeavour to state my view of the subject of Idolatry, in my usual way—i. e. in the way of indication, leaving you to develop and try it. Among the great revelations which God has, unquestionably, made to man, by Himself and within the Mind, perhaps the most sublime and important is that of which the lowest rudiments were delivered to the Jews in the Mosaic Decalogue, and the highest development was published by Jesus in his declaration of God's Nature, and the character of the worship which he willingly accepts from Man. (John iv. 24.) Whatever has the tendency to corrupt the highest source of Morality within us, must be considered as most injurious to man. Now, it is clear that the original fountain of man's true virtue is his notion of God. As at the highest point of the scale of moral perfection must stand the purely rational conception of God (i. e. Good), so the opposite extreme of moral degradation must be occupied by the image of the animal—or, to use scriptural language, carnal man. The almost infinite intervening degrees consist of modifications of this image; mere refinements of the human model, all material, all related to the senses, or to the imagination, the offspring of the senses and the external world. But between the highest of these degrees and the purely rational idea of God, there is no regular and gradual transition. The most refined God of the Fancy is still an Idol : the religion grounded upon such a misconception of the Supreme Being must partake of the evils and errors inseparable from idolatry. Superstition must exist, more or less, in the mind where such a notion has taken root : the God of the Fancy must be somewhat capricious: his power will be conceived to be exercised not unlike that of a despot-benevolent indeed and kind, it may be—but a power above Reason. Examine the most liberal views of the Christian Divines, and you will find this monstrous error pervading them all. Fancy seizes even upon that most sublime declaration of Jesus, to which I have already made reference, and materializes the idea of Spirit itself. God is a Spirit, is made to signify that God has not a grossly material body ; but until God be conceived as that which Spirit properly means, he must be understood to be an extremely aerial and diffusive substance, something like the Angels, or the departed souls which act so important a part in the commonly existing system of Christianity. It cannot, indeed, be otherwise. The immutable laws of our Being forbid that the Imagination should overstep the limits of her natureand those are entirely within the world of the senses. We must go higher; we must ascend to that in ourselves which is not subject to the laws of Time and Space: we must look into the very depths of our Being; there alone we shall find the only True God.-Blessed be his Name! He manifests himself to us as pure Reason. He is himself within us : it is there alone that we can find him : it is only there that man can raise a Sanctuary without an image. I am about to be disturbed, and I will stop.
Oct. 16th, 1836. My dear friend, I am too weak to think closely, and too desirous of keeping up my Sunday habit of writing to you, to give way to that morbid feeling that would prevent it. Chance, however, has suggested a means of combining a certain degree of mental indolence with the wish of scribbling my usual epistle. A passage in Lactantius, which I was looking over, in an idle moment, gave me the notion of being learned, and saving myself from much thought.-What a libel against Erudition !
I was led by the word Superstition to turn the leaves of my copy of Lactantius for a passage in which that poor mimic of the great Cicero attacks his master, in the true style of a Sciolus, concerning the etymology of that word. It is true that the ancients—even the most masterly minds among them-were indifferent etymologists. Plato is a wretched trifer on that subject, and Cicero is not much better. The reason of this failure, especially among the Greeks, was their ignorance of all languages, except their own. The knowledge of Greek was certainly growing common among the higher classes of the Romans in Cicero's time; but they were too much employed in the stormy debates of party, to give much attention to the philosophy of language. It was not, however, that branch of speculation which could be of service in tracing the etymology of the two purely Latin words, Superstitio and Religiofor both are brought together by Cicero in the same passage (De Nat. Deorum, lib. ii. $ 28) for the purpose of tracing their origin. The philosophy required, in that particular case,