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For none deny there is a God, but those for whom it maketh 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 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 : “ To deny the Gods of the vulgar, is not profane ; but to apply the opinions of the vulgar to the Gods, is profane.” Plato could have said 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 of 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
very subtilest 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 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 Saint Bernard saith, “ It is not now proper to say, As are the people, so is the priest, because neither now are the people as bad as the priest.” 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, especially with peace and prosperity: for troubles and adversities do more bow men's minds to religion. They that deny a God, destroy 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 raisivg 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: 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 favour, 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 : " Although, O Conscript Fathers, we may be as partial to ourselves as we please, yet it is neither by our numerous armies that we have subdued the Spaniards, nor by our strength the Gauls, nor by our stratagems the Carthaginians, nor by our skill in the arts the Grecians, nor lastly by this very domestic and native sense of this nation and land have we subdued the Italians themselves and Latins; but by that piety and due sense of religion, because we have perceived that all things are ruled and controlled by the power of the immortal Gods, we have conquered all people and all nations."
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 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 sense, to philosophy, to natural piety, to laws, to reputation; all which may be guides to an outward moral virtue, though religion were not: but Superstition dismounts all these, and erecteth an absolute monarchy in the minds of men. Therefore Atheism did never perturb states; for it makes men wary of themselves, as looking no further : and we see the times inclined to Atheism (as the time of Augustus Cæsar) were civil times. But Superstition hath been the confusion of many states, and bringeth in a new primum mobile, that ravisheth all the spheres
of government. The master of Superstition is the people; and in all Superstition, wise men follow fools, and arguments are fitted to practice in a reversed order. It was gravely said by some of the prelates in the Council of Trent, where the doctrine of the school-men bare great sway,
" That the school-men were like astronomers, which did feign eccentrics, and epicycles, and such engines of orbs, to save the phenomena; though they knew there were no such things.” And in like manner, that the school-men had framed a number of subtile and intricate axioms and theorems, to save the practice of the Church. The causes of Superstitions are, pleasing and sensual rites and ceremonies: excess of outward and Pharisaical holiness : over-great reverence of traditions, which cannot but load the Church : the stratagems of prelates for their own ambition and lucre: the favouring too much of good intentions, which openeth the gate to conceits and novelties: the taking an aim at Divine matters by human, which cannot but breed mixture of imaginations: and lastly, barbarous times, especially joined with calamities and disasters. Superstition without a veil is a deformed thing : for, as it addeth deformity to an ape to be so like a man; so the similitude of Superstition to Religion makes it the more deformed. And as wholesome meat corrupteth to little worms ; so