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Of a similar tendency were their ideas of a retribution. (Ins. of Mos. Ch. xxiii.) Nothing could be more inadequate, than their standard of right and wrong. We look in vain, among their institutions, for those great principles of morality, alike recognized in every system of true religion, whether natural or revealed. They ackowledged a heaven; but it was not to be exclusively the reward of virtue. They feared a hell; but it was not vice alone, which put them in danger of being sent thither. Future punishment was threatened to those, who'should kill an animal, or even through ignorance, shed blood from the body of a Bramin. "Whereas, those rulers of the earth, say they, who, desirous of defending each other, exert their utmost strength in battle, without ever averting their faces, ascend, after death, directly to heaven." (Page 269, 264.)
It was observed, in a former lecture, that, according to the testimony of Mr. Marsden, whose history of Sumatra is mentioned in terms of high approbation, the inhabitants of that island render worship to no Supreme Being. The same author, as quoted by Col. Symes, expresses a belief, that the inhabitants in the northern part of the island eat human flesh; and the authorities, on which he grounds his belief, says Col. Symes, seem to authenticate the fact. It does not however appear, that human flesh was substituted by them in place of ordinary food, but eaten rather, as a barbarous ceremony, to indicate revenge on their enemies, or abhorrence of crimes, the only victims being prisoners taken in war, or capital convicts. The New Zealanders do this, though they believe, that the soul of a man, whose body is thus devoured, is doomed to eternal torments.
In the Boston Repertory for August, if I mistake not, 1810, we were told, that a British ship's crew, consisting of a number between thirty and forty, were, all but one, eaten by the inhabitants of New Zealand.
This account is rendered the more credible from its coincidence with the character of the New Zealanders, as given us
by Pinkerton, who represents it, as customary for them, to devour their captives taken in war.
In Anzico, a kingdom in the northwest of Africa, it is asserted, that the markets are supplied with human flesh! nay, it is even affirmed, that all the dead are devoured.
The inhabitants of New Holland, it is well known, are in the most deplorable state of ignorance, barbarity, and vice. In some of their ceremonies, the very form and character of man seems despised, and the superiority of brutes acknowledged.
On a former occasion, something was said of the religion of the Otaheitans. We now speak of their morals.
From the following statement made by missionaries, sent to these savages in 1797, it appears, that the favourable impressions, at first received, as to their state and character, were by no means justified by more thorough acquaintance. The state of society was soon found to be such, that, while it excited the compassion of the missionaries, it presented many discouragements. The duties of husbands and wives, of parents and children, are neither understood nor practised. They view their children as property, which every parent has a right to dispose of according to his own inclination. And the event is, that many of them are murder. ed, as soon as they are born. But the most horrible source of pollution and cruelty, found among them is the Arreoy Society. This is an association of individuals, descended from the principal families in the Society Islands. They are continually wandering about from one island to another, and support themselves by plundering the inhabitants. Each of these men has two or three females, whom he calls his wives. But their habit is to live in a state of promiscuous concubinage, and uniformly to murder every infant, which is the fruit of their intercourse.
Parents, when they become old, are treated with every mark of neglect. Their society is avoided as a disgrace. And, indeed, to such a height has their contempt of old age aris
en, that the term "old man," is proverbially used to express any thing worthless.
The inhabitants of the Caribbean Islands were not only cannibals, but fed upon their own children. Nay, it is asserted on such authority, as was satisfactory to Mr. Locke; that their children were mutilated, for the purpose of their being fattened for the day of slaughter.
The same author quotes, from the voyage of Baumgarten, an account of certain persons among the Turks, degraded beneath even brutality itself, who are, nevertheless, regarded as saints. The passage is too remarkable entirely to escape the notice of those, who study the Essay on the Human Understanding; and too disgusting, though clothed in Roman language, to be introduced into a public lecture.
Thus have we taken a very brief view of the religious and moral state of the heathen world, as it was before the coming of Christ, and as it has been in modern times. Whether we fix our attention on nations, the most civilized, or the most barbarous, we find them entertaining absurd, incoherent, and blasphemous views as to religion: we find them debased and polluted with the greatest crimes. In other words, they were alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance, which was in them.
In view of all the evidence, which has been adduced, no person, it is believed, making a sober use of his intellectual powers, will, for a moment, assert, that accessions of light and knowledge on the subjects of morality and religion, were not from some source or other, devoutly to be desired.
Some, it is possible, however, may not be convinced, that this inference can fairly be made from the facts, collected in this, and the preceding lecture. What, it may be asked, though the heathen both of ancient and modern times, have been dissolute in their manners? If that will prove any thing to the disadvantage of their religion, is there not a sufficiency of vice among christians to authorize the same conclusion in relation to theirs?
I answer, that the difference between the two cases con
sists in this; when christians violate the principles of morality, they as certainly violate the principles of their religion. Whereas the pagan might be impure, dishonest, and revengeful; nay, all human vices might flourish in him, with unrestrained luxuriance, and yet his character not be materially different from theirs, whom his religion taught him to worship as gods. It has been shown, that the tendency of paganism was to pollute the heart, and to debase the character. When it can be shown, that such is the natural effect of christianity, it will, I presume, be abandoned by those, who are now its votaries. But this, it is well known, can never be made to appear.
In regard to heathen religion, three things you will observe, have been shown; 1. The gross, absurd, and impious opinions, which it taught concerning God and a future state; 2. The cruel and obscene rites, which were practised in the established worship; 3. The general profligacy of pagan manners.
The two last are clearly the result of the other. Their viciousness of character, and the cruelty and licentiousness of their worship, were the legitimate offspring of their false sentiments as to religion. Hence it appears, that their errors in speculation were both practical and dangerous.
But, though what has been said, will probably be thought sufficient to show, that further instruction on the relation, duties and destinies of man, was greatly wanted, further doubts may still arise, whether any thing supernatural were requisite for this purpose; and whether the light of philosophy might not have been sufficient to expel the incumbent darkness.
In regard to the soul's immortality, this question has been already answered. Philosophy was shown to have given no certainty on that subject. How far it was an adequate guide on other subjects in religion, and what were its powers in purifying the heart and the life, will, if God permit, be considered in a future lecture.
Ancient Philosophers inadequate guides in Religion.
HAVING contemplated the darkness, in which the heathen world was enveloped, and that general profligacy, by which the human character was degraded, we are now to inquire whether the evil were likely to be remedied by those, whose superior application and wisdom procured for them the distinction of philosophers.
That mankind were not either reformed, or well instructed on the subjects of religion, in consequence of philosophy, those facts which have been exhibited, sufficiently prove. That there were no instances, however, in which philosophical instruction produced any good effect on the sentiments and morals of them who received it, I do not assert. Solitary individuals, and even communities may have received benefit from such instruction. Polemo was suddenly recovered from a life of effeminacy and dissipation by a moral lecture from Xenophanes. A surprising reformation is said to have been effected at Crotona by the school of Pythagoras. But notwithstanding these instances, no general alteration was produced in theological opinions,-no extensive amendment in the views and morals of men. Their worship was not henceforth confined to one being, almighty, holy, and independent; nor was the number of pagan deities ever diminished. Whatever we have noticed of absurdity in sentiment, licentiousness in worship, or viciousness in deportment, existed long after Pythagoras had established his school in Italy.