Sunday, 6 February 2011

Quotations from a Natural History of Religion 1757

'Generally speaking, the errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous'

9.3 The intolerance of almost all religions which have maintained the unity of God, is as remarkable as the contrary principle of polytheists.

Hence the greatest crimes have been found, in many instances, compatible with a superstitious piety and devotion: Hence, it is justly regarded as unsafe to draw any certain inference in favour of a man’s morals from the fervour or strictness of his religious exercises, even though he himself believe them sincere.

15.6 Survey most nations and most ages. Examine the religious principles, which have, in fact, prevailed in the world. You will scarcely be persuaded, that they are any thing but sick men’s dreams:
15.7 Hear the verbal protestations of all men: Nothing so certain as their religious tenets. Examine their lives: You will scarcely think that they repose the smallest confidence in them.

No theological absurdities so glaring that they have not, sometimes, been embraced by men of the greatest and most cultivated understanding. No religious precepts so rigorous that they have not been adopted by the most voluptuous and most abandoned of men.

The comfortable views, exhibited by the belief of futurity, are ravishing and delightful. But how quickly vanish on the appearance of its terrors, which keep a more firm and durable possession of the human mind?
Such are the doctrines of our brethren the Catholics. But to these doctrines we are so accustomed, that we never wonder at them: Though in a future age, it will probably become difficult to persuade some nations, that any human, two-legged creature could ever embrace such principles. And it is a thousand to one, but these nations themselves shall have something full as absurd in their own creed, to which they will give a most implicit and most religious assent.

The whole is a riddle, an aenigma, an inexplicable mystery. Doubt, uncertainty, suspence of judgment appear the only result of our most accurate scrutiny, concerning this subject. But such is the frailty of human reason, and such the irresistible contagion of opinion, that even this deliberate doubt could scarcely be upheld; did we not enlarge our view, and opposing one species of superstition to another, set them a quarrelling; while we ourselves, during their fury and contention, happily make our escape, into the calm, though obscure, regions of philosophy.

The significance of Hume

David Hume  (1711 – 1776)
David Hume, in his Treatise of Human Nature, took the new confidence in the power of reason to its absolute conclusion by arguing for its ineffectiveness since it was impossible to prove the existence of things outside oneself.  Elsewhere he denounced the many evils that came from organised religion and condemned ‘superstitious piety and devotion’; and this a few decades after Aitkenhead had been hanged for blasphemy. Hume’s scepticism may have cost him the chair of moral philosophy at Edinburgh University but he was never stopped from publishing his views .
T M Devine, The Scottish Nation  1999. p66