Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number LIII.: Priestly Empire founded on the Weaknesses of Human Nature. - The Independent Whig, vol. 2 (7th ed. 1743)
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Number LIII.: Priestly Empire founded on the Weaknesses of Human Nature. - Thomas Gordon, The Independent Whig, vol. 2 (7th ed. 1743) 
The Independent Whig: or, a Defence of Primitive Christianity, And of Our Ecclesiastical Establishment, against The Exorbitant Claims and Encroachments of Fanatical and Disaffected Clergymen. The Seventh Edition, with Additions and Amendments (London: J. Peele, 1743). Vol. 2.
Part of: The Independent Whig, 4 vols.
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Priestly Empire founded on the Weaknesses of Human Nature.
Wednesday,January 11. 1721.
THERE is not a living Creature in the Universe, which has not some innate Weakness, or original Imbecillity, co-eval with its Being; that is, some Inclinations, or Disgusts, some peculiar Desires or Fears, which render it an easy Prey to other Animals, who, from their constitutional Sagacity or Experience, know how to take Advantage of this Infirmity; of which it would be needless, as well as endless, to enumerate Particulars. My Purpose is only to shew, that all the Dignity of Human Nature, and the Superiority which Almighty God has given to Man above other Beings, has not exempted him from this Imperfection; which probably was left in his Fabric, to put him in Mind of his Mortality, to humble his Pride, and excite his Diligence.
The peculiar Foible of Mankind is Superstition, or an intrinsic and panic Fear of Beings invisible and unknown. It is obvious to every one, that there must be Causes in Nature for all the Good or Evil which does, or ever can, happen to us; and it is impossible for any Man so far to divest himself of all Concern for his own Happiness, as not to be solicitous to know what those Causes are: And since, for the most part, they are so hidden and out of Sight, that we cannot perceive or discover them by our own Endeavours, we conclude them to be immaterial, and in their own Nature invisible; and are, for the most part, ready to take their Accounts, who have the Dexterity to make us believe, that they know more of the Matter than we do, and that they will not deceive us.
To this Ignorance and Credulity, joined together, we are beholden for the most grievous Frauds and Impositions, which ever did, or do yet, oppress Mankind, and interrupt their Happiness; namely, for the Revelations and Visions of Enthusiasts, for all the forged Religions in the World, and the Abuses and Corruptions of the true one; as well as all the idle and fantastical Stories of Conjurers and Witches, of Spirits, Apparitions, Fairies, Demons, and Hobgoblins, Fortune-tellers, Astrologers, and the Belief in Dreams, Portents, Omens, Prognostics, and the several Sorts of Divinations; all which, more or less, disturb the greatest Part of the World, and have made them the Dupes and Property of Knaves and Impostors in all Ages.
Every thing in the Universe is in constant Motion, and where-ever we move, we are surrounded with Bodies, every one of which must, in a certain Degree, operate upon themselves and us; and it cannot be otherwise, but in the Variety of Actions and Events, which happen in all Nature, that some must appear very extraordinary to those who know not their true Causes. Men naturally admire what they cannot apprehend, and seem to do some sort of Credit to their Understandings, in believing whatever is out of their Reach to be supernatural.
From hence perpetual Advantages have been given to, and Occasions taken by, the Heathen and Popish Priests, to circumvent and oppress the credulous and unwary Vulgar. What fraudulent Uses have been made of Eclipses, Meteors, epidemical Plagues, Inundations, great Thunder and Lightnings, and other amazing Prodigies, and seeming Menaces of Nature? What juggling Tricks have been, or may be, acted with Glasses, Speaking Trumpets, Ventriloquies, Echoes, Phosphorus, Magic-Lanterns, &c. in the ignorant Parts of the World? The Americans were made to believe, that Paper and Letters were Spirits, which conveyed Mens Thoughts from one to another; and a dancing Mare was, not many Years since, burnt for a Witch in the Inquisition in Portugal.
Nature works by a thousand Ways imperceptible to us: The Loadstone draws Iron to it; Gold, Quicksilver; the sensitive Plant shrinks from the Touch; some Sorts of Vegetables attract one another, and ’twine together; others grow farther apart; the treading upon the Torpedo affects, and gives raging Pains to, our whole Bodies; Turkey-cocks and Pheasants fly at a red Rag; a Rattle-snake, by a sort of magical Power in his Eyes, as it is said, will force a Squirrel to run into his Mouth; Music will cure the Bite of a Tarantula; the Frights and Longings of Women with Child will stamp Impressions upon the Babes within them; People, in their Sleep, will walk securely over Precipices, and the Ridges of Houses, where they durst not venture when awake; Lightning will melt a Sword without hurting the Scabbard.
There is something within us, which we all feel, that baffles and gets the better of our best Reasonings and Philosophy; and this shews itself in Love, in Fear, in Hatred, Ambition, and almost every Act of the Mind; but in nothing so much as in Superstition: Sometimes we find a secret Panic, and at other times a strange and uncommon Energy, or Feeling of a mighty Power within us; and not being able to account, by any Conduct of Reason, or other Causes in Nature, for such Perceptions, we are easily persuaded to believe them to be supernatural. Hence great Philosophers, Poets, Legislators, famous Conquerors, and often Madmen, have been thought in many Ages, by themselves as well as others, to have been inspired; and even Distempers, such as Apoplexies, Epilepsies, prophetic Fits and Trances, have been deemed miraculous.
Nothing strikes so strongly upon our Senses, as what causes Surprize and Admiration: There are very few Men, who are not affected with unusual Sounds and Voices, with the Groans of others in Misery, the Solemnity of a Coronation, or any public Shew, the Pomp of a Funeral, the Farce of a Procession, the Power of Eloquence, the Charms of Poetry, the rich and splendid Equipage of great Men, or the solemn Phiz and Mien of an Enthusiast. Whoever therefore can find out the Secret of hitting luckily upon this Foible and native Imbecillity of Mankind, may govern them and lead them as he pleases. And herein has consisted the greatest Skill and Success of crafty Priests in all Ages: They have made use of this Power to turn us and wind us to all their Purposes, and have built and founded most of their Superstitions upon it; and consequently, have ever adapted their Worship rather to catch our Passions, than convince our Minds, and enlighten our Understandings; all which is directly contrary to the Spirit of Christianity, and the Precepts of our Saviour, as shall be fully shewn in the next Paper.
For this Reason the Heathens built their Temples in Groves, in solitary, dark and desart Recesses, by or over Caverns and Grottoes, or in the Midst of echoing and resounding Rocks, that the hideous and dismal Aspect, and often hollow and hoarse Bellowing of such Places, might strike a solemn Awe, and religious Horror, into their Votaries; and sometimes help their Imaginations to hear Voices, and see Forms, and so intimidate and prepare them for any Stories and Impressions, which they should think it their Interest to make.
The Popish Priests have admirably well aped these their Predecessors; by building their Churches dark and dismal, with figured and painted Windows, to let in a false and glimmering Light; arched and contrived in such manner, as to resound the Voice hollow and shrill; with many private Apartments, Cœmeteries for their Saints, proud Inscriptions, whispering Places, secret Chapels for Confessions, saying Masses, Dirges, Penances, &c. Like the Heathens too, they build their Temples solemn and magnificent, in antique and uncommon Figures, adorn them with Silver and Gold, rich Carpets, curious Statues, and Images stuck about with Jewels; and their Priests appear in gaudy Vestments, and fantastical Robes and Caps, and perform their Worship with Music, and affected Ceremonies; all which Pageantry and Farce is calculated and intended to act upon the Passions, attract the Eyes, amuse, lull and suspend the Understanding, and draw Admiration and Reverence to those who preside in these haughty Fabrics, and this pompous Adoration: Their Bells too, which call the People together, are contrived to emit such Sounds as affect the Minds of most People with a sort of superstitious Melancholy.
Indeed, as the Romish Priests are more numerous, have vastly larger Revenues, and more Leisure, so they have greatly improved upon the Heathens in this Art of deceiving; insomuch that there is scarce an Imperfection or Error of Human Nature, which is not adopted into their Scheme, and made subservient to their Interest. Men of sprightly Genius and Courage are caught by their Ambition, and highly honoured, flattered, and raised up by their general Voice to the highest Dignities; and then are indulged in their Passions, and gratified with Confessors, who are not only to overlook or pardon, but assist them in their vicious Pleasures; by which Arts those great Talents, instead of being nobly employed to free Mankind from sacerdotal Usurpations, are meanly perverted to support and aggrandize the Monkish Empire.
Men of violent and impetuous Tempers are suitably employed to execute their tyrannical Designs, and to take Vengeance of their Enemies; and the Debauched and Wicked are made to buy their Peace of Heaven, by giving Money and Lands to the Priests; but none contribute so much to advance their System, as Visionaries and Enthusiasts: There are, in all Countries, Multitudes of People, whom Ignorance, Pride, Conceit, ill Habit of Body, melancholy and splenetic Tempers, unfortunate Circumstances, causeless and secret Fears, and a panic Disposition of Mind, have prepared to be the Objects, as well as Instruments, of Delusion, and they have been ever made use of accordingly.
Some of these are thrust or decoyed into Religious Houses, or persuaded to lead retired, recluse, and austere Lives, and to torture and punish themselves with Whippings, Penances, Fasting, and to walk bare-foot, in order to astonish the gaping Multitude, and thereby gain Reverence to the Priesthood, for their fansied Holiness; whilst the governing Ecclesiastics feast and riot in delicious Banquets, ride in State with Coaches and Six, attended by numerous Servants in costly Liveries; and Earth and Sea is ransacked, and Heaven itself profaned, to maintain their Luxury and Pride.
Such amongst them as are disposed to hear Voices, and see Forms, shall hear and see enough of those, which are real ones, and afterwards be made use of to divulge them; and in order to it, their Sanctity shall be proclaimed abroad, and their mad and incoherent Speeches be called Revelations, heavenly Dispensations, and incomprehensible Mysteries. Such crazed and fanatical Men and Women have been the Founders of most of the Colleges, Monasteries, and Nunneries of the Romish Church, (to say nothing of others) and their Follies and Madness been the Support of the Papal Dominion.
But this artificial Devotion, this mechanic Religion, has nothing to do with Christianity; which is natural Religion restored and improved, and consists in Virtue and Morality, and in being useful and beneficent to one another, as I shall shew in my next Paper,
The Prophets have taught us the same Lesson: The First Chapter of Isaiah fully shews, that Religion does not consist in Sacrifices, in Burnt-offerings of Rams, and the Fat of fed Beasts, in the Blood of Bullocks, and of Lambs, and of He-Goats, in vain Oblations, Incense, New-Moons, Sabbaths, and calling of Assemblies, in appointed Feasts, or many Prayers; but in doing Good to Mankind. The Prophet sums up our Duty in these Words, Cease to do Evil, learn to do well, seek Judgment, relieve the Oppressed, judge the Fatherless,plead for the Widow; for, as another Prophet says, What doth the Lord require of thee, O Man, but to do justly, and to love Mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? Micah, chap. vi. v. 8.