Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number LXV.: Of the strange Force of Education, especially in Matters of Religion. - The Independent Whig, vol. 3 (2nd ed. 1741)
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Number LXV.: Of the strange Force of Education, especially in Matters of Religion. - Thomas Gordon, The Independent Whig, vol. 3 (2nd ed. 1741) 
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 Second Edition (London: J. Peele, 1741). Vol. 3.
Part of: The Independent Whig, 4 vols.
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Of the strange Force of Education, especially in Matters of Religion.
HOW far the Force of Example influences Nature, and inlarges or restrains the human Passions and Appetites, is evident to all who compare different Nations, and the several Ranks of Men in the same Nation. Custom, which is a continued Succession of Examples, warps the Understanding, and, as it is observed or neglected, becomes the Standard of Wisdom or Folly. Men cannot bear to see what they themselves reverence, ridiculed by others; nor what they ridicule, reverenced by others. It is a common Thing to breed up Men in a Veneration for one Sort of Folly, and in a Contempt for another, not worse, nor so bad; in a high Esteem for one Kind of Science, and in Aversion to another, full as good; to love some Men merely because they have good Names, and to hate others for their best Qualities; to adore some Objects for a bad Reason, to detest others against all Reason.
InTurkey they have as good natural Understanding as other People; and yet by their Education are taught to believe, that there is a Sort of Divinity in the utter Absence of all Understanding: They esteem Idiots and Lunatics as Prophets: They think their Raving to be celestial, because it is Nonsense; and their Stupidity instructive, because unintelligible. If, upon the Article of Religion, you offer or expect common Sense, they revile you, and knock you on the Head; but, if you be a natural Fool, your Words are Oracles, and Phrenzy is Saintship.
A Papist laughs and shakes his Head at this religious Sottishness and Fury of the Turks; but burns you if you laugh at him for doing the same Things. There never were greater Sots and Mad-men than many of the Roman Saints; nor are they the less worshipped for that, but the more. As they were Enthusiasts in Proportion to their Lunacy, they are adored in Proportion to their Folly. St. Francis, for Instance, was an errant Changeling; St. Antony was distracted: Yet who is of more Consequence in the Roman Breviaries, than those two Saints? They are daily invoked by many devout Catholics, who never prayed to God in their Lives.
That all this wild and astonishing Bigotry is the pure Effect of Example, or of Education, which is the same thing, (being only some Men setting Examples to other Men) may be learnt from hence, that no Man bred without Superstition, or in any particular Way of it, can be brought into the Vanities of any strange Devotion at once, and rarely ever. People must be seasoned in it by Time, by Steps, and Reiterations; after certain Periods in Life, Examples come too late, or with small Force. A grown Spaniard can hardly ever be a Frenchman; nor a Frenchman be a Spaniard. We see Men will fight and die for certain Practices and Opinions, and even for Follies and Fopperies, which, had they been bred to others, they would have despised, and perhaps have died for such as they now despise.
It is plain from the Accounts, even the partial and disguised Accounts, given by the Missionaries, of the Progress which they make in converting the Natives of the East and West Indies, that their Proselytes are very few, and those few fickle, not half made, and lukewarm; still fond of their old Superstitions, and, upon every Terror or Temptation, ready to revolt to Paganism, which they had scarce forsaken. I believe this is almost universally true of the elder Sort: I doubt they are almost all like Father Hennepin’s old Woman, who, when all other Arguments were unconvincing, yielded to be baptized for a Pipe of Tobacco; and having smoaked it, offered to be baptized again for another. It is certain, that the Chineses have converted the Jesuits, who have at least civilly met these obstimate Heathens half-way, and gone roundly into Paganism, to make the Pagans good Catholics: An Union not unnatural; only I am sorry that the peaceable Heathenism of Confucius should be debauched by the barbarous Spirit of Popery, which has not only from the Beginning adopted the antient Gentile Idolatry, but disgraced it by Cruelty.
I am satisfied, that the famous Doctor in Holbourn* is a very sincere keen Churchman; but I am equally satisfied, that had he been educated in the Mosaic Way, he would have been as fierce a Jew; or bred at Athens, in the Days of Socrates, as clamorous as the rest of the Rabble against that wise and moderate Man, who was doubtless a Heretic as to the Doctrine and Discipline of the Athenian Priests. If in this Conjecture I have offended the Doctor, who, they say, is a Man of warm Spirit, I will give him competent Revenge, by declaring my equal Belief, that many a stern Calvinist, zealous in his Way, would with different Breeding have been as zealous in a different Way. I could wish, that from this Consideration both Sorts would learn to bear with one another, and with all Men; that at least they would be as angry at Mahomet, as at Dr. Clarke, and learn not to attack Heresy through the Sides of Charity. But in this very thing the Force of Example, of which I am talking, is against me.
By this Force Men may be brought to renounce every Glimmering of common Sense, every Impulse of Pity, and be transported with every Degree of Madness and Inhumanity. In many Countries the Death of a Snake will cost you your Life; and those People who would murder a Man, and eat him, would tremble at the Thought of hurting a Serpent, for which pernicious Reptile they have a religious Regard. The unnatural Mercy which Superstition teaches them, is the only Mercy that they have, and exercised upon a Creature that is a known Enemy to human Life.
TheIroquois, not satisfied with putting their Enemies to Death in cold Blood, burn them alive after other Tortures, cut off Pieces of their raw Flesh, and eat them, and give the Children the Blood to drink, to season their young Minds with the like sanguinary Spirit. Thus the Cruelty is continued by Example from Father to Son, and grows natural by Habit. Their Enemies serve them the same way; but this Consideration reclaims neither. It is Heroism to be barbarous, and the fieroest Cannibal is the bravest Warrior. Yet these Savages are, in their own Clans, merciful and good-natured to one another, and live together in remarkable Innocence, Simplicity, and Union.
As these American Nations, who thus destroy one another, are very thin, there is more than Territory enough for them all; nor is Husbandry any of their Arts; and there are Woods large enough for many more to hunt in, and Rivers to fish in: And all living from Hand to Mouth, they do not much mind Property. But inveterate Quarrels, handed down from Generation to Generation, and daily inflamed, perpetuate their mutual Ferocity and Rage. They often watch many Days in Hunger and Cold, to circumvent their Enemy, though nothing is to be expected at last, but Blood, lost or got: But Blood, on whatever Side shed, is Glory.
In some Parts of Peru, this Savageness is still improved. Their chief Ambition in War is to make Women Captives. These they make their Slaves in a strange Way: They breed out of them, and eat the Children so bred at the Age of ten or twelve, having first well fatted them; and the Women, when they can breed no longer, are eaten last. Amongst these People, the Sense of Shame seems intirely extinguished, or rather never known. Their Prostitutions, natural and unnatural, are as public as their Eating and Drinking. Some of them account Virginity a great Blemish, and the young Women must be beholden to their Friends and Relations to get rid of it, before they can get Husbands. Their Women ran openly after the Spaniards, in all the Transports of Female Rage, begging the Gratifications of Gallantry. But, what is still most monstrous and incredible, there are of those People, who have public Temples for the Practice of Sodomy, as an Act of Religion: For, with all these Abominations, they have a Religion, which is Part of them; and we see in them into what Excesses Mistakes in Religion can run. They believe the Immortality of the Soul; they have Offices for the Dead; they worship the Sun; they believe a Creator of all Things; they offer Sacrifices to their Idols, and sometimes human Sacrifices. Will any of our Casuists say, that it were not better they had no Religion, than one that teaches them such hideous Crimes and Barbarities? I wish that these brutal Heathens were the only Instances where Reason and Humanity are made Victims to Religion. But Customs of Religion and Honour, right or wrong, (as both are commonly vilely mistaken and abused) are apt to take an inveterate Hold of the human Soul, and to master every natural Faculty.
It would be a hard, if not an impossible Thing to convert these Peruvian Savages. There is no weaning them from their horrible and delicious Banquets of human Flesh, alive or dead: And while they themselves have such a Relish of Man’s Blood, they will always think it acceptable to the Gods. For Men everywhere imagine, that the Deity loves and hates just as they do; and their common Way of going to God, is to bring God to them.
It is as easy to bring an Englishman into the Way and Life of a Hottentot or Greenlander, as to bring them into his. Both are impossible; the Hottentot is nasty and naked, and lives or starves upon Filth; the Greenlander lives in piercing and unhospitable Regions of Snow, in a Country made desolate by Nature, where no comfortable Thing appears, but all covered with Darkness, or the Rage of the Elements. Yet both these miserable Barbarians, miserable in our Eyes, are inveterately fond of their own Caves and Miseries; nor could all the Delicacies and Allurements of Europe ever reclaim one of them. Their Captivity, in the midst of Plenty, Conveniences, and kind Usage, either broke their Hearts, or attached them more violently to their own more amiable Barbarity, Indigence, and Garbage, when they returned.
What shall we say to all these strange Fondnesses, strange, but natural? They are Effects of Habit and Prepossession, from which no Man is wholly free; by which almost all Men are wholly governed; and from all this a good Lesson is to be learned, how Men ought to use one another.
[* ]Dr. Sacheverel, Minister of St. Andrew’s Holbourn, when these Papers were written.