Page images

Remedies for Atheism.

113 heavenly bodies revolved around it. Everything upon the earth not animated was inert, and, if moved, was moved by some extraneous force. Matter had no power of selflocomotion. The bodies of the animate creation were material, but they were moved by the spirit of life within them. Man walked upon the earth : his soul originated and continued the motion of his material body. The butterfly, sweet emblem of immortality, spread its rich and delicate wings on the summer air, or lifted them with palpitating motion to the warm sunlight while resting on flower or marble sepulchre : its little spirit was the motive power. The volcano sent forth its flames and flaming lava, and trembled to its base : some incarcerated giant was wrestling with the bars of his subterranean prison. The streams danced on in joyfulness, singing to the rocks through which they flowed: naiads and sylphs were there invisibly urging them on, and making melody with their own sweet voices to beguile the gentle toil. The sea rose upward to the sky in billowy majesty, or flung itself with loud hurrahs upon the echoing shore: Neptune was riding abroad in his shell-chariot, with trident and crown and flowing beard of snow. Matter had no self-motion : spirit moved the whole. The planets pursued their courses in the heavens, moving on from year to year: deities they were; or else, if not, were at least the bodies of deities, who, robed in fire, ruled their respective spheres. Spirit was in the heavens above, to move, as in the earth below. Spirit was the universal cause of motion. But some denied this, and refused, and perhaps derided religious homage ; saying, that the sun and the stars were material, that earthquakes were — earthquakes, and fire — simple fire, and nothing more. The state was built up on the theogony:— the theogony derided or denied, the state trembled. The atheist was the enemy of society.

The popular mind had no arguments at hand to combat the denial of the gods; because it believed in their existence on false or frivolous grounds. The premises on which it relied being denied as absurd or fanciful, conclusions drawn from them were powerless. Thus the “ disease" of atheism readily infected the younger and less submissive of the citizens, whom neither interest nor fear of authority deterred from independence of thought, or freedom and turbulence of speech and action. It was Plato's intention to counteract this malady by two powerful medicines — argument and force:— the first, to convince the honest, thoughtful doubter; the second, to awe the vicious and the headstrong:- and thus to preserve his ideal state from the danger which at all times threatened his native city.

Plato saw the fallacies on which the popular belief rested; and in this argument for the existence of the gods has demonstrated all that can be demonstrated without a divine revelation. Passing by, for the time, any argument drawn from the regularity of the motion of the celestial bodies, he at once seizes the idea of motion in the abstract ; and in the following argument, slightly paraphrased and condensed from the original, attacks with singular success the cavils of the atheist.

· Let us grant,' virtually says the Athenian to the atheist, that the sun, moon, and stars are neither gods, nor the bodies of gods, but mere inert and lifeless matter, as you assert. You will of course admit that they move ; for to this all men will testify. You will admit also that all motion is produced in two ways: first, by a power self-acting, like the movements of men and other animals; secondly, by a power not self-acting, like the movement produced by one stone being thrust against another, so thai the stone before at rest is moved out of its place, or the movement of an arrow flying from the bow. But all sell-acting power resides only in the animal kingdom, where life, or spirit is. The motion of the heavenly bodies cannot be self-acting, for you have just asserted, and we admitted, that the planets were neither spirit nor body of spirit, but merely lifeless, inert matter. Therefore their motion must belong to the second class, namely, motion not self-acting, but communicated by some extraneous power, by which these bodies are forced along in their celestial courses. Now this extraneous power is either self-acting, or it is not. If it is not self-acting, then it is the product, immediately or remotely, of some other power which is self-acting. But self-acting powers may be separated into two grand divisions. First, or inferior, are those which, although selfmotive and capable of moving others, are at the same time acted on or moved by some other power : second, or superior, are those self-acting or self-moving powers which are

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

not, and cannot by their nature be, acted on or moved by others, but move, or act on, others at pleasure. But we have said that all self-moving powers have life; therefore this second or superior class of powers are alive. These are the superior gods.

The existence of living deities whose presence could not be perceived by the human eye was indeed the common, yet vague belief, and had been for ages, but it was first fully demonstrated by Plato. After this, the beauty, order, and regularity of the universe evinced to the minds of his disciples the wisdom and intellectual greatness of the gods who formed and ruled it. The atheist might now assert that the sun was merely matter or flame, and the stars but drops of fire, and suill not shake the religious belief of Plato's disciples, for they had a reason for their belief which no such assertion, however plausible or true, could move or undermine. Still the atheist might be regarded as an enemy of society at large, which was not thus enlightened.

The belief in spirit existing independent of body was now vivified and strengthened, so that what was before a mere fancy became, in the minds of those who understood the new philosophy, real and tangible. If spirit might thus live independent of bodily form, then could the spirit of man also live after its body had returned to the dust whence it came. Here was the argument for the future life of the human soul flowing, directly, from the proof of the existence of the gods.

It has been oftentimes asserted by admirers of Plato, who have pretended to understand him, that in his reasonings he arrived not only at the existence of divine beings, the gods of the ancients, but also, at the Hebrew idea of the one God. This is wholly unwarranted; for Plato neither believed nor asserted anything of the kind. His was preeminently a metaphysical and logical mind, although a poetical and imaginative one; and of logic and metaphysics he never lost sight, although he often did of poetry. When he uses the terms, “the deity,” “ the best,” “the highest,” “the all,” he does so to express the genus, or kind, of which all spirits are the species. Thus the spirit of a beast, the spirit of an insect, and the spirit of a man are species belonging to the same genus, (10 wit, soul,) as the inferior and superior gods. A knowledge of this will materially assist the student in reconciling the apparent contradictions with which he meets in Plato's works, when “the deity," or "over-soul,” is spoken of.

That this is not a hastily formed, or groundless opinion, as far, at any rate, as the Tenth Book of the Laws is concerned, will be readily seen by a reference to Plato's own words.

Athenian Ought we not to affirm, necessarily, that soul, which dwells in and governs all things that are moved, also dwells in and governs heaven ?

Clinias. Most certainly.

Ath. Is it one, or many ? Many - if you will permit me to answer for you — for we ought not to recognise less than two; one benevolent, and the other the contrary.

Clin. You have spoken most correctly." *

Another quotation on this point will perhaps suffice; although others of the same tenor might be easily adduced.

Ath. Now therefore it will be easy to affirm distinctly, as a necessary conclusion, since soul leads round all the planets in their orbits, that either it is the best soul or its contrary, which attends to and directs this circular motion.

Clin. O guest! after what has been said it would not be ingenuous to say that any other than soul, whether one or many, having all excellence, thus gives orbitual motion to all the planets.

Ath. You perfectly understand my thought, O Clinias; but you must supply, still farther, something which is wanting.

Clin. What is it?

Ath. Have not the sun, and moon, and the other planets, cach a soul, if soul really gives this circular motion ?

Clin. What would hinder ?

Ath. Let us then frame our reasonings touching one soul, so that they may appear adapted to all the heavenly natures.

Clin. The soul of which?

Ath. Of the sun every man may see the body, but no one the soul: neither the soul of any other body, nor of animals, whether living or dead. But there are many grounds for believing that this genus, by its nature so wholly incapable of being perceived by us through any of the bodily senses, is yet capable of being known.”+

* Page 31.-Opp. ed. Ficin. p. 669.

Page 36.-Ficin. p. 669.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

Having finished discoursing on the first kind of false belief, the Dialogue proceeds with a consideration of the second form of irreligion noticed at the commencement; namely, that the gods take no care of men or notice of their actions, and, therefore that the good receive no reward, and the bad no punishment at their hands. This, Plato suggests, may arise from beholding ihe prosperity of the wicked, and seeing them rise to wealth and power through the most flagrant means, and at last, dying full of honors in an advanced old age; their children, and grandchildren after them inheriting their riches and places of power. By several illustrations — such as the physician, the general, and naval commander, who attend, in the management of the trusts committed to them, not only to the greater, but, also, to the minor details of their professions — he shows, by analogy, that the gods keep a watchsul care over everything in the universe, whether great or small, and would be considered culpable if they did not : for sometimes “even the smallest stone is necessary in a building to the firmness of the largest one, and the most minute action may have the greatest influence upon the ultimate welfare of, not only a man's whole life, but of the whole universe. “You forget,” says Plato* to the young man," " that everything is made for the benefit of the whole, in order that the existence of the whole may be bappy: and that all things are not created for you, but you for all ;” and that every individual of the human race is subject to the same law. This doctrine of the connexion of the individual with the whole, and that he is created for the benefit of the universe, has become a favorite idea. Yet that any man can be said, strictly speaking, to be created merely for an appendage to the whole, is not extremely clear; since the whole is but an aggregation of individuals.

In this argument against those who denied that the gods rewarded men according to their works, the doctrine of future punishment is distinctly and impressively asserted. Guilt may prosper in this life, but will receive its deserts in the next. “He that is evil, shall depart to the souls that are evil; and he that is good, to such as are good. As in life, so shall it be in death; like shall be joined to like, in both work and recompense.”+ What Plato believed, and * Page 58. – Ficin. p. 671.

| Page 62. — Ficin. p. 672.

« PreviousContinue »