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CONTENTS OF VOL. I.
PREF A CE.
I WOULD candidly advise persons who are conscious of bigoted attachment to any creed, or theory, not to purchase this book. Whether they are bigoted Christians, or bigoted infidels, its tone will be likely to displease them.
My motive in writing has been a very simple one. I wished to show that theology is not religion ; with the hope that I might help to break down partition walls; to ameliorate what the eloquent Bushnell calls " baptized hatreds of the human race." In order to do this, I have endeavoured to give a concise and comprehensive account of religions, in the liberal spirit of the motto on my title page. The period embraced in my plan extends from the most ancient Hindoo records, to the complete establishment of the Catholic church.
While my mind was yet in its youth, I was offended by the manner in which Christian writers usually describe other religions ; for I observed that they habitually covered apparent contradictions and absurdities, in Jewish or Christian writings, with a veil of allegories and mystical interpretation, while the records of all other religions were unscrupulously analyzed, or contemptuously described as “ childish fables," or “ filthy superstitions." I was well aware that this was done unconsciously, under the influence of habitual reverence for early teaching ; and I was still more displeased with the scoffing tone of sceptical writers, who regarded all religions as founded on imposture. Either way, the one-sidedness of the representation troubled my strong sense of justice. I recollect wishing, long ago, that I could become acquainted with some good, intelligent Bramin, or Mohammedan, that I might learn, in some degree, how their religions appeared to them. This feeling expanded within me, until it took form in this book. The facts it contains are very old ; the novelty it claims is the point of view from which those facts are seen and presented. I have treated all religions with reverence, and shown no more favour to one than to another. I have exhibited each one in the light of its own Sacred Books; and in giving quotations, I have aimed in every case to present impartially the beauties and the blemishes. I have honestly tried never to exaggerate merits, or conceal defects. I have not declared that any system was true, or that any one was false. I have even avoided the use of the word heathen ; for though harmless in its original signification, it is used in a way that implies condescension, or contempt; and such a tone is inconsistent with the perfect impartiality I have wished to observe. I have tried to place each form of worship in its own light; that is, as it appeared to those who sincerely believed it to be of divine origin. But even this candid method must necessarily produce a very imperfect picture, drawn as it is by a modern mind, so foreign to ancient habits of thought, and separated from them by the lapse of ages. The process has been exceedingly interesting; for the history of the religious sentiment, struggling through theological mazes, furnishes the most curious chapter in the strange history of mankind.
I offer the results of my investigations with extreme timidity. Not because I am afraid of public opinion ; for I have learned to place exceedingly little value on anything the world can give, or take away. But I have been oppressed with anxiety, lest I should not perform the important task I had undertaken in the right spirit and the most judicious manner. I have conscientiously tried to do it with great care, fearless truthfulness, perfect candour, reverence toward God, and tenderness for human nature. I have sought out facts diligently, and stated them plainly ; leaving the reader to draw his own conclusions freely, uninfluenced by suggestions from me. The inferences deduced from my statements will vary according to the predominance of the reverential, or the rationalistic element in character. I have contented myself with patiently digging out information from books old and new, and presenting it with all the clearness and all the honesty of which I am capable. To write with the unbiassed justice at which I aimed, I was obliged to trample under my feet the theological underbrush, which always tangles and obstructs the path, when the soul strives to be guided only by the mild bright star of religious sentiment. It is never pleasant to walk directly through and over the opinions of the age in which one lives. I have not done it sarcastically, as if I despised them ; because such is not my feeling. I have done it in a straight-forward quiet way, as if I were unconscious of their existence. I foresee that many good and conscientious people will consider it a great risk to treat religious history in this manner. If I could have avoided giving them pain, and at the same time have written with complete impartiality, I would most gladly have done 80. For myself, I have firm faith that plain statements of truth can never eventually prove injurious, on any subject.
Milton has expressed this conviction with rare eloquence : “Though all the winds of doctrine be let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously to doubt her strength. Let her and falsehood grapple. Who ever knew Truth put to the worse by a free and open encounter ? Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks. Methinks I see her as an eagle muing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full mid-day beam; purging and unscaling her long abused sight at the fountain itself of heavenly radiance; while the whole noise of timorous flocking birds, with those also who love the twilight, flutter about, amazed at what she means, and in their envious gabble would prognosticate a year of sects and schisms. What would ye do then ? Should ye suppress all this flowery crop of knowledge, sprung up, and yet daily springing up? Should ye set an oligarchy of twenty engrossers over it, to bring a famine upon our minds again, when we shall know nothing but what is measured to us by their bushel ? Believe it, they who counsel you to such suppressing, do as good as bid you to suppress yourselves.”
If scholars should read this book, they may perchance smile at its extreme simplicity of style. But I have written for the popular mind, not for the learned. I have therefore aimed principally at conciseness and clearness. I have recorded dates, and explained phrases, supposed to be generally understood, because I know there are many intelligent readers not familiar with such dates and phrases, and who cannot conveniently refer to cyclopedias, or lexicons. I am aware of having inserted very many things, which are perfectly well known to evorybody. But this was unavoidable, in order to present a continuous whole, from the same point of view. Doubtless, a learned person could have performed the task far better, in many respects ; but on some accounts, my want of learning is an advantage. Thoughts do not range so freely, when the store-room of the brain is overloaded with furniture. In the course of my investigations, I have frequently observed that a great amount of erudition becomes a veil of thick clouds between the subject and the reader. Moreover, learned men can rarely have such freedom from any sectarian bias, as the circumstances of my life have produced in me.
It is now more than eight years since I first began this task. Had I