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SECOND SERIES, NO. VI.-WHOLE NO. XXXVIII.
By Philip Lindsley, D. D. President of Nashville University, Nashville, Tennessee.
SIR WILLIAM JONES, at the commencement of an essay, in which he proposes to draw a parallel between the gods of the Indian and European heathens, makes the following liberal preliminary remark : “ I shall remember that nothing is less favorable to inquiries after truth than a systematical spirit : and shall call to mind the saying of a Hindu writer, that whoever obstinately adheres to any set of opinions may bring himself to believe that the freshest sandal wood is a flame of fire.'”
To rise above vulgar prejudices, lis generally esteemed an evidence of an enlightened and superior mind. If by this, nothing more were meant, than a rejection of error for the sake of truth, or an honest disposition to seek and to embrace truth to the utter renunciation of error, in defiance of all our previous opinions and habits, we should not object to the position. Such a determination, if rigidly adhered to, does certainly evince much candor of temper and strength of intellect. But if the declaimers against vulgar prejudices, expect us to be divested of every prejudice before we can be qualified for the fair investigation of truth or for its reception, we humbly conceive that they quite overshoot the mark,
SECOND SERIES, VOL. III. NO. II.
by making a demand on poor human nature which it neither can nor ought to yield. All men have prejudices. They imbibe them unconsciously and imperceptibly from the first moments in which impressions are made on the senses from any causes.
Prejudice is a prejudgment—or a judgment formed beforehand, without examination-an anticipation of knowledgea preconceived opinion-or an opinion embraced without proof, or, at least, before the mind has ever comprehended the proof which supports it.
The majority of every man's sentiments and principles may, with much propriety, be denominated prejudices. He has received them from his parents, from his nurse, from his teachers, from his associates, from accidental circumstances, from the peculiarity of his position and rank in society, from the particular form of government and religion of his country, from partial reading, and from all those numerous and nameless causes and influences which give variety to life, and which impart a specific coloring to every man's character and destiny. Many of these prejudices are doubtless good and well-founded, though we may never trouble ourselves at all about the foundation on which they rest. The mass of mankind, in every country, are actuated and governed by their prejudices. They neither reflect nor reason for themselves. If their prejudices happen to be correct, they generally prove orderly and useful citizens or subjects. And we certainly feel no desire to interrupt the tranquillity of such virtuous well-meaning persons, by suggesting a single doubt, or by throwing a single difficulty in their way. Let them live and die under the salutary influence of prejudice. Let the Laplander love his freezing snows, and the African his burning sun. It is a happy prejudice which inclines him to prefer his dreary native regions to every other country. Were it not for this prejudice, this invincible amor patriæ, half the globe would be destitute of inhabitants. It is therefore an innocent and very beneficial prejudice. This is one instance. Many more of a similar kind might be mentioned. Happy would it be for the human family were all their prejudices equally harmless. Happy if their prejudices on subjects of deep and lasting moment were always in favor of truth.
But the fact is far otherwise. The ten thousand totally dissimilar and contradictory political and religious systems which prevail in the world, and which command the affections of men, incontestably prove that the prejudices of the far greater proportion of our race are erroneous. These prejudices, too, are inveterate. It is scarcely possible to eradicate them from the minds of any considerable number. And it is always dangerous to attack the prejudices of the multitude in an open and direct manner. Such an attack generally tends to bind them more strongly to their errors : or if it should produce an opposite effect, the consequences are oftentimes much more deplorable. This is eminently the case with regard to religious prejudices. The falsest views and notions of religion are better than none. Without the fear of God, in some form, operating on the mind and conscience of men, human laws become nugatory, and society is at an end. Witness France—so often cited on similar occasions—soon after the commencement of her rev. olutionary tumults. Her ignorant volatile people were so powerfully wrought upon by the disguised enemies of truth, that they were at length induced to trample in the dust the entire fabric which papal tyranny and superstition had erected among them, to burst in sunder the chains by which they had been for ages fettered, and to rush into all the extravagancies of atheistic licentiousness. No substitute was offered them for the absurdities of a religion which they so hastily abandoned. The result was natural, and might have been anticipated. Every benevolent oppugner of popular religious prejudice will proceed with cautious steps; and endeavor to give at least an equivalent--something true and salutary-for what is false and mischievous. Otherwise he had better be content to let prejudice reign undisturbed.
These hasty and desultory remarks we have thought proper to premise as illustrative of the subject generally. We profess not, however, to be the advocates of prejudice any further than the welfare of society and the frailty of our nature seem to render unavoidable. The ignorant multitude are, and necessarily must be, under its dominion. Let them therefore be excused, and pass without censure or rebuke.
But can we extend the same indulgence to men who claim the distinction of scholars-of free inquirers after truth, -who, notwithstanding their superior opportunities, and their high pretensions to science and liberality, do yet entertain partial and bigoted sentiments on any subject which they profess to have investigated, and which they certainly might have investigated to its very foundations and through. out all its bearings and connexions? Is it not the prerogative of science to dispel error, to remove prejudice or to convert what was once prejudice, into certain knowledge or indisputable truth, by a lucid development of the evidence on which it rests? But when she fails to produce this effect in her votaries—when even the comparatively enlightened favored few, who affect to despise the ignoble vulgar, evince an uncandid, dogmatical, opinionative spirit, an obstinate adherence to tenets which they have adopted, they cannot tell whence or wherefore—what can be reasonably urged in their defence or justification ? Or what benefit do they derive from science, if their minds be not sufficiently enlarged and liberalized to qualify and dispose them to look into their own hearts, and to scrutinize the opinions and doctrines which they may have been accustomed to cherish as indubitable or as innate verities?
We do not mean to insinuate that a man, in order to become truly learned upon any subject, ought forthwith to renounce all his previously acquired ideas of that subject to become, as it were, a tabula rasa—that he may be enabled to proceed dispassionately and without bias, till he shall arrive at truth by fair demonstration or induction. We would not reduce him to a state of infancy with a view to rectify the obliquities of premature manhood. This would be impossible. But we ask him to exercise his reason in subjecting to a legitimate test the materials already stored in his mind. We ask him to be ready to give the proof of what he professes to believe. And not like mere children to appeal to the authority of parents and teachers, or like orthodox Romanists, who believe because the church believes. We ask him to venture beyond the bare ipse dixit of philosopher or priest or favorite author, and to learn why his master has taught him thus, or why this particular creed or system has been imposed on his mind and incorporated with his feelings rather than another. We ask him, in a word, to be open to conviction. Not to become a skeptic in order to escape delusion.
When a man has once reached this point, he is in a fair way to discover truth and cordially to embrace it. He may then be said to have begun to be divested of prejudice. He
is prepared to canvass systems and opinions which had once been his aversion; to give a candid hearing to men and parties which all his early habits and notions had led him to oppose and despise. Names no longer alarm him, however odious they may be to the particular party or sect or denomination with which birth and education may have connected him. It is truth, under whatever guise or name she appears, that he is now in search of. Such a man is liberal, forbearing, tolerant, generous, independent, just and modest. He never condemns hastily, nor without adequate cause. And if his researches shall have made him acquainted with the Bible-as they necessarily would, if he have the happiness to live in a Protestant Christian country—we may then behold in him an edifying example of what is so rarely to be met with-a truly charitable man. In the Bible he finds truth, pure and unadulterated, substantial and cheering to the soul. Before its celestial light, all his religious prejudices vanish away. And his faith is settled, as upon a rock, never more to be shaken.
But why then are not all Christians of one mind and of one faith? Why do they not, at least, live together in the exercise of love and mutual forbearance? If charity be the essential pervading attribute of our holy religion ; should we not expect that her friends would be friends to one another? Should we not expect, moreover, that much unanimity of sentiment would obtain among men who derive their notions or doctrines from one and the same source ? This, we think, might reasonably have been anticipated. For we certainly should never have conjectured, previously to a knowledge of the fact, that so many discordant opinions as are entertained in the Christian world, could ever have claimed a shadow of support from the great charter of a religion so pre-eminently gracious and benevolent in its nature and object. Strange that so many inconsistencies should exist in a book, the avowed design and tendency of which are so plain and obvious that even the most illiterate may readily understand and obey its precepts. Strange that the Holy Scriptures, the volume of inspiration, the only unerring guide to mortals through this world of darkness, sin and trial, the only revelation ever vouchsafed by the infinitely wise and good Jehovah to his ,creatures-strange, inconceivably strange, that the work of such a Being, and given for so great and so