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The people expressed their applause, and the legislator continued: To proceed with order, and avoid all confusion, let a spacious semicircle be left vacant in front of the altar of peace and union; let each system of religion, and each particular sect, erect its proper distinctive standard on the line of this semicircle; let its chiefs and doctors place themselves around the standard, and their followers form a column behind them.
The semicircle being traced, and the order published, there instantly rose an innumerable multitude of standards, of all colors and of every form, like what we see in a great commercial port, when, on a day of rejoicing, a thousand different flags and streamers are floating from a forest of masts.
At the sight of this prodigious diversity, I turned towards the Genius and said:
I thought that the earth was divided only into eight or ten systems of faith, and I then despaired of a reconciliation; I now behold thousands of different sects, and how can I hope for concord?
But these, replied the Genius, are not all; and yet they will be intolerant!
Then, as the groups advanced to take their stations, he pointed out to me their distinctive marks, and thus began to explain their characters:
That first group, said he, with a green banner bearing a crescent, a bandage, and a sabre, are the followers of the Arabian prophet. To say there is a God, without knowing what he is; to believe the words of a man, without understanding his language; to go into the desert to pray to God, who is everywhere; to wash the hands with water, and not abstain from blood; to fast all day, and eat all night; to give alms of their own goods, and to plunder those of others; such are the means of perfection instituted by Mahomet-- such are the symbols of his followers; and whoever does not bear them is a reprobate, stricken with anathema, and devoted to the sword.
A God of clemency, the author of life, has instituted these laws of oppression and murder: he made them for all the world, but has revealed them only to one man; he established them from all eternity, though he made them known but yesterday. These laws are abundantly sufficient for all purposes, and yet a volume is added to them. This volume was to diffuse light, to exhibit evidence, to lead men to perfection and happiness; and yet every page was so full of obscurities, ambiguities, and contradictions, that commentaries and explanations became necessary, even in the life- time of its apostle. Its interpreters, differing in opinion, divided into opposite and hostile sects. One maintains that Ali is the true successor; the other contends for Omar and Aboubekre. This denies the eternity of the Koran; that the necessity of ablutions and prayers. The Carmite forbids pilgrimages, and allows the use of wine; the Hakemite preaches the transmigration of souls. Thus they make up the number of seventy-two sects, whose banners are before you.* In this contestation, every one attributing the evidence of truth exclusively to himself, and taxing all others with heresy and rebellion, turns against them its sanguinary zeal. And their religion, which celebrates a mild and merciful God, the common father of all men,--changed to a torch of discord, a signal for war and murder, has not ceased for twelve hundred years to deluge the earth in blood, and to ravage and desolate the ancient hemisphere from centre to circumference.**
Read the history of Islamism by its own writers, and you will be convinced that one of the principal causes of the wars which have desolated Asia and Africa, since the days of Mahomet, has been the apostolical fanaticism of its doctrine. Caesar has been supposed to have destroyed three millions of men: it would be interesting to make a similar calculation respecting every founder of a religious system.
Those men, distinguished by their enormous white turbans, their broad sleeves, and their long rosaries, are the Imans, the Mollas, and the Muftis; and near them are the Dervishes with pointed bonnets, and the Santons with dishevelled hair. Behold with what vehemence they recite their professions of faith! They are now beginning a dispute about the greater and lesser impurities--about the matter and the manner of ablutions,--about the attributes of God and his perfections--about the Chaitan, and the good and wicked angels,--about death, the resurrection, the interrogatory in the tomb, the judgment, the passage of the narrow bridge not broader than a hair, the balance of works, the pains of hell, and the joys of paradise.
Next to these, that second more numerous group, with white banners intersected with crosses, are the followers of Jesus. Acknowledging the same God with the Mussulmans, founding their belief on the same books, admitting, like them, a first man who lost the human race by eating an apple, they hold them, however, in a holy abhorrence; and, out of pure piety, they call each other impious blasphemers.
The great point of their dissension consists in this, that after admitting a God one and indivisible the Christian divides him into three persons, each of which he believes to be a complete and entire God, without ceasing to constitute an identical whole, by the indivisibility of the three. And he adds, that this being, who fills the universe, has reduced himself to the body of a man; and has assumed material, perishable, and limited organs, without ceasing to be immaterial, infinite, and eternal. The Mussulman who does not comprehend these mysteries, rejects them as follies, and the visions of a distempered brain; though he conceives perfectly well the eternity of the Koran, and the mission of the prophet: hence their implacable hatreds.
Again, the Christians, divided among themselves on many points, have formed parties not less violent than the Mussulmans; and their quarrels are so much the more obstinate, as the objects of them are inaccessible to the senses and incapable of demonstration: their opinions, therefore, have no other basis but the will and caprice of the parties. Thus, while they agree that God is a being incomprehensible and unknown, they dispute, nevertheless, about his essence, his mode of acting, and his attributes. While they agree that his pretended transformation into man is an enigma above the human understanding, they dispute on the junction or distinction of his two wills and his two natures, on his change of substance, on the real or fictitious presence, on the mode of incarnation, etc.
Hence those innumerable sects, of which two or three hundred have already perished, and three or four hundred others, which still subsist, display those numberless banners which here distract your sight.
The first in order, surrounded by a group in varied and fantastic dress, that confused mixture of violet, red, white, black and speckled garments--with heads shaved, or with tonsures, or with short hair--with red hats, square bonnets, pointed mitres, or long beards, is the standard of the Roman pontiff, who, uniting the civil government to the priesthood, has erected the supremacy of his city into a point of religion, and made of his pride an article of faith.
On his right you see the Greek pontiff, who, proud of the rivalship of his metropolis, sets up equal pretensions, and supports them against the Western church by the priority of that of the East. On the left are the standards of two recent chiefs,* who, shaking off a yoke that had become tyrannical, have raised altar against altar in their reform, and wrested half of Europe from the pope. Behind these are the subaltern sects, subdivided from the principal divisions, the Nestorians, the Eutycheans, the Jacobites, the Iconoclasts, the Anabaptists, the Presbyterians, the Wicliffites, the Osiandrians, the Manicheans, the Pietists, the Adamites, the Contemplatives, the Quakers, the Weepers, and a hundred others, all of distinct parties, persecuting when strong, tolerant when weak, hating each other in the name of a God of peace, forming each an exclusive heaven in a religion of universal charity, dooming each other to pains without end in a future state, and realizing in this world the imaginary hell of the other.
Consult upon this subject Dictionnaire des Herseies par l'Abbe Pluquet, in two volumes 8vo.: a work admirably calculated to inspire the mind with philosophy, in the sense that the Lacedemonians taught the children temperance by showing to them the drunken Helots.
After this group, observing a lonely standard of the color of hyacinth, round which were assembled men clad in all the different dresses of Europe and Asia:
At least, said I, to the Genius, we shall find unanimity here.
Yes, said he, at first sight and by a momentary accident. Dost thou not know that system of worship?
Then, perceiving in Hebrew letters the monogram of the name of God, and the palms which the Rabbins held in their hands:
True, said I, these are the children of Moses, dispersed even to this day, abhorring every nation, and abhorred and persecuted by all.
Yes, he replied, and for this reason, that, having neither the time nor liberty to dispute, they have the appearance of unanimity. But no sooner will they come together, compare their principles, and reason on their opinions, than they will separate as formerly, at least into two principal sects;* one of which, taking advantage of the silence of their legislator, and adhering to the literal sense of his books, will deny everything that is not clearly expressed therein; and on this principle will reject as profane inventions, the immortality of the soul, its transmigration to places of pain or pleasure, its resurrection, the final judgment, the good and bad angels, the revolt of the evil Genius, and all the poetical belief of a world to come. And this highly-favored people, whose perfection consists in a slight mutilation of their persons,--this atom of a people, which forms but a small wave in the ocean of mankind, and which insists that God has made nothing but for them, will by its schism reduce to one-half, its present trifling weight in the scale of the universe.
He then showed me a neighboring group, composed of men dressed in white robes, wearing a veil over their mouths, and ranged around a banner of the color of the morning sky, on which was painted a globe cleft in two hemispheres, black and white: The same thing will happen, said he, to these children of Zoroaster,* the obscure remnant of a people once so powerful. At present, persecuted like the Jews, and dispersed among all nations, they receive without discussion the precepts of the representative of their prophet. But as soon as the Mobed and the Destours** shall assemble, they will renew the controversy about the good and the bad principle; on the combats of Ormuzd, God of light, and Ahrimanes, God of darkness; on the direct and allegorical sense; on the good and evil Genii; on the worship of fire and the elements; on impurities and ablutions; on the resurrection of the soul and body, or only of the soul;*** on the renovation of the present world, and on that which is to take its place. And the Parses will divide into sects, so much the more numerous, as their families will have contracted, during their dispersion, the manners and opinions of different nations.
That is to say, their priests. See, respecting the rites of this religion, Henry Lord Hyde, and the Zendavesta. Their costume is a robe with a belt of four knots, and a veil over their mouth for fear of polluting the fire with their breath.
*** The Zoroastrians are divided between two opinions; one party believing that both soul and body will rise, the other that it will be the soul only. The Christians and Mahometans have embraced the most solid of the two.
Next to these, remark those banners of an azure ground, painted with monstrous figures of human bodies, double, triple, and quadruple, with heads of lions, boars, and elephants, and tails of fishes and tortoises; these are the ensigns of the sects of India, who find their gods in various animals, and the souls of their fathers in reptiles and insects. These men support hospitals for hawks, serpents, and rats, and they abhor their fellow creatures! They purify themselves with the dung and urine of cows, and think themselves defiled by the touch of a man! They wear a net over the mouth, lest, in a fly, they should swallow a soul in a state of penance,* and they can see a Pariah** perish with hunger! They acknowledge the same gods, but they separate into hostile bands.
This is the name of a cast or tribe reputed unclean, because they eat of what has enjoyed life.
The first standard, retired from the rest, bearing a figure with four heads, is that of Brama, who, though the creator of the universe, is without temples or followers; but, reduced to serve as a pedestal to the Lingam,* he contents himself with a little water which the Bramin throws every morning on his shoulder, reciting meanwhile an idle canticle in his praise.
The second, bearing a kite with a scarlet body and a white head, is that of Vichenou, who, though preserver of the world, has passed part of his life in wicked actions. You sometimes see him under the hideous form of a boar or a lion, tearing human entrails, or under that of a horse,* shortly to come armed with a sword to destroy the human race, blot out the stars, annihilate the planets, shake the earth, and force the great serpent to vomit a fire which shall consume the spheres.
The third is that of Chiven, God of destruction and desolation, who has, however, for his emblem the symbol of generation. He is the most wicked of the three, and he has the most followers. These men, proud of his character, express in their devotions to him their contempt for the other gods,* his equals and brothers; and, in imitation of his inconsistencies, while they profess great modesty and chastity, they publicly crown with flowers, and sprinkle with milk and honey, the obscene image of the Lingam.
In the rear of these, approach the smaller standards of a multitude of gods--male, female, and hermaphrodite. These are friends and relations of the principal gods, who have passed their lives in wars among themselves, and their followers imitate them. These gods have need of nothing, and they are constantly receiving presents; they are omnipotent and omnipresent, and a priest, by muttering a few words, shuts them up in an idol or a pitcher, to sell their favors for his own benefit.
Beyond these, that cloud of standards, which, on a yellow ground, common to them all, bear various emblems, are those of the same god, who reins under different names in the nations of the East. The Chinese adores him in Fot,* the Japanese in Budso, the Ceylonese in Bedhou, the people of Laos in Chekia, of Pegu in Phta, of Siam in Sommona-Kodom, of Thibet in Budd and in La. Agreeing in some points of his history, they all celebrate his life of penitence, his mortifications, his fastings, his functions of mediator and expiator, the enmity between him and another god, his adversary, their battles, and his ascendency. But as they disagree on the means of pleasing him, they dispute about rites and ceremonies, and about the dogmas of interior doctrine and of public doctrine. That Japanese Bonze, with a yellow robe and naked head, preaches the eternity of souls, and their successive transmigrations into various bodies; near him, the Sintoist denies that souls can exist separate from the senses, and maintains that they are only the effect of the organs to which they belong, and with which they must perish, as the sound of the flute perishes with the flute. Near him, the Siamese, with his eyebrows shaved, and a talipat screen*** in his hand, recommends alms, offerings, and expiations, at the same time that he preaches blind necessity and inexorable fate. The Chinese vo-chung sacrifices to the souls of his ancestors; and next him, the follower of Confucius interrogates his destiny in the cast of dice and the movement of the stars.**** That child, surrounded by a swarm of priests in yellow robes and hats, is the Grand Lama, in whom the god of Thibet has just become incarnate.*5 But a rival has arisen who partakes this benefit with him; and the Kalmouc on the banks of the Baikal, has a God similar to the inhabitant of Lasa. And they agree, also, in one important point--that god can inhabit only a human body. They both laugh at the stupidity of the Indian who pays homage to cow-dung, though they themselves consecrate the excrements of their high-priest.*6
See in Kempfer the doctrine of the Sintoists, which is a mixture of that of Epicurus and of the Stoics.
*** It is a leaf of the Latanier species of the palm-tree. Hence the bonzes of Siam take the appellation of Talapoin. The use of this screen is an exclusive privilege.
**** The sectaries of Confucius are no less addicted to astrology than the bonzes. It is indeed the malady of every eastern nation.
*5 The Delai-La-Ma, or immense high priest of La, is the same person whom we find mentioned in our old books of travels, by the name of Prester John, from a corruption of the Persian word Djehan, which signifies the world, to which has been prefixed the French word prestre or pretre, priest. Thus the priest world, and the god world are in the Persian idiom the same.
*6 In a recent expedition the English have found certain idols of the Lamas filled in the inside with sacred pastils from the close stool of the high priest. Mr. Hastings, and Colonel Pollier, who is now at Lausanne, are living witnesses of this fact, and undoubtedly worthy of credit. It will be very extraordinary to observe, that this disgusting ceremony is connected with a profound philosophical system, to wit, that of the metempsychosis, admitted by the Lamas. When the Tartars swallow, the sacred relics, which they are accustomed to do, they imitate the laws of the universe, the parts of which are incessantly absorbed and pass into the substance of each other. It is upon the model of the serpent who devours his tail, and this serpent is Budd and the world.
After these, a crowd of other banners, which no man could number, came forward into sight; and the genius exclaimed:
I should never finish the detail of all the systems of faith which divide these nations. Here the hordes of Tartars adore, in the forms of beasts, birds, and insects, the good and evil Genii; who, under a principal, but indolent god, govern the universe. In their idolatry they call to mind the ancient paganism of the West. You observe the fantastical dress of the Chamans; who, under a robe of leather, hung round with bells and rattles, idols of iron, claws of birds, skins of snakes and heads of owls, invoke, with frantic cries and factitious convulsions, the dead to deceive the living. There, the black tribes of Africa exhibit the same opinions in the worship of their fetiches. See the inhabitant of Juida worship god in a great snake, which, unluckily, the swine delight to eat.* The Teleutean attires his god in a coat of several colors, like a Russian soldier.** The Kamchadale, observing that everything goes wrong in his frozen country, considers god as an old ill-natured man, smoking his pipe and hunting foxes and martins in his sledge.***
The Teleuteans, a Tartar nation, paint God as wearing a vesture of all colors, particularly red and green; and as these constitute the uniform of the Russian dragoons, they compare him to this description of soldiers. The Egyptians also dress the God World in a garment of every color. Eusebius Proep. Evang. p 115. The Teleuteans call God Bou, which is only an alteration of Boudd, the God Egg and World.
*** Consult upon this subject a work entitled, Description des Peuples, soumis a la Russie, and it will be found that the picture is not overcharged.
But you may still behold a hundred savage nations who have none of the ideas of civilized people respecting God, the soul, another world, and a future life; who have formed no system of worship; and who nevertheless enjoy the rich gifts of nature in the irreligion in which she has created them.
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