Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/331

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saw before them instead of the glories of heaven the infinite tortures of hell. Not to the fall of Sarmatia, but to the treatment of witches in the seventeenth century, ought to be applied the words of your poet Campbell:

"Oh! bloodiest picture in the book of time!"

The mind sits in sackcloth and ashes while contemplating the scenes so powerfully described by Mr. Lecky in his chapter on "Magic and Witchcraft." But I will dwell no further upon these tragedies than to point out how terrible are the errors which our clergy may commit after they have once subscribed to the creed and laws of Judaism, and constituted themselves the legal exponents and interpreters of those laws.[1]

Turning over the leaves of the Pentateuch, where God's alleged dealings with the Israelites are recorded, it strikes one with amazement that such writings should be considered binding upon us. The overmastering strength of habit, the power of early education—possibly a defiance of the claims of reason involved in the very constitution of the mental organ—are illustrated by the fact that learned men are still to be found willing to devote their time and endowments to these writings, under the assumption that they are not human but divine. As an ancient book, claiming the same origin as other books, the Old Testament is without a rival, but its unnatural exaltation provokes recoil and rejection. Leviticus, for example, when read in the light of its own age, is full of interest and instruction. We see there described the efforts of the best men then existing to civilize the rude society around them. Violence is restrained by violence medicinally applied. Passion is checked, truth and justice are extolled, and all in a manner suited to the needs of a barbarian host. But read in the light of our age, its conceptions of the Deity are seen to be shockingly mean, and many of its ordinances brutal. Foolishness is far too weak a word to apply to any attempt to force upon a scientific age the edicts of a Jewish law-giver. The doom of such an attempt is sure; and, if the destruction of things really precious should be involved in its failure, the blame will justly be ascribed to those who obstinately persisted in the attempt. Let us, then, cherish our Sunday as an inheritance derived from the wisdom of the past; but let it be understood that we cherish it because it is in principle reasonable and in practice salutary. Let us uphold it, because it commends itself to that "light of nature" which, despite the catastrophe in Eden, the most famous theologians mention with respect, and not because it is enjoined by the thunders of Sinai. We have surely heard enough of divine sanctions founded upon myths which, however beautiful and touching when regarded from the proper point of view, are seen, when cited

  1. The sufferings of reputed witches in the seventeenth century, as well as those of the early Christians, might be traced to panics and passions similar in kind to those which produced the atrocities of the Reign of Terror in France.