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Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

It is my opinion, I own, replied DEMEA, that each man feels, in a manner, the
truth of religion within his own breast, and, from a consciousness of his imbecility
and misery, rather than from any reasoning, is led to seek protection from that
Being, on whom he and all nature is dependent. So anxious or so tedious are
even the best scenes of life, that futurity is still the object of all our hopes and
fears. We incessantly look forward, and endeavour, by prayers, adoration, and
sacrifice, to appease those unknown powers, whom we find, by experience, so
able to afflict and oppress us. Wretched creatures that we are! what resource for
us amidst the innumerable ills of life, did not religion suggest some methods of
atonement, and appease those terrors with which we are incessantly agitated
and tormented?
I am indeed persuaded, said PHILO, that the best, and indeed the only method of
bringing every one to a due sense of religion, is by just representations of the
misery and wickedness of men. And for that purpose a talent of eloquence and
strong imagery is more requisite than that of reasoning and argument. For is it
necessary to prove what every one feels within himself? It is only necessary to
make us feel it, if possible, more intimately and sensibly.
The people, indeed, replied DEMEA, are sufficiently convinced of this great and
melancholy truth. The miseries of life; the unhappiness of man; the general
corruptions of our nature; the unsatisfactory enjoyment of pleasures, riches,
honours; these phrases have become almost proverbial in all languages. And
who can doubt of what all men declare from their own immediate feeling and
In this point, said PHILO, the learned are perfectly agreed with the vulgar; and in
all letters, sacred and profane, the topic of human misery has been insisted on
with the most pathetic eloquence that sorrow and melancholy could inspire. The
poets, who speak from sentiment, without a system, and whose testimony has
therefore the more authority, abound in images of this nature. From Homer down
to Dr. Young, the whole inspired tribe have ever been sensible, that no other
representation of things would suit the feeling and observation of each individual.
As to authorities, replied DEMEA, you need not seek them. Look round this
library of CLEANTHES. I shall venture to affirm, that, except authors of particular
sciences, such as chemistry or botany, who have no occasion to treat of human
life, there is scarce one of those innumerable writers, from whom the sense of
human misery has not, in some passage or other, extorted a complaint and
confession of it. At least, the chance is entirely on that side; and no one author
has ever, so far as I can recollect, been so extravagant as to deny it.