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FANATICISM OF THE SYMBOL.
The arduous part of our subject now meets us. In reviewing those phases of error which have long ago passed away, we occupy a vantage ground, and may at leisure measure the proportions of the distant object. But every circumstance of the inquiry is of another sort when it is the extant form of religion which comes to be examined, and when what we should calmly and impartially speak of, are practices, opinions, and modes of feeling, regarded as excellent, or leniently dealt with as venial, by our contemporaries—our friends— our coadjutors—ourselves.
It were an arrogance in any man to assume that he can exercise an absolutely impartial judgment concerning the things of his own age. No human mind has ever reached such serene elevation. If the characteristic and prevailing errors of the day have been discerned by here and there an individual, himself has not escaped that depressing influence which attends a longcontinued and anxious meditation of objects that show a frowning face to whoever refuses them his homage. Conscious then of a disadvantage not to be avoided, and careful to maintain that modesty which the knowledge of it should engender, we may yet advance, enheartened by the anticipation of an era, perhaps not very remote, when the Religion of the Scriptures, having at length passed through the cycle of its degradations, shall, without any more hinderance, bless the human family.
In contemplating the errors of past ages, no point more important presents itself, nothing which should so fix our attention as the fact that certain extravagant modes of feeling, or certain pernicious practices—the offspring of an active and virulent fanaticism, have, after a while, subsided into a fixed and tranquil form, such as has allowed them to win the approval and to secure the support of the calmest and most enlightened minds; and so to be transmitted through successive ages—accredited, unquestioned, admired. The turbulent stage of fanaticism would do the church little harm if it were not succeeded by a tame and moderate fanaticism — seemingly wise and temperate.— The parent in these instances is an ephemeron; but the progeny has had a longer term than that of the phoenix. — The rugged surface of our globe, such as it is seen among the Alps or Andes, imposes awe, as if those stupendous piles of primeval rock, capped with the snows of thousands of winters, were the very symbols of protracted unchanging duration—or of eternity itself; and yet is it not true that the huge masses owe their stern grandeur and their lofty pride to terrible powers of commotion ?—these mountains were upheaved when our world was in her fit of boisterous frenzy—when convulsions shook her centre. Instead then of regarding the now motionless forms as emblems of repose, we should deem them rather the relics and the portents too of confusion.
Nothing, or nothing favorable, should be inferred on the behalf of any system or constitution of things from its present tranquillity, or from the moderation and the wisdom that invest it; or from the accidental benefits which it may claim to have produced. The blackest superstitions have shewn an exterior mildly magnificent:— the extravagances of personal torture have worn the garb of seraphic piety: — the Fanaticism of intolerance has shone in combination with great qualities; and the zeal of military proselytism has made alliance with substantial virtues. There is nothing, then, to wonder at if even genuine piety and the brightest personal excellence are found to exist under a state of things which owes its origin to an impulse essentially fanatical. The question is always, not whether accomplishments and virtues and piety exist within this or that system; but simply—whether the system itself be good or evil.
The Fanaticism of the Symbol—or a malign and turbulent zeal for the honour of a creed, supposes of course, the possession of a written and authoritative canon of faith. But then this Rule has to be interpreted; and the interpretation, in each instance, insensibly draws to itself those profound emotions which the sacred importance of the canon calls into play.
It does not appear that sectarian rancour, in any distinct form, had shewn itself before the time when the Jewish prophetic economy having been sealed, and the written Testimony of God consigned, in a defunct dialect, to Interpreters, a field was opened to diversities of opinion, each of which challenged to itself entire, the prerogatives that attach of right to the original document. From the period when Exposition of Scripture became the business of a class of men, the Jewish community parted into sects which, in an exasperated condition, were the main causes of the ruin of the state, the destruction of the city, and the dispersion of the race.
In this instance what we assume to have been new in the history of human nature, was not the existence or the breaking forth of diversities of opinion; for these have disturbed all countries in all ages; nor was it the alliance of certain modes of thinking on abstract subjects with temporary and political interests; for nothing has been more common than such associations. But the novelty was precisely this— That the tremendous weight of God's sanction —truly believed to belong to the Canon of Faith, was claimed by each party in behalf of its special exposition of the rule. So fatal an assumption effected a firm coalescence of every religious sentiment with the passionate workings of self-love, pride, jealousy, and the sense of personal and corporate welfare.
Within the circle of these feelings every proper element of Fanaticism finds room, and no species of Fanaticism has been altogether so compact or so permanent. The other kinds (as we have seen) have had their hour and have vanished; this has settled down upon Religion— documentary religion, as well in Europe as in Asia, and now in America, and has become the inseparable condition of all forms of Worship.
We say every proper element of Fanaticism displays itself in the Fanaticism of the Symbol.— As for example:—The Divine Being, when so outraged as to be made the patron of a virulent faction, appears to the votary altogether under a malign aspect, and can no more be thought of such as He is. Again, the irritation excited by opposition in matters of opinion, when heightened by a vindictive forethought of future