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Ravana compelled to attend on his household and his person, the divine Indra was to supply him with fresh and fragrant flowers; the omnipotent Brama to proclaim his title, and announce his glory; and the supreme Vishnu to instruct the dancing girls of his palace in the arts of blandishment, and to select and adorn the fairest among them for the high honours of his royal bed.
The religion which raises the eyes of men to deities like these, speaks of the exercise of creative power in a manner not more instructive and wise, nor less wild and obscure. Two self-existent beings are admitted, yet one is evidently anterior to the other. The first deity dispels the gloom of the undistinguishable chaos, and agitates the stillness of the primeval waters. The second, subsequently emerging from a golden egg, "blazing like a thousand suns," and in which he had dwelt from immemorial times, proceeds to form the heavens and the earth of the fractured portions of his deserted mansion. The one is desirous of producing various creatures by emanations from his own being. The other is described, at the same moment, as the great parent of things, and denominated the author and preserver of the universe. Such are the inconsistent and contradictory dogmas, on the most solemn and sublime of all subjects, which demand .the acceptance and belief of the pious Bramin. He may hear with astonishment and faith; but, from a lesson so unintelligible or absurd, he can derive no persuasion either instructive to his understanding, or salutary to his heart*.
We may now conclude, that the Hindu has not been less prodigal, or more edifying, in the structure
* Appendix, Note H.
of his polytheism, than the Greek. All nature, the meads, the groves, the streams, the mountains, the skies, are colonized by his fancy with appropriate demons, genii, and demigods. Superior and subaltern powers, nymphs of revelry, of dance, and of song, deities passing their days on earth in wanton pastime and whimsical achievement, gods distinguished by ferocity and cruelty of will, and by passions and desires equally impure and gross, spring up, at his potent bidding, on every side, and perform the parts which he assigns them; while common sense beholds with more astonishment, the freaks, the vices, and the follies of this celestial populace, than the fairy gambols and goblin feats recognized by the credulity of northern superstition.
The Koran-Magnificent description of Divinity-The divine unityPerversion of the abstract doctrine ·Accommodation of the divine nature to the views of the prophet-Fraud and libertinism sanctioned by celestial precept-Abrogations-Instability of the purposes of God-The doctrine dictated by the appetites and ambition of Mahomet -The religion proportionally corrupt in it most essential dogma.
THE Koran affords a view of the divine nature very different from that which is opened by the Grecian or Indian theology. Preceded by the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospel, it occasionally borrowed light and wisdom from them all; and its pages are, sometimes, perhaps, not wholly unworthy to vie with those in which Moses has embodied so many sublime and salutary truths, or which are illuminated and sanctified by the perfect principles of Christ.
In the chapters of the Koran, the passages descriptive of the attributes of God are, often, as splendid as they are just. The unity and glory of his being are asserted with great force and dignity of language. The gods of the polytheist are discarded with contempt; and, if the sublime annunciations of Deity in some places, were not frequently contradicted by the qualities and interpositions attributed to him in others, the Koran might have claimed, on this great article, the respect, the admiration, and the adoption of mankind.
"God! There is no God but he, the living, the "self-subsisting. Neither slumber nor sleep seizeth "him. To him belongeth whatsoever is in heaven "and on earth. He knoweth that which is past, and "that which is to come. His throne is extended over "the universe. He is the high, the mighty *!"This is certainly magnificent. Doctrines so sublime cannot uselessly be impressed on the heart. They may be enfeebled in their influence by counteracting tenets; but, abstractedly considered, considered in the majesty and glory which they disclose, the Christian may say with the Musselman, "this is the God who created the world, and who presides over it in wisdom and in power!"
In founding his religion upon the fundamental doctrine of the unity of God, Mahomet has merited the praise, and become the benefactor of mankind. By that single act of prudence, or of wisdom, he has driven polytheism, with all its vices, from numerous nations, and has contributed to interweave in the faith of a considerable portion of the human race, a principle high and holy in its nature, and most salutary in its
* Koran by Sale. Vol. 1. ch. ii. pp. 47, 48.
moral and religious influence. Regions which, otherwise, perhaps, would have been taught to lavish their adorations on a statue or a stone, have been instructed to contemplate perfection to which the eye can never be elevated in vain. The creed which extends so widely over the east and west, carries with it at least one noble and redeeming tenet; and, for the pernicious absurdities of Pagan superstition, we rejoice to behold a substitution of the first and most important principle of genuine religion.
But concession has its limits. It is not so much by abstract declarations and dogmas, as by the attributes and operations ascribed to his nature and providence, that we are to estimate the deity of any creed. The Jove of Greece and Italy was denominated the "Jupiter maximus et optimus," the greatest and the best: but what is the value of the definition which is contradicted and falsified by the crimes of the adulterer, the parricide, and the usurper? The Brama or the Cali of the Indian is described as the omnipotent and the wise; but what description can justify our adoration of the god, whose mystical generation we trace to an egg of gold, or who delights in the blood of the human victim? Of natures like these, however they may be occasionally invested with perfection, we cannot admit the claim to respect and reverence; and where the acts and dispositions are so incompatible with the imputed character, the veneration demanded by the last, is lost in the disgust and contempt excited by the first. Let us in this light consider the Deity of the Koran.
Mahomet had many passions to indulge, and many ambitious views to accomplish; and he well knew these purposes could derive no aid, because no sanction, from the simple but sublime tenet of the unity
of God. He, therefore, brought down the Deity, whom he had represented in such glowing colours, to co-operate in his designs; and he daringly invests himself with the high authority of the delegate of heaven. "There is no God, but God, and Mahomet is his prophet!" At the moment when that declaration was made, the kingly and priestly throne of the adventurer appeared to be sustained by the approbation of the Almighty. A garb of majesty was thrown over the form of impurity and imposture, and the objects and despotism of the asserted missionary of heaven, were no longer to be opposed without rebellion against the authority of heaven itself.
The tenet which thus associated the divine nature with human iniquity, was effectually employed by the author of the Koran. He went forth with the authority, and brought down upon his vices the sanction, of God. A celestial and irresistible instrumentality appeared to surround him, and to be subservient to his appetites and his will. Did he require an unbounded range for the indulgence, of his libertinism? The Deity was to extend a ready assent to his prayer. Was he anxious to be liberated from the restraint of a voluntary and solemn oath? Here also he was to experience the divine indulgence. Was his infamous passion disappointed by the chastity of Zeinah? A celestial text was to condemn her resistance, and she was instantly to be added to the number of his harem. Even on occasions which should rather have called down upon him a curse and a punishment from above, he could take refuge in the asserted permission of the Almighty. Seven hundred captives, long after the rage of battle might be supposed to have subsided, were to perish by an indiscriminate slaughter, in order to satisfy the revenge or the ferocity of the