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ART, II.-Fanaticism. By the Author of Natural History of Enthusiasm. 8vo. London: 1833.
T is, we fear, but too true a remark, that men of liberal and enlightened minds are usually inclined to view with more indulgence the errors which spring from want of belief, than those which arise from its excess or misdirection. Such persons, when reflecting on their own spiritual condition, are insensibly led to regard it rather in a negative than a positive light; to dwell more strongly on the dangers which they have escaped, and the prejudices from which they conceive themselves emancipated, than on the perilous snares which lie on the other side of the isthmus of their actual footing. Even if they belong, in philosophical opinion, to the party of those who hold extreme latitude on religious points a more dangerous evil to society than its opposite, they are apt to regard with disdain the views and capacities of those who form the body of their less instructed allies. They cannot divest themselves of the feelings of pride which tempt them to associate rather with the sceptic than the enthusiast. Much of this tendency may undoubtedly be ascribed to the mere circumstances of society, which throw into the ranks of unbelief a greater proportion of instructed persons, with a smaller admixture of that coarseness and vulgarity which are the great eyesores of modern fastidiousness. But we suspect that the ultimate causes of this partiality are to be found more deeply seated in the constitution of the human mind. Doubt is a situation of discontent, uneasiness, privation, if not of actual pain. Belief appears the more natural state of the mental system;-the fulfilment and satisfaction of a physical want. There is consequently a secret feeling of envy, possibly of fear, excited among those who are in the former condition, against such as seem to be in the enjoyment of the latter. They may be right; they have at least a support to lean upon, however frail and unfounded it may eventually prove ; while their opponents are only endeavouring to remain self-balanced. Wherever, therefore, the desire to believe is not sufficiently strong to overcome the intellectual disposition to doubt, the uneasiness produced by the conflict of the two principles generally ends in a feeling of acerbity and dissatisfaction towards those whose devotion is, or appears to be, of a warmer character. Such is the sentiment, mixed in different proportions with a not ill-founded distrust of ostentatious pretensions to superior sanctity and piety, which appears to us to prevail pretty extensively among the higher classes of society in this and other countries.
If we are not mistaking the diseased sentiments of over-refine ment for the natural propensities of the human heart, every symptom of a belief, either stronger in degree, or extending to a greater number of articles of faith, than that of which the observer is himself conscious, is apt to excite a species of dislike and a sense of inferiority: he will characterise such belief in general by the title of enthusiasm; in its higher state of exaltation, he will call it superstition, fanaticism, or bigotry.*
Enthusiasm, therefore, as the term is generally used by a person speaking with no invidious intent, implies a higher degree of faith than is possessed by himself. We use the term faith not in the religious sense, but simply to express the sensation of love and attachment for a particular doctrine which, in most minds, follows a strong conviction of its truth, and results, perhaps, from a distinct faculty in human nature. For belief, considered merely as the strongest assent of opinion to a proposition, is a mere operation of the intellect, unconnected with any emotion of the heart. There are minds which are unable to go beyond this mental assent or conviction. Martin Luther had a patient of this kind; one who sought his assistance and consolation, because, although she was conscious of a reasonable persuasion of the truths of Christianity, she could not believe. The reformer told her that it was a mere delusion of the devil; and, perhaps, modern philosophy would be puzzled to find a more satisfactory explanation of such a state of mind, than that it was owing to a deficiency in certain inherent sensibilities of our nature; such as, in former times, might have been ascribed to external malignant agency. For the reverse is so notoriously the ordinary case of humanity, that there are perhaps no topics, however indifferent, upon which the mind proceeds no farther than mere philosophical adhesion. There have been, and are, enthusiasts in science, history, and all other researches after truth. Who has not felt that indefinable glow of satisfaction, which follows the exertion of the intellect in comprehending and admitting an abstract truth, after an anxious process of deduction? of deduction? It is a feeling partly compound
* The language which we sometimes hear from persons who profess great liberality of religious sentiment, when speaking of those they term Fanatics, reminds us a little of old Howell the letter-writer's ingenuous declaration Difference of opinion may work a disaffection in one, but 'not a detestation; I rather pity than hate Turk and infidel, for they are of the same metal, and bear the same stamp, as myself: if I hate any, it is those schismatics that puzzle the sweet peace of our church; so that I could be content to see an Anabaptist go to Hell on a Brownist's back,'
ed of pride and self-congratulation; partly of the pleasurable emotions which arise by reaction after the fatigue of examination yet it seems to have a basis, essentially different from all these, a sensation of joy in the truth itself. And it would perhaps be difficult to show, that the faith of which we speak is a feeling at all distinct in its nature, however widely dissimilar in degree and effect. This exalted degree, these astonishing effects, it derives from the connexion of those truths whose perception it accompanies, with our personal hopes, fears, and interests: and hence we may have this sentiment from its weakest to its most powerful operation ;-from questions of mere abstract knowledge, to those doctrines of practical philosophy and social policy, which are so fiercely agitated among mankind, until it reaches its most extreme intensity in matters relating to religion.
Fanaticism is a word used in still more various senses than enthusiasm. With many it is a mere phrase of reproach, which they apply indiscriminately to all evidences of strong religious impressions. Robert Hall has given one of the best definitions of it in another of its meanings, where he calls it, such an overwhelming impression of the ideas relating to the future 'world as disqualifies for the duties of life.' But it is, perhaps, to be desired, that the fashion of speech on these subjects should be a little more precisely regulated; and we do not know that a better criterion can be adopted, than that supplied by the author of the work before us, to distinguish the phrase in question from others applied to various characters of religious emotion. ' will be found,' he says, that the elementary idea attaching to 'the term in its manifold applications, is that of fictitious fervour in religion, rendered turbulent, morose, or rancorous, by junction with some one or more of the unsocial emotions. Or, if a definition as brief as possible were demanded, we should say, that fanaticism is enthusiasm inflamed by hatred.' Religious fanaticism, he further proceeds to say, supposes three elements of belief the supposition of malignity on the part of the object of worship; a consequent detestation of mankind at large, as the subjects of malignant power; and then a credulous conceit of the favour of Heaven, shown to a few, in contempt of ⚫ the rules of virtue.' And, pursuing the analytical system which pervades these rhapsodical pages rather in form than in substance, the author divides his subject-matter into four varieties, which he has designated, by a sort of Baconic nomenclature, as the Fanaticism of the Scourge, of the Brand, of the Banner, and of the Sword.
The first, or the fanaticism which displays itself in self-inflicted austerities, is said, by our author, to comprehend • all in
stances, wherein malignant religious emotions turn inward upon the unhappy subject of them.' How it happens that a feeling of malignity towards others should prompt the sufferer to multiply severities against himself, is not very clearly explained by this writer, whose tendency is rather to declaim on the symptoms of human errors than to analyze their origin. And there is, perhaps, a necessary distinction to be made between this and the other sorts of fanaticism. They seem all to originate in malignant feeling;—this to produce it by a sort of reflective action. Even where the practice of self-infliction arises from unmixed enthusiasm, (which it seldom does,) the temper which gives birth to it may, perhaps, be wholly untainted by virulent emotions. But the practice itself, by forcing the mind back on self-contemplation, is found to engender those emotions, or to render them more intense where they existed before. The spirit which is wholly engaged on the prospect of its own pain, imbibes a feeling of hatred towards the rest of mankind, merely on account of their exemption from the torments which it has voluntarily chosen to undergo. Hence we arrive at the curious result, that those monkish austerities which were practised avowedly as vicarious sufferings for the sins of others, (although it would be unjust to accuse their perpetrators of actual insincerity,) were accompanied by a feeling of hatred and contempt for that community in whose behalf they were exercised, and a benevolent principle was carried into effect by hearts overflowing with malignant jealousy. The habit of self-infliction, acting on ordinary human nature, is probably certain to produce a similar result, whether it spring, in the first instance, from egregious pride, or from a perverted mildness and timidity of heart. If a Dominic is necessarily an enemy of his kind, it seems no less certain, that a Pascal must eventually become, what Voltaire has called him, a sublime misanthrope. But instances of pure fanaticism, as our author admits, are rarer in proportion in this than any other of the classes into which he has arranged them. There are many species of strong emotion which may tend to one result; namely, to render the general society of men distasteful to the sufferer, and impel him to exhaust the passions of his soul in voluntary endurance. To one class of victims, far larger perhaps than legends or lives of saints would give us occasion to suspect, it has furnished a refuge for a broken heart, or a guilty conscience. In the ancient Eastern world, where asceticism arose, the gates of enormous cities, thickly peopled with luxurious and profligate dwellers, opened directly on the wilderness, on dry deserts, or impervious mountains. A single day's journey was sufficient to carry a man from the heart of civilisation to utter solitude. There, under a climate which render
VOL, LIX. NO. CXIX.
ed life a burden easy to support, the patient might dream away the memory of his crime or suffering in Oriental indolence, or seek, in sincerity, to expiate them by suffering. How many the hermits of Syria, like the monks of the severer communities in the West, may have been men labouring under the consciousness of unatoned guilt! Such an ascetic would seldom make his miseries a matter of public display. Like the hermit described by Palladius, in a passage quoted in this book, he says nothing to any one, and betakes himself to the desert,'-undevì under eignκώς, καταλαμβάνει τήν ἔρημον. He would not be traced among those who have attained the ostentatious dignity of sainthood; unless in those instances where the mental wound being fully cicatrized, had given way to the old excitements of vanity and ambition. But these more ordinary agents have, no doubt, influenced, in the outset of their career, a far greater proportion of those who have become famous for their austerities, than either despair or fanaticism. Nowhere do these impulses find easier gratification than in the idle parade of self-infliction; always, and in every form, a substitute for exertion. Penance is but a mode of avoiding a difficulty; of evading, instead of solving, the problem of raising our moral power to meet the degree of resistance which passions, tastes, and interests oppose to the course of duty. It is therefore a matter of curiosity, rather than of surprise, to observe, in this instance, what, perhaps, is without a parallel in any other;the total abolition of a most important class (as was formerly thought) of religious observances, the religion which was supposed to enjoin them remaining the same. For fasting itself, which formed, down to a very late period, so essential a matter in the Christian discipline of our fathers, may be said to be on the point of actual extinction among the Protestants of this community: hardly do a few observances, still retained in some households rather from family tradition than from principle, remain to testify the recent existence of a practice once so highly praised, and so generally followed. Penance of any sort is, in fact, even more adverse to modern habits than to modern views of religion: perhaps we may add, as our author acutely remarks when speaking of the Jews, it is a practice which has never comported with the sentiments and habits of a trading people.
In approaching the next division of the subject, the consideration of that fanaticism which manifests itself in injustice to others, we are entering on a topic of widely different importance; and cannot wonder how far it is still enveloped in doubt, when we remember the extremely recent date at which reasonable sentiments respecting it have begun to prevail. Toleration is a principle of scarcely a century's growth; and, at this day, how widely