Sunday, November 30, 2008

David Hume's Natural History of Religion




"The primary religion of mankind arises chiefly from an anxious fear of future events; and what ideas will naturally be entertained of invisible, unknown powers, while men lie under dismal apprehension of any kind, may easily be conceived. Every image of vengeance, severity, cruelty, and malice must occur, and must augment the ghastiliness and horror, which oppresses the amazed religionist. A panic having once seized the mind, the active fancy still farther multiplies the objects of terror; while that profound darkness, or, what is worse, that glimmering light, with which we are environed, represents the spectres of divinity under the most dreadful appearances imaginable. And no idea of perverse wickedness can be framed, which those terrified devotees do not readily, without scruple, apply to their deity........The heart secretly detests such measure of cruel and implacable vengeance; but the judgment dares not but pronounce them perfect and adorable. And the additional misery of this inward struggle aggravates all the other terrors, by which these unhappy victims to superstition are for ever haunted."

From David Hume, The Natural History of Religion (Stanford:Stanford University Press, 1957), p. 65-66.



David Hume (1711-1776) is dearly loved among the universities for developing an anthropological approach to natural religion. For Hume, all religions come from primitive people who responded to a chaotic world around them, particularly the fear of death. Ignorance and stuperstition are the products of slavish religions which stifle natural reason and the senses of discernment.

Hume understands that the greatest crimes in world history are commited due to superstitious piety and devotion which is sparked by fear. He writes, "Those who undertake the most criminal and most dangeous enterprizes are commonly the most superstitious" (p. 73). This is seconded by the university system today and nearly every social justice crusader - who generally accepts the broader assertions of the enlightenment. The rise of the papacy and defending the western world from the Turks is held up as the final discussion point about the undeniable nature Christian tyranny.


Headed into this new millenium we stand amongst smoldering ruins of the bloodiest century in world history. The 20th century is marked by the most criminal and dangerous enterprizes ever committed. Yet they were enterprizes not waged by the Holy Father or religious nuts but rather by those who systematically divorced religion from rule. It took some 150 years for Hume's assumptions about man and the shackles of religion to form in the European Continent and the Soviet Union.

The greatest terrors are only possible when clergy, preaching, and worship are silenced and "natural reason" and "the will" take over. Every instance of malice, vengeance, cruely, and severity are not expressions of the Christian, as Hume suggests, but rather the natural man set free from fear and any conception of accountability to God. The great lesson is that atheism and the supression of religion is the root and cause of the greatest terrors.

With the atonement in mind, Hume suggests: "The heart secretly detests such measures of cruel and implacable vengeance." The atonement is always a scandal because it makes foolish the wisdom of the world and counfounds the hard-hearted and proud. Cruelty, and implacable vengeance are not attributes expressed in God, of which Hume ironically suggests - thus implicating himself in his own accusation. Vengeance and cruelty are rather mans attributes that are expressions of his own will not God's. The atonement reveals only God's infinite mercy for a rebellious creation. Only God can rectify cruel hearts and does so by taking justice and wrath up into himself. That he pours himself out for all does not reveal vengeance but humility and love which defies the greatest imagination.


Vengeance, violence, and wrath are attributes which Hume suggests religionists throw upon God. But in believing this he has essentially done it himself. Vengeance, violence, and wrath are only unique properties to the fallen man. Grevious offenses are developments not of God but a rather man's contribution to a creation that God pronounced 'good.' In the creation account fear, violence, and murder are the enterprizes of 'creature' whose heart strays from 'creator.' The creature in turn creates that which has thrust the world into crime, death, and despair. Ultimatly only the Creator, eternal and begotten can create anew and take back those who had become violent, miserable, and cruel - and in Christ's its done.

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