Chapters 23-25

Religious Festivals

March 10, 2020

WHEN religion appoints a cessation from labour, it ought to have a greater regard to the necessities of mankind, than to the grandeur of the being it designs to honour.

Athens* was subject to great inconveniencies from the excessive number of its festivals. These powerful people, to whose decision all the cities of Greece came to submit their quarrels, could not have time to dispatch such a multiplicity of affairs.

When Constantine ordained that the people should rest on the sabbath, he made this decree for the cities†, and not for the inhabitants of the open country; he was sensible, that labour in the cities was useful, but in the fields necessary.

For the same reason, in a country supported by commerce, the number of festivals ought to be relative to this very commerce. Protestant and Catholic countries are situated‡ in such a manner that there is more need of labour in the former than in the latter; the suppression of festivals is therefore more suitable to Protestant than to Catholic countries.

Dampier∥ observes, that the diversions of different nations vary greatly, according to the climate. As hot climates produce a quantity of delicate fruits, the barbarians easily find necessaries, and therefore spend much time in diversions. The Indians of colder countries have not so much leisure, being obliged to fish and hunt continually; hence they have less music, dancing, and festivals. If a new religion should be established amongst these people, it ought to have regard to this in the institution of festivals.

Chapter 24= The local Laws of Religion.

THERE are many local laws in various religions= and when Montezuma with so much obstinacy insisted, that the religion of the Spaniards was good for their country, and his for Mexico, he did not assert an absurdity; because, in fact, legislators could never help having a regard to what nature had established before them.

The opinion of the metempsychosis is adapted to the climate of the Indies. An excessive heat burns *up all the country; they can breed but very few cattle; they are always in danger of wanting them for tillage; their black cattle multiply but indifferently†; and they are subject to many distempers= a law of religion which preserves them, is therefore more suitable to the policy of the country.

While the meadows are scorched up, rice and pulse, by the assistance of water, are brought to perfection; a law of religion which permits only this kind of nourishment, must therefore be extremely useful to men in those climates.

The flesh‡ of cattle in that country is insipid, but the milk and butter which they receive from them serves for a part of their subsistence; therefore the law which prohibits the eating and killing of cows, is in the Indies not unreasonable.

Athens contained a prodigious multitude of people, but its territory was barren. It was therefore a religious [181] maxim with this people, that those who offered some small presents to the gods*, honoured them more than those who sacrificed an ox.

Chapter 25= The Inconveniency of transplanting a Religion from one Country to another

IT follows from hence, that there are frequently many inconveniencies attending the transplanting a religion from one country to any other.

“The hog,” says Mr. de Boulainvilliers†, “must be very scarce in Arabia, where there are almost no woods, and hardly any thing fit for the nourishment of these animals= besides, the saltness of the water and food renders the people most susceptible of cutaneous disorders.” This local law could not be good in other‡ countries, where the hog is almost an universal, and in some sort a necessary nourishment.

I shall here make a reflection. Sanctorius has observed that pork transpires but little∥, and that this kind of meat greatly hinders the transpiration of other food; he has found that this diminution amounts to a third§. Besides, it is known that the want of transpiration forms or increases the disorders of the skin. The feeding on pork ought rather to be prohibited in climates where the people are subject to these disorders, as in Palestine, Arabia, Ægypt, and Lybia.

Chapter 26= continued

SIR John Chardin says Persia had no navigable rivers except the Kur, which is at its edge. The ancient law of the Gaurs prohibited sailing on rivers. It was not therefore attended with any inconvenience in this country, though it would have ruined the trade of another.

Frequent bathings are extremely useful in hot climates. This is why they are ordained in Islam and in the Indian religion.

In the Indies it is a most meritorious act to pray to† God in the running stream= but how could these things be performed in other climates?

When a religion adapted to the climate of one country clashes too much with the climate of another, it cannot be there established; and whenever it has been introduced, it has been afterwards discarded. It seems to all human appearance, as if the climate had prescribed the bounds of the Christian and the Mahometan religions.

It follows from hence, that it is almost always proper for a religion to have particular doctrines, and a general worship. In laws concerning the practice of religious worship, there ought to be but few particulars= for instance, they should command mortification in general, and not a certain kind of mortification. Christianity is full of good sense= abstinence is of divine institution; but a particular kind of abstinence is ordained by human authority, and therefore may be changed.