Chapter VII.--Varying Doctrine Concerning the Gods.
For after they had said that these are gods, they again made them of no account. For some said that they were composed of atoms; and others, again, that they eventuate in atoms; and they say that the gods have no more power than men. Plato, too, though he says these are gods, would have them composed of matter. And Pythagoras, after he had made such a toil and moil about the gods, and travelled up and down [for information], at last determines that all things are produced naturally and spontaneously, and that the gods care nothing for men. And how many atheistic opinions Clitomachus the academician introduced, [I need not recount.] And did not Critias and Protagoras of Abdera say, "For whether the gods exist, I am not able to affirm concerning them, nor to explain of what nature they are; for there are many things would prevent me"? And to speak of the opinions of the most atheistical, Euhemerus, is superfluous. For having made many daring assertions concerning the gods, he at last would absolutely deny their existence, and have all things to be governed by self-regulated action.  And Plato, who spoke so much of the unity of God and of the soul of man, asserting that the soul is immortal, is not he himself afterwards found, inconsistently with himself, to maintain that some souls pass into other men, and that others take their departure into irrational animals? How can his doctrine fail to seem dreadful and monstrous--to those at least who have any judgment--that he who was once a man shall afterwards be a wolf, or a dog, or an ass, or some other irrational brute? Pythagoras, too, is found venting similar nonsense, besides his demolishing providence. Which of them, then, shall we believe? Philemon, the comic poet, who says,--
"Good hope have they who praise and serve the gods;"
or those whom we have mentioned--Euhemerus, and Epicurus, and Pythagoras, and the others who deny that the gods are to be worshipped, and who abolish providence? Concerning God and providence, Ariston said:--
"Be of good courage: God will still preserve
And greatly help all those who so deserve.
If no promotion waits on faithful men,
Say what advantage goodness offers then.
'Tis granted--yet I often see the just
Faring but ill, from ev'ry honour thrust;
While they whose own advancement is their aim,
Oft in this present life have all they claim.
But we must look beyond, and wait the end,
That consummation to which all things tend.
'Tis not, as vain and wicked men have said,
By an unbridled destiny we're led:
It is not blinded chance that rules the world,
Nor uncontrolled are all things onward hurled.
The wicked blinds himself with this belief;
But be ye sure, of all rewards, the chief
Is still reserved for those who holy live;
And Providence to wicked men will give
Only the just reward which is their meed,
And fitting punishment for each bad deed."
And one can see how inconsistent with each other are the things which others, and indeed almost the majority, have said about God and providence. For some have absolutely cancelled God and providence; and others, again, have affirmed God, and have avowed that all things are governed by providence. The intelligent hearer and reader must therefore give minute attention to their expressions; as also Simylus said: "It is the custom of the poets to name by a common designation the surpassingly wicked and the excellent; we therefore must discriminate." As also Philemon says: "A senseless man who sits and merely hears is a troublesome feature; for he does not blame himself, so foolish is he." We must then give attention, and consider what is said, critically inquiring into what has been uttered by the philosophers and the poets.