S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
There is not a more melancholy object than a man who has his head turned with religious enthusiasm. A person that is crazed, though with pride or malice, is a sight very mortifying to human nature; but when the distemper arises from any indiscreet fervours of devotion, or too intense an application of the mind to its mistaken duties, it deserves our compassion in a more particular manner. We may, however, learn this lesson from it, that since devotion itself (which one would be apt to think could not be too warm) may disorder the mind, unless its heats are tempered with caution and prudence, we should be particularly careful to keep our reason as cool as possible, and to guard ourselves in all parts of life against the influence of passion, imagination, and constitution.
Ridicule has ever been the most powerful enemy of enthusiasm, and properly the only antagonist that can be opposed to it with success. Persecution only serves to propagate new religions: they acquire fresh vigour beneath the executioner and the axe, and, like some vivacious insects, multiply by dissection. It is also impossible to combat enthusiasm with reason; for, though it makes a show of resistance, it soon eludes the pressure, refers you to distinctions not to be understood, and feelings which it cannot explain. A man who would endeavour to fix an enthusiast by argument might as well attempt to spread quicksilver with his fingers.
There are some who, proscribing the exercise of the affections entirely in religion, would reduce Christianity to a mere rule of life; but, as such persons betray an extreme ignorance of human nature as well as of the Scriptures, I shall content myself with remarking that the apostles, had they lived in the days of these men, would have been as little exempt from their ridicule as any other itinerants. If the supreme love of God, a solicitude to advance his honour, ardent desires after happiness, together with a comparative deadness to the present state, be enthusiasm, it is that enthusiasm which animated the Saviour and breathes throughout the Scriptures.
Enthusiasm is an evil much less to be dreaded than superstition. Superstition is the disease of nations; enthusiasm, that of individuals: the former grows inveterate by time, the latter is cured by it.
Enthusiasm, though founded neither on reason nor revelation, but rising from the conceits of a warmed or overweening brain, works more powerfully on the persuasions and actions of men than either or both together.
Let an enthusiast be principled that he or his teacher is inspired, and acted by an immediate communication of the Divine spirit, and you in vain bring the evidence of clear reason against his doctrine.
Nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm; it is the real allegory of the lute of Orpheus: it moves stones, it charms brutes. Enthusiasm is the genius of sincerity, and truth accomplishes no victories without it.