Of the small Consequence to be attached to Men's Speculations, and the Indulgence which should be extended to them.
Permit me, Madam, to felicitate you on the happy change which you say has taken place in your opinions. Convinced by reasons as simple as obvious, your mind has become sensible of the futility of those notions which have for a long time agitated it; and the inefficacy of those pretended succors which religious men boasted they could furnish, is now apparent to you. You perceive the evident dangers which result from a system that serves only to render men enemies to individual and general happiness. I see with pleasure that reason has not lost its authority over your mind, and that it is sufficient to show you the truth that you may embrace it. You may congratulate yourself on this, which proves the solidity of your judgment. For it is glorious to give one's self up to reason, and to be the votary of common sense. Prejudice so arms mankind that the world is full of people who slight their judgment; nay, who resist the most obvious pleas of their understanding. Their eyes, long shut to the light of truth, are unable to bear its rays; but they can endure the glimmerings of superstition, which plunges them in still darker obscurity.
I am not, however, astonished at the embarrassment you have hitherto felt, nor at your cautious examination of my opinions, which are better understood the more thoroughly they are examined and compared with those they oppose. It is impossible to annihilate at once deep-rooted prejudices. The mind of man appears to waver in a void when those ideas are attacked on which it has long rested. It finds itself in a new world, wherein all is unknown. Every system of opinion is but the effect of habit. The mind has as great difficulty to disengage itself from its custom of thinking, and reflect on new ideas, as the body has to remain quiescent after it has long been accustomed to exercise. Should you, for instance, propose to your friend to leave off snuff, as a practice neither healthful nor agreeable in company, he will not probably listen to you, or if he should, it will be with extreme pain that he can bring himself to renounce a habit long familiarized to him.
It is precisely the same with all our prejudices; those of religion have the most powerful hold of us. From infancy we have been familiarized with them; habit has made them a sort of want we cannot dispense with: our mode of thinking is formed, and familiar to us; our mind is accustomed to engage itself with certain classes of objects; and our imagination fancies that it wanders in chaos when it is not fed with those chimeras to which it had been long accustomed. Phantoms the most horrible are even clear to it; objects the most familiar to it, if viewed with the calm eye of reason, are disagreeable and revolting.
Religion, or rather its superstitions, in consequence of the marvellous and bizarre notions it engenders, gives the mind continual exercise; and its votaries fancy they are doomed to a dangerous inaction when they are suddenly deprived of the objects on which their imagination exerted its powers. Yet is this exercise so much the more necessary as the imagination is by far the most lively faculty of the mind. Hence, without doubt, it becomes necessary men should replace stale fooleries by those which are novel. This is, moreover, the true reason why devotion so often affords consolation in great disgraces, gives diversion for chagrin, and replaces the strongest passions, when they have been quenched by excess of pleasure and dissipation. The marvellous arguments, chimeras multiply as religion furnishes activity and occupation to the fancy; habit renders them familiar, and even necessary; terrors themselves even minister food to the imagination; and religion, the religion of priestcraft, is full of terrors. Active and unquiet spirits continually require this nourishment; the imagination requires to be alternately alarmed and consoled; and there are thousands who cannot accustom themselves to tranquillity and the sobriety of reason. Many persons also require phantoms to make them religious, and they find these succors in the dogmas of priestcraft.
These reflections will serve to explain to you the continual variations to which many persons are subject, especially on the subject of religion. Sensible, like barometers, you behold them wavering without ceasing; their imagination floats, and is never fixed; so often as you find them freely given up to the blackness of superstition, so often may you behold them the slaves of pernicious prejudices. Whenever they tremble at the feet of their priests, then are their necks under the yoke. Even people of spirit and understanding in other affairs are not altogether exempt from these variations of mental religious temperament; but their judgment is too frequently the dupe of the imagination. And others, again, timid and doubting, without spirit, are in perpetual torment.
What do I say? Man is not, and cannot always be, the same. His frame is exposed to revolutions and perpetual vicissitudes; the thoughts of his mind necessarily vary with the different degrees of changes to which his body is exposed. When the body is languid and fatigued, the mind has not usually much inclination to vigor and gayety. The debility of the nerves commonly annihilates the energies of the soul, although it be so remarkably distinguished from the body; persons of a bilious and melancholy temperament are rarely the subjects of joy; dissipation importunes some, gayety fatigues others. Exactly after the same fashion, there are some who love to nourish sombre ideas, and these religion supplies them. Devotion affects them like the vapors; superstition is an inveterate malady, for which there is no cure in medicine. And it is impossible to keep him free from superstition, whose breast, the slave of fear, was never sensible of courage; nay, soldiers and sailors, the bravest of men, have too often been the victims of superstition. It is education alone that operates in radically curing the human mind of its errors.
Those who think it sufficient, Madam, to render a reason for the variations which we so frequently remark in the ideas of men, acknowledge that there is a secret bent of the minds of religious persons to prejudices, from which we shall almost in vain endeavor to rescue their understandings. You perceive, at present, what you ought to think of those secret transitions which our priests would force on you, as the inspirations of heaven, as divine solicitations, the effects of grace; though they are, nevertheless, only the effects of those vicissitudes to which our constitution is liable, and which affect the robust, as well as the feeble; the man of health, as well as the valetudinarian.
If we might form a judgment of the correctness of those notions which our teachers boast of, in respect to our dissolution at death, we shall find reason to be satisfied, that there is little or no occasion that we should have our minds disturbed during our last moments. It is then, say they, that it is necessary to attend to the condition of man; it is then that man, undeceived as to the things of this life, acknowledges his errors. But there is, perhaps, no idea in the whole circle of theology more unreasonable than this, of which the credulous, in all ages, have been the dupes. Is it not at the time of a man's dissolution that he is the least capable of judging of his true interest? His bodily frame racked, it may be, with pain, his mind is necessarily weakened or chafed; or if he should be free from excruciating pain, the lassitude and yielding of nature to the irrevocable decrees of fate at death, unfit a man for reasoning and judging of the sophisms that are proposed as panaceas for all his errors. There are, without doubt, as strange notions as those of religion; but who knows that body and soul sink alike at death?
It is in the case of health that we can promise ourselves to reason with justness; it is then that the soul, neither troubled by fear, nor altered by disease, nor led astray by passion, can judge soundly of what is beneficial to man. The judgments of the dying can have no weight with men in good health; and they are the veriest impostors who lend them belief. The truth can alone be known, when both body and mind are in good health. No man, without evincing an insensible and ridiculous presumption, can answer for the ideas he is occupied with, when worn out with sickness and disease; yet have the inhuman priests the effrontery to persuade the credulous to take as their examples the words and actions of men necessarily deranged in intellect by the derangement of their corporeal frame. In short, since the ideas of men necessarily vary with the different variations of their bodies, the man who presumes to reason on his death bed with the man in health, arrogates what ought not to be conceded.
Do not, then, Madam, be discouraged nor surprised, if you should sometimes think of ancient prejudices reclaiming the rights they have for a long time exercised over your reason; attribute, then, these vacillations to some derangement in your frame—to some disordered movements of mind, which, for a time, suspend your reason. Think that there are few people who are constantly the same, and who see with the same eyes. Our frame being subject to continual variations, it necessarily follows that our modes of thinking will vary. We think one custom the result of pusillanimity, when the nerves are relaxed and our bodies fatigued. We think justly when our body is in health; that is to say, when all its parts are fulfilling their various functions. There is one mode of thinking, or one state of mind, which in health we call uncertainty, and which we rarely experience when our frame is in its ordinary condition. We do not then reason justly, when our frame is not in a condition to leave our mind subject to incredulity.
What, then, is to be done, when we would calm our mind, when we wish to reflect, even for an instant? Let reason be our guide, and we shall soon arrive at that mode of thinking which shall be advantageous to ourselves. In effect, Madam, how can a God who is just, good, and reasonable, be irritated by the manner in which we shall think, seeing that our thoughts are always involuntary, and that we cannot believe as we would, but as our convictions increase, or become weakened? Man is not, then, for one instant, the master of his ideas, which are every moment excited by objects over which he has no control, and causes which depend not on his will or exertions. St. Augustine himself bears testimony to this truth: "There is not," says he, "one man who is at all times master of that which presents itself to his spirit." Have we not, then, good reason to conclude, that our thoughts are entirely indifferent to God, seeing they are excited by objects over which we have no control, and, by consequence, that they cannot be offensive to the Deity?
If our teachers pique themselves on their principles, they ought to carry along with them this truth, that a just God cannot be offended by the changes which take place in the minds of his creatures. They ought to know that this God, if he is wise, has no occasion to be troubled with the ideas that enter the mind of man; that if they do not comprehend all his perfections, it is because their comprehension is limited. They ought to recollect, that if God is all-powerful, his glory and his power cannot be affected by the opinions and ideas of weak mortals, any more than the notions they form of him can alter his essential attributes. In fine, if our teachers had not made it a duty to renounce common sense, and to close with notions that carry in their consequences the contradictory evidence of their premises, they would not refuse to avow that God would be the most unjust, the most unreasonable, the most cruel of tyrants, if he should punish beings whom he himself created imperfect, and possessed of a deficiency of reason and common sense.
Let us reflect a little longer, and we shall find that the theologians have studied to make of the Divinity a ferocious master, unreasonable and changing, who exacts from his creatures qualities they have not, and services they cannot perform. The ideas they have formed of this unknown being are almost always borrowed from those of men of power, who, jealous of their power and respect from their subjects, pretend that it is the duty of these last to have for them sentiments of submission, and punish with rigor those who, by their conduct or their discourse, announce sentiments not sufficiently respectful to their superiors. Thus you see, Madam, that God has been fashioned by the clergy on the model of an uneasy despot, suspicious of his subjects, jealous of the opinions they may entertain of him, and who, to secure his power, cruelly chastises those who have not littleness of mind sufficient to flatter his vanity, nor courage enough to resist his power.
It is evident, that it is on ideas so ridiculous, and so contrary to those which nature offers us of the Divinity, that the absurd system of the priests is founded, which they persuade themselves is very sensible and agreeable to the opinions of mankind; and which is very seriously insulted, they say, if men think differently; and which will punish with severity those who abandon themselves to the guidance of reason, the glory of man. Nothing can be more pernicious to the human kind than this fatal madness, which deranges all our ideas of a just God—of a God, good, wise, all-powerful, and whose glory and power neither the devotion nor rebellion of his creatures can affect. In consequence of these impertinent suppositions of the priesthood, men have ever been afraid to form notions agreeable to the mysterious Sovereign of the universe, on whom they are dependent; their mind is put to the torture to divine his incomprehensible nature, and, in their fear of displeasing him, they have assigned to him human attributes, without perceiving that when they pretend to honor him, they dishonor Deity, and that being compelled to bestow on him qualities that are incompatible with Deity, they actually annihilate from their mind the pure representation of Deity, as witnessed in all nature. It is thus, that in almost all the religions on the face of the earth, under the pretext of making known the Divinity, and explaining his views towards mortals, the priests have rendered him incomprehensible, and have actually promulgated, under the garb of religion, nothing save absurdities, by which, if we admit them, we shall destroy those notions which nature gives us of Deity.
When we reflect on the Divinity, do we not see that mankind have plunged farther and farther into darkness, as they assimilated him to themselves; that their judgment is always disturbed when they would make their Deity the object of their meditations; that they cannot reason justly, because they never have any but obscure and absurd ideas; that they are almost always in uncertainty, and never agree with themselves, because their principles are replete with doubt; that they always tremble, because they imagine that it is very dangerous to be deceived; that they dispute without ceasing, because that it is impossible to be convinced of any thing, when they reason on objects of which they know nothing, and which the imaginations of men are forced to paint differently; in fine, that they cruelly torment one another about opinions equally uninteresting, though they attach to them the greatest importance, and because the vanity of the one party never allows it to subscribe to the reveries of the other?
It is thus that the Divinity has become to us a source of evil, division, and quarrels; it is thus that his name alone inspires terror; it is thus that religion has become the signal of so many combats, and has always been the true apple of discord among unquiet mortals, who always dispute with the greatest heat, on subjects of which they can never have any true ideas. They make it a duty to think and reason on his attributes; and they can never arrive at any just conclusions, because their mind is never in a condition to form true notions of what strikes their senses. In the impossibility of knowing the Deity by themselves, they have recourse to the opinion of others, whom they consider more adroit in theology, and who pretend to an intimate acquaintance with God, being inspired by him, and having secret intelligence of his purposes with regard to the human kind. Those privileged men teach nothing to the nations of the earth, except what their reveries have reduced to a system, without giving them ideas that are clear and definite. They paint God under characters the most agreeable to their own interests; they make of him a good monarch for those who blindly submit to their tenets, but terrible to those who refuse to blindly follow them.
Thus you perceive, Madam, what those men are who have obviously made of the Deity an object so bizarre as they announce him, and who, to render their opinions the more sacred, have pretended that he is grievously offended when we do not admit implicitly the ideas they promulgate of God. In the books of Moses God defines himself, I am that I am; yet does this inspired writer detail the history of this God as a tyrant who tempts men, and who punishes them for being tempted; who exterminated all the human kind by a deluge, except a few of one family, because one man had fallen; in a word, who, in all his conduct, behaves as a despot, whose power dispenses with all the rules of justice, reason, and goodness.
Have the successors of Moses transmitted to us ideas more clear, more sensible, more comprehensible of the Divinity? Has the Son of God made his Father perfectly known to us? Has the church, perpetually boasting of the light she diffuses among men, become more fixed and certain, to do away our uncertainty? Alas! in spite of all these supernatural succors, we know nothing in nature beyond the grave; the ideas which are communicated to us, the recitals of our infallible teachers, are calculated only to confound our judgment, and reduce our reason to silence. They make of God a pure spirit; that is to say, a being who has nothing in common with matter, and who, nevertheless, has created matter, which he has produced from his own fiat—his essence or substance. They have made him the mirror of the universe, and the soul of the universe. They have made him an infinite being, who fills all space by his immensity, although the material world occupies some part in space. They have made him a being all powerful, but whose projects are incessantly varying, who neither can nor will maintain man in good order, nor permit the freedom of action necessary for rational beings, and who is alternately pleased and displeased with the same beings and their actions. They make him an infinite good Father, but who avenges himself without measure. They make of him a monarch infinitely just, but who confounds the innocent with the guilty, who has mingled injustice and cruelty, in causing his own Son to be put to death to expiate the crimes of the human kind; though they are incessantly sinning and repenting for pardon. They make of him a being full of wisdom and foresight, yet insensible to the folly and shortsightedness of mortals. They make him a reasonable being who becomes angry at the thoughts of his creatures, though involuntary, and consequently necessary; thoughts which he himself puts into their heads; and who condemns them to eternal punishments if they believe not in reveries that are incompatible with the divine attributes, or who dare to doubt whether God can possess qualities that are not capable of being reconciled among themselves.
Is it, then, surprising that so many good people are shocked at the revolting ideas, so contradictory and so appalling, which hurl mortals into a state of uncertainty and doubt as to the existence of the Deity, or even to force them into absolute denial of the same? It is impossible to admit, in effect, the doctrine of the Deity of priestcraft, in which we constantly see infinite perfections, allied with imperfections the most striking; in which, when we reflect but momentarily, we shall find that it cannot produce but disorder in the imagination, and leaves it wandering among errors that reduce it to despair, or some impostors, who, to subjugate mankind, have wished to throw them into embarrassment, confound their reason, and fill them with terror. Such appear, in effect, to be the motives of those who have the arrogance to pretend to a secret knowledge, which they distribute among mankind, though they have no knowledge even of themselves. They always paint God under the traits of an inaccessible tyrant, who never shows himself but to his ministers and favorites, who please to veil him from the eyes of the vulgar; and who are violently irritated when they find any who oppose their pretensions, or when they refuse to believe the priests and their unintelligible farragoes.
If, as I have often said, it be impossible to believe what we cannot comprehend, or to be intimately convinced of that of which we can form no distinct and clear ideas, we may thence conclude that, when the Christians assure us they believe that God has announced himself in some secret and peculiar way to them that he has not done to other men, either they are themselves deceived, or they wish to deceive us. Their faith, or their belief in God, is merely an acceptance of what their priests have taught them of a Being whose existence they have rendered more than doubtful to those who would reason and meditate. The Deity cannot, assuredly, be the being whom the Christians admit on the word of their theologians. Is there, in good truth, a man in the world who can form any idea of a spirit? If we ask the priests what a spirit is, they will tell us that a spirit is an immaterial being who has none of the passions of which men are the subjects. But what is an immaterial spirit? It is a being that has none of the qualities which we can fathom; that has neither form, nor extension, nor color.
But how can we be assured of the existence of a being who has none of these qualities? It is by faith, say the priests, that we must be assured of his existence. But what is this faith? It is to adhere, without examination, to what the priests tell us. But what is it the priests tell us of God? They tell us of things which we can neither comprehend nor they reconcile among themselves. The existence, even of God, has, in their hands, become the most impenetrable mystery in religion. But do the priests themselves comprehend this ineffable God, whom they announce to other men? Have they just ideas of him? Are they themselves sincerely convinced of the existence of a being who unites incompatible qualities which reciprocally exclude the one or the other? We cannot admit it; and we are authorized to conclude, that when the priests profess to believe in God, either they know not what they say, or they wish to deceive us.
Do not then be surprised, Madam, if you should find that there are, in fact, people who have ventured to doubt of the existence of the Deity of the theologians, because, on meditating on the descriptions given of him, they have discovered them to be incomprehensible, or replete with contradiction. Do not be astonished if they never listen, in reasoning, to any arguments that oppose themselves to common sense, and seek, for the existence of the priests' Deity, other proofs than have yet been offered mankind. His existence cannot be demonstrated in revelations, which we discover, on examination, to be the work of imposture; revelations sap the foundations laid down for belief in a Divinity, which they would wish to establish. This existence cannot be founded on the qualities which our priests have assigned to the Divinity, seeing that, in the association of these qualities, there only results a God whom we cannot comprehend, and by consequence of whom we can form no certain ideas. This existence cannot be founded on the moral qualities which our priests attribute to the Divinity, seeing these are irreconcilable in the same subject, who cannot be at once good and evil, just and unjust, merciful and implacable, wise and the enemy of human reason.
On what, then, ought we to found the existence of God? The priests themselves tell us that it is on reason, the spectacle of nature, and on the marvellous order which appears in the universe. Those to whom these motives for believing in the existence of the Divinity do not appear convincing, find not, in any of the religions in the world, motives more persuasive; for all systems of theology, framed for the exercise of the imagination, plunge us into more uncertainty respecting their evidence, when they appeal to nature for proofs of what they advance.
What, then, are we to think of the God of the clergy? Can we think that he exists, without reasoning on that existence? And what shall we think of those who are ignorant of this God, or have no belief in his existence; who cannot discover him in the works of nature, either as good or evil; who behold only order and disorder succeeding alternately? What idea shall we form of those men who regard matter as eternal, as actuated on by laws, peculiar to itself; as sufficiently powerful to produce itself under all the forms we behold; as perpetually exerting itself in nourishing and destroying itself, in combining and dissolving itself; as incapable of love or of hatred; as deprived of the faculties of intelligence and sentiment known to belong to beings of our species, but capable of supporting those beings whose organization has made them intelligent, sensible, and reasonable?
What shall we say of those Freethinkers who find neither good nor evil, neither order nor disorder, in the universe; that all things are but relative to different conditions of beings, of which they have evidence; and that all that happens in the universe is necessary, and subjected to destiny? In a word, what shall we think of these men?
Shall we say that they have only a different manner of viewing things, or that they use different words in expressing themselves? They call that Nature which others call the Divinity; they call that Necessity which all others call the Divine decrees; they call that the Energy of Nature which others call the Author of Nature; they call that Destiny, or Fate, which others call God, whose laws are always going forward.
Have we, then, any right to hate and to exterminate them? No, without doubt; at least, we cannot admit that we have any reason that those should perish, who speak only the same language with ourselves, and who are reciprocally beneficial to us. Nevertheless, it is to this degree of extravagance that the baneful ideas of religion have carried the human mind. Harassed, and set on by their priests, men have hated and assassinated each other, because that in religious matters they agree not to one creed. Vanity has made some imagine that they are better than others, more intelligible, although they see that theology is a language which they neither understand, nor which they themselves could invent. The very name of Freethinker suffices to irritate them, and to arm the fury of others, who repeat, without ceasing, the name of God, without having any precise idea of the Deity. If, by chance, they imagine that they have any notions of him, they are only confused, contradictory, incompatible, and senseless notions, which have been inspired in their infancy by their priests, and those who, as we have seen, have painted God in all those traits which their imagination furnished, or those who appear more conformed to their passions and interests than to the well-being of their fellow-creatures.
The least reflection will, nevertheless, suffice to make any one perceive, that God, if he is just and good, cannot exist as a being known to some, but unknown to others. If Freethinkers are men void of reason, God would be unjust to punish them for being blind and insensible, or for having too little penetration and understanding to perceive the force of those natural proofs on which the existence of the Deity has been founded. A God full of equity cannot punish men for having been blind or devoid of reason. The Freethinkers, as foolish as they are supposed, are beings less insensible than those who make professions of believing in a God full of qualities that destroy one another; they are less dangerous than the adorers of a changeable Deity, who, they imagine, is pleased with the extermination of a large portion of mankind, on account of their opinions. Our speculations are indifferent to God, whose glory man cannot tarnish—whose power mortals cannot abridge. They may, however, be advantageous to ourselves; they may be perfectly indifferent to society, whose happiness they may not affect; or they may be the reverse of all this. For it is evident that the opinions of men do not influence the happiness of society.
Hence, Madam, let us leave men to think as they please, provided that they act in such a manner as promotes the general good of society. The thoughts of men injure not others; their actions may—their reveries never. Our ideas, our thoughts, our systems, depend not on us. He who is fully convinced on one point, is not satisfied on another. All men have not the same eyes, nor the same brains; all have not the same ideas, the same education, or the same opinions; they never agree wholly, when they have the temerity to reason on matters that are enveloped in the obscurity of imaginative fiction, and which cannot be subject to the usual evidence accompanying matters of report, or historic relation.
Men do not long dispute on objects that are cognizable to their senses, and which they can submit to the test of experience. The number of self-evident truths on which men agree is very small; and the fundamentals of morality are among this number. It is obvious to all men of sense, that beings, united in society, require to be regulated by justice, that they ought to respect the happiness of each other, that mutual succor is indispensable; in a word, that they are obliged to practise virtue, and to be useful to society, for personal happiness. It is evident to demonstration, that the interest of our preservation excites us to moderate our desires, and put a bridle on our passions; to renounce dangerous habits, and to abstain from vices which can only injure our fortune, and undermine our health. These truths are evident to every being whose passions have not dominion over his reason; they are totally independent of theological speculations, which have neither evidence nor demonstration, and which our mind can never verify; they have nothing in common with the religious opinions on which the imagination soars from earth to sky, nor with the fanaticism and credulity which are so frequently producing among mankind the most opposite principles to morality and the well-being of society.
They who are of the Freethinkers' opinions are not more dangerous than they who are of the priests' opinions. In short, Christianity has produced effects more appalling than heathenism. The speculative principles of the Freethinkers have done no injury to society; the contagious principles of fanaticism and enthusiasm have only served to spread disorder on the earth. If there are dangerous notions and fatal speculations in the world, they are those of the devotees, who obey a religion that divides men, and excites their passions, and who sacrifice the interests of society, of sovereigns, and their subjects, to their own ambition, their avarice, their vengeance and fury.
There is no question that the Freethinker has motives to be good, even though he admit not notions that bridle his passions. It is true that the Freethinker has no invisible motives, but he has motives, and a visible restraint, which, if he reflects, cannot fail to regulate his actions. If he doubts about religion, he does not question the laws of moral obligation; nor that it is his duty to moderate his passions, to labor for his happiness and that of others, to avoid hatred, disdain, and discord as crimes; and that he should shun vices which may injure his constitution, reputation, and fortune. Thus, relatively to his morality, the Freethinker has principles more sure than those of superstition and fanaticism. In fine, if nothing can restrain the Freethinker, a thousand forces united would not prevent the fanatic from the commission of crimes, and the violation of duties the most sacred.
Besides, I believe that I have already proved that the morality of superstition has no certain principles; that it varies with the interests of the priests, who explain the intentions of the Divinity, as they find these accordant or discordant to their views and interests; which, alas! are too often the result of cruel and wicked purposes. On the contrary, the Freethinker, who has no morality but what he draws from the nature and character of man, and the constant events which transpire in society, has a certain morality that is not founded either on the caprice of circumstances or the prejudices of mankind; a morality that tells him when he does evil, and blames him for the evil so done, and that is superior to the morality of the intolerant fanatic and persecutor.
You thus perceive, Madam, on which side the morality of the Freethinkers leans, what advantages it possesses over that inculcated on the superstitious devotee, who knows no other rule than the caprice of his priest, nor any other morality than what suits the interest of the clergy, nor any other virtues than such as make him the slave of their will, and which are too often in opposition to the great interests of mankind. Thus you perceive, that what is understood by the natural morality of the Freethinker, is much more constant and more sure than that of the superstitious, who believe they can render themselves agreeable to God by the intercession of priests. If the Freethinker is blind or corrupted, by not knowing his duties which nature prescribes to him, it is precisely in the same way as the superstitious, whose invisible motives and sacred guides prevent him not from going occasionally astray.
These reflections will serve to confirm what I have already said, to prove that morality has nothing in common with religion; and that religion is its own enemy, though it pretends to dispense with support from other sources. True morality is founded on the nature of man; the morality of religion is founded only on the chimeras of imagination, and on the caprice of those who speak of the Deity in a language too often contrary to nature and right reason.
Allow me, then, Madam, to repeat to you, that morality is the only natural religion for man; the only object worthy his notice on earth; the only worship which he is required to render to the Deity. It is uniform, and replete with obvious duties, which rest not on the dictation of priests, blabbing chit-chat they do not understand. If it be this morality which I have defined, that makes us what we are, ought we not to labor strenuously for the happiness of our race? If it be this morality that makes us reasonable; that enables us to distinguish good from evil, the useful from the hurtful; that makes us sociable, and enables us to live in society to receive and repay mutual benefits; we ought at least to respect all those who are its friends. If it be this morality which sets bounds to our temper, it is that which interdicts the commission in thought, word, or action, of what would injure another, or disturb the happiness of society. If it attach us to the preservation of all that is dear to us, it points out how by a certain line of conduct we may preserve ourselves; for its laws, clear and of easy practice, inflict on those who disobey them instant punishment, fear, and remorse; on the other hand, the observance of its duties is accompanied with immediate and real advantages, and notwithstanding the depravity which prevails on earth, vice always finds itself punished, and virtue is not always deprived of the satisfaction it yields, of the esteem of men, and the recompense of society; even if men are in other respects unjust, they will concede to the virtuous the due meed of praise.
Behold, Madam, to what the dogmas of natural religion reduce us: in meditating on it, and in practising its duties, we shall be truly religious, and filled with the spirit of the Divinity; we shall be admired and respected by men; we shall be in the right way to be loved by those who rule over us, and respected by those who serve us; we shall be truly happy in this world, and we shall have nothing to fear in the next.
These are laws so clear, so demonstrable, and whose infraction is so evidently punished, whose observance is so surely recompensed, that they constitute the code of nature of all living beings, sentient and reasoning; all acknowledge their authority; all find in them the evidence of Deity, and consider those as sceptics who doubt their efficacy. The Freethinker does not refuse to acknowledge as fundamental laws, those which are obviously founded on the God of Nature, and on the immutable and necessary circumstances of things cognizable to the faculties of sentient natures. The Indian, the Chinese, the savage, perceives these self-evident laws, whenever he is not carried headlong by his passions into crime and error. In fine, these laws, so true, and so evident, never can appear uncertain, obscure, or false, as are those superstitious chimeras of the imagination, which knaves have substituted for the truths of nature and the dicta of common sense; and those devotees who know no other laws than those of the caprices of their priests, necessarily obey a morality little calculated to produce personal or general happiness, but much calculated to lead to extravagance and inconvenient practices.
Hence, charming Eugenia, you will allow mankind to think as they please, and judge of them after their actions. Oppose reason to their systems, when they are pernicious to themselves or others; remove their prejudices if you can, that they may not become the victims of their caprices; show them the truth, which may always remove error; banish from their minds the phantoms which disturb them; advise them not to meditate on the mysteries of their priests; bid them renounce all those illusions they have substituted for morality; and advise them to turn their thoughts on that which conduces to their happiness. Meditate yourself on your own nature, and the duties which it imposes on you. Fear those chastisements which follow inattention to this law. Be ambitious to be approved by your own understanding, and you will rarely fail to receive the applauses of the human kind, as a good member of society.
If you wish to meditate, think with the greatest strength of your mind on your nature. Never abandon the torch of reason; cherish truth sincerely. When you are in uncertainty, pause, or follow what appears the most probable, always abandoning opinions that are destitute of foundation, or evidence of their truth and benefit to society. Then will you, in good truth, yield to the impulse of your heart when reason is your guide; then will you consult in the calmness of passion, and counsel yourself on the advantages of virtue, and the consequences of its want; and you may flatter yourself that you cannot be displeasing to a wise God, though you disbelieve absurdities, nor agreeable to a good God in doing things hurtful to yourself or to others.
Leaving you now to your own reflections, I shall terminate the series of Letters you have allowed me to address you. Bidding you an affectionate farewell,
I am truly yours.