A Translation of Baron
"LE BON SENS"
"Atheism leaves men to Sense, to Philosophy, to Laws, to Reputation, all which may be guides to moral Virtue, tho' Religion were not: but Superstition dismounts all these, and erects an absolute Monarchy in the Minds of Men. Therefore, Atheism did never perturb States; but Superstition hath been the confusion of many. The causes of Superstition are pleasing and sensual rights, and Ceremonies; Excess of Pharisaical and outside holiness, Reverence to Traditions and the stratagems of Prelates for their own Ambition and Lucre." -- Lord Bacon.
"FREETHINKER'S LIBRARY" SERIES
W. STEWART & CO.
The chief design in reprinting this translation, is to preserve "the strongest atheistical work" for present and future generations of English Freethinkers. The real author was, unquestionably, Paul Thyry; Baron D'Holbach, and not John Meslier, to whom this work has been wrongly attributed, under the title of "Le Bon Sens" (Common Sense).
In 1770, Baron D'Holbach published his masterpiece, "Systeme de la Nature," which for a long time passed as the posthumous work of M. de Mirabaud. That text-book of "Atheistical Philosophy" caused a great sensation, and two years later, 1772, the Baron published this excellent abridgment of it, freed from arbitrary ideas; and by its clearness of expression, facility, and precision of style, rendered it most suitable for the average student.
"Le Bon Sens" was privately printed in Amsterdam, and the author's name was kept a profound secret; hence, Baron D'Holbach escaped persecution.
THE AUTHOR'S PREFACE
When we examine the opinions of men, we find that nothing is more uncommon, than common sense; or, in other words, they lack judgment to discover plain truths, or to reject absurdities, and palpable contradictions. We have an example of this in Theology, a system revered in all countries by a great number of men; an object regarded by them as most important, and indispensable to happiness. An examination of the principles upon which this pretended system is founded, forces us to acknowledge, that these principles are only suppositions, imagined by ignorance, propagated by enthusiasm or knavery, adopted by timid credulity, preserved by custom which never reasons, and revered solely because not understood.
In a word, whoever uses common sense upon religious opinions, and will bestow on this inquiry the attention that is commonly given to most subjects, will easily perceive that Religion is a mere castle in the air. Theology is ignorance of natural causes; a tissue of fallacies and contradictions. In every country, it presents romances void of probability, the hero of which is composed of impossible qualities. His name, exciting fear in all minds, is only a vague word, to which, men affix ideas or qualities, which are either contradicted by facts, or inconsistent.
Notions of this being, or rather, the word by which he is designated, would be a matter of indifference, if it did not cause innumerable ravages in the world. But men, prepossessed with the opinion that this phantom is a reality of the greatest interest, instead of concluding wisely from its incomprehensibility, that they are not bound to regard it, infer on the contrary, that they must contemplate it, without ceasing, and never lose sight of it. Their invincible ignorance, upon this subject, irritates their curiosity; instead of putting them upon guard against their imagination, this ignorance renders them decisive, dogmatic, imperious, and even exasperates them against all, who oppose doubts to the reveries which they have begotten.
What perplexity arises, when it is required to solve an insolvable problem; unceasing meditation upon an object, impossible to understand, but in which however he thinks himself much concerned, cannot but excite man, and produce a fever in his brain. Let interest, vanity, and ambition, co-operate ever so little with this unfortunate turn of mind, and society must necessarily be disturbed. This is the reason that so many nations have often been the scene of extravagances of senseless visionaries, who, believing their empty speculations to be eternal truths, and publishing them as such, have kindled the zeal of princes and their subjects, and made them take up arms for opinions, represented to them as essential to the glory of the Deity. In all parts of our globe, fanatics have cut each other's throats, publicly burnt each other, committed without a scruple and even as a duty, the greatest crimes, and shed torrents of blood. For what? To strengthen, support, or propagate the impertinent conjectures of some enthusiasts, or to give validity to the cheats of impostors, in the name of a being, who exists only in their imagination, and who has made himself known only by the ravages, disputes, and follies, he has caused.
Savage and furious nations, perpetually at war, adore, under divers names, some God, conformable to their ideas, that is to say, cruel, carnivorous, selfish, blood-thirsty. We find, in all the religions, "a God of armies," a "jealous God," an "avenging God," a "destroying God," a "God," who is pleased with carnage, and whom his worshippers consider it a duty to serve. Lambs, bulls, children, men, and women, are sacrificed to him. Zealous servants of this barbarous God think themselves obliged even to offer up themselves as a sacrifice to him. Madmen may everywhere be seen, who, after meditating upon their terrible God, imagine that to please him they must inflict on themselves, the most exquisite torments. The gloomy ideas formed of the deity, far from consoling them, have every where disquieted their minds, and prejudiced follies destructive to happiness.
How could the human mind progress, while tormented with frightful phantoms, and guided by men, interested in perpetuating its ignorance and fears? Man has been forced to vegetate in his primitive stupidity: he has been taught stories about invisible powers upon whom his happiness was supposed to depend. Occupied solely by his fears, and by unintelligible reveries, he has always been at the mercy of priests, who have reserved to themselves the right of thinking for him, and of directing his actions.
Thus, man has remained a slave without courage, fearing to reason, and unable to extricate himself from the labyrinth, in which he has been wandering. He believes himself forced under the yoke of his gods, known to him only by the fabulous accounts given by his ministers, who, after binding each unhappy mortal in the chains of prejudice, remain his masters, or else abandon him defenceless to the absolute power of tyrants, no less terrible than the gods, of whom they are the representatives.
Oppressed by the double yoke of spiritual and temporal power, it has been impossible for the people to be happy. Religion became sacred, and men have had no other Morality, than what their legislators and priests brought from the unknown regions of heaven. The human mind, confused by theological opinions, ceased to know its own powers, mistrusted experience, feared truth and disdained reason, in order to follow authority. Man has been a mere machine in the hands of tyrants and priests. Always treated as a slave, man has contracted the vices of slavery.
Such are the true causes of the corruption of morals. Ignorance and servitude are calculated to make men wicked and unhappy. Knowledge, Reason, and Liberty, can alone reform and make men happier. But every thing conspires to blind them, and to confirm their errors. Priests cheat them, tyrants corrupt and enslave them. Tyranny ever was, and ever will be, the true cause of man's depravity, and also of his calamities. Almost always fascinated by religious fiction, poor mortals turn not their eyes to the natural and obvious causes of their misery; but attribute their vices to the imperfection of their natures, and their unhappiness to the anger of the gods. They offer to heaven vows, sacrifices, and presents, to obtain the end of sufferings, which in reality, are attributable only to the negligence, ignorance, and perversity of their guides, to the folly of their customs, and above all, to the general want of knowledge. Let men's minds be filled with true ideas; let their reason be cultivated; and there will be no need of opposing to the passions, such a feeble barrier, as the fear of gods. Men will be good, when they are well instructed; and when they are despised for evil, or justly rewarded for good, which they do to their fellow citizens.
In vain should we attempt to cure men of their vices, unless we begin by curing them of their prejudices. It is only by showing them the truth, that they will perceive their true interests, and the real motives that ought to incline them to do good. Instructors have long enough fixed men's eyes upon heaven; let them now turn them upon earth. An incomprehensible theology, ridiculous fables, impenetrable mysteries, puerile ceremonies, are to be no longer endured. Let the human mind apply itself to what is natural, to intelligible objects, truth, and useful knowledge.
Does it not suffice to annihilate religious prejudice, to shew, that what is inconceivable to man, cannot be good for him? Does it require any thing, but plain common sense, to perceive, that a being, incompatible with the most evident notions -- that a cause continually opposed to the effects which we attribute to it -- that a being, of whom we can say nothing, without falling into contradiction -- that a being, who, far from explaining the enigmas of the universe, only makes them more inexplicable -- that a being, whom for so many ages men have vainly addressed to obtain their happiness, and the end of sufferings -- does it require, I say, any thing but plain, common sense, to perceive -- that the idea of such a being is an idea without model, and that he himself is merely a phantom of the imagination? Is any thing necessary but common sense to perceive, at least, that it is folly and madness for men to hate and damn one another about unintelligible opinions concerning a being of this kind? In short, does not every thing prove, that Morality and Virtue are totally incompatible with the notions of a God, whom his ministers and interpreters have described, in every country, as the most capricious, unjust, and cruel of tyrants, whose pretended will, however, must serve as law and rule the inhabitants of the earth?
To discover the true principles of Morality, men have no need of theology, of revelation, or of gods: They have need only of common sense. They have only to commune with themselves, to reflect upon their own nature, to consider the objects of society, and of the individuals, who compose it; and they will easily perceive, that virtue is advantageous, and vice disadvantageous to themselves. Let us persuade men to be just, beneficent, moderate, sociable; not because such conduct is demanded by the gods, but, because it is pleasant to men. Let us advise them to abstain from vice and crime; not because they will be punished in another world, but because they will suffer for it in this. -- These are, says Montesquieu, means to prevent crimes -- these are punishments; these reform manners -- these are good examples.
The way of truth is straight; that of imposture is crooked and dark. Truth, ever necessary to man, must necessarily be felt by all upright minds; the lessons of reason are to be followed by all honest men. Men are unhappy, only because they are ignorant; they are ignorant, only because every thing conspires to prevent their being enlightened; they are wicked only because their reason is not sufficiently developed.
By what fatality then, have the first founders of all sects given to their gods ferocious characters, at which nature revolts? Can we imagine a conduct more abominable, than that which Moses tells us his God showed towards the Egyptians, where that assassin proceeds boldly to declare, in the name and by the order of his God, that Egypt shall be afflicted with the greatest calamities, that can happen to man? Of all the different ideas, which they give us of a supreme being, of a God, creator and preserver of mankind, there are none more horrible, than those of the impostors, who represented themselves as inspired by a divine spirit, and "Thus saith the Lord."
Why, O theologians! do you presume to inquire into the
impenetrable mysteries of a being, whom you consider inconceivable
to the human mind? You are the blasphemers, when you imagine that a
being, perfect according to you, could be guilty of such cruelty
towards creatures whom he has made out of nothing. Confess, your
ignorance of a creating God; and cease meddling with mysteries,
which are repugnant to Common Sense.
2, 3. What is Theology?
4. Man is not born with any ideas of Religion
5. It is not necessary to believe in a God
6. Religion is founded on credulity
7. All religion is an absurdity
8. The idea of God is impossible
9. On the Origin of Superstition
10. On the Origin of all Religion
11. Religious fears expose men to become a prey to imposters
12, 13. Religion seduces ignorance by the aid of the marvellous
14. There would never have been any Religion, if there had not been ages of Stupidity and Barbarism
15. All Religion was produced by the desire of domination
16. What serves as a basis to Religion is most uncertain
17, 18. It is impossible to be convinced of the existence of a God
19. The existence of God is not proved
20. It explains nothing to say, that God is a spirit
21. Spirituality is an absurdity
22. Whatever exists is derived from Matter
23. What is the metaphysical God of modern Theology?
24. It would be less unreasonable to adore the Sun, than to adore a spiritual Deity
25. A spiritual Deity is incapable of volition and action
26. What is God?
27. Some remarkable Contradictions in Theology
28. To adore God, is to adore a fiction
29. Atheism is authorised by the infinity of God, and the impossibility of knowing the Divine essence
30. Believing in God is neither safer nor less criminal than not believing in him
31. Belief in God is a habit acquired in infancy
32. Belief in God is a prejudice established by successive generations
33. On the Origin of Prejudices
34. On the effects of Prejudices
35. The Religious principles of modern Theology could not be believed if they were not instilled into the mind before the age of reason
36. The wonders of nature do not prove the existence of God
37, 38. Nature may be explained by natural causes
39, 40. The world has never been created: Matter moves of itself
41. Additional proofs that motion is essential to Matter, and that consequently it is unnecessary to imagine a Spiritual Mover
42. The existence of Man does not prove the existence of God
43. Nevertheless, neither Man nor the Universe are the effects of chance
44, 45. The order of the Universe does not prove the existence of a God
46. A Spirit cannot be intelligent it is absurd to adore a divine intelligence
47, 48. All the qualities, which Theology gives to its God are contrary to the Essence which is attributed to him
49. It is absurd to say that the human race is the object and end of the formation of the Universe
50. God is not made for Man, nor Man for God
51. It is not true that the object of the formation of the Universe was to render Man happy
52. What is called Providence is a word without meaning
53. This pretended Providence is the enemy of Man
54. The world is not governed by an intelligent being
55. God cannot be considered immutable
56. Good and evil are the necessary effects of natural causes. What is a God that cannot change any thing?
57. The consolations of Theology and the hope of paradise and of a future life, are imaginary
58. Another romantic reverie
59. It is in vain that Theology attempts to clear its God from human defects: either this God is not free, or else he is more wicked than good
60, 61. It is impossible to believe that there exists a God of infinite goodness and power
62. Theology makes its God a monster of absurdity, injustice, malice, and atrocity
63. All Religion inspires contemptible fears
64. There is no difference between Religion, and the most somber and servile Superstition
65. To judge from the ideas which Theology gives of the Deity, the love of God is impossible
66. An eternally tormenting God is a most detestable being
67. Theology is a tissue of palpable contradictions
68. The pretended works of God do not prove Divine Perfections
69. The perfection of God is not rendered more evident by the pretended creation of angels
70. Theology preaches the Omnipotence of its God, yet constantly makes him appear impotent
71. According to all religious systems, God would be the most capricious and most foolish of beings
72. It is absurd to say that Evil does not proceed from God
73. The foreknowledge attributed to God would give men a right to complain of his cruelty
74. Absurdity of the theological stories concerning Original Sin, and concerning Satan
75. The Devil, like Religion, was invented to enrich the priests
76. If God has been unable to render human nature incapable of sin, he has no right to punish man
77. It is absurd to say, that the conduct of God ought to be a mystery for man
78. Ought the unfortunate look for consolation, to the sole author of their misery
79. A God, who punishes the faults which he might have prevented, is a mad tyrant, who joins injustice to folly
80. What is called Free Will is an absurdity
81. But we must not conclude that Society has no right to punish
82, 83. Refutation of the arguments in favour of Free Will
84. God himself, if there were a God, would not be free: hence the inutility of all Religion
85. According to the principles of Theology, man is not free a single instant
86. There is no evil, no disorder, and no sin, but must be attributed to God: consequently God has no right either to punish or recompence
87. The prayers offered to God sufficiently prove dissatisfaction of the divine will
88. It is the height of absurdity to imagine, that the injuries and misfortunes, endured in this world, will be repaired in another world
89. Theology justifies the evil and the wickedness, permitted by its God, only by attributing to him the principle, that "Might makes Right," which is the violation of all Right
90. The absurd doctrine of Redemption, and the frequent exterminations attributed to Jehovah, impress one with the idea of an unjust and barbarous God
91. Can a being, who has called us into existence merely to make us miserable, be a generous, equitable, and tender father?
92. Man's life, and all that occurs, deposes against the liberty of Man, and against the justice and goodness of a pretended God
93. It is not true, that we owe any gratitude to what is called Providence
94. It is folly to suppose that Man is the king of nature, the favourite of God, and unique object of his labours
95. A comparison between Man and brutes
96. There are no animals so detestable as Tyrants
97. A refutation of the excellence of Man
98. An oriental Tale
99. It is madness to see nothing but the goodness of God, or to think that this universe is only made for Man
100. What is the Soul?
101. The existence of a Soul is an absurd supposition; and the existence of an immortal Soul still more absurd
102. It is evident that Man dies in toto
103. Incontestible arguments against the Spirituality of the Soul
104. On the absurdity of the supernatural causes, to which Theologians are constantly having recourse
105, 106. It is false that Materialism degrades
107. The idea of a future life is only useful to those, who trade on public credulity
108. It is false that the idea of a future life is consoling
109. All religious principles are derived from the imagination. God is a chimera; and the qualities, attributed to him, reciprocally destroy one another
110. Religion is but a system imagined in order to reconcile contradictions by the aid of mysteries
111, 112, 113. Absurdity and inutility of all Mysteries, which were only invented for the interests of Priests
114. An universal God ought to have revealed an universal Religion
115. What proves, that Religion is unnecessary, is, that it is unintelligible
116. All Religions are rendered ridiculous by the multitude of creeds, all opposite to one another, and all equally foolish
117. Opinion of a famous Theologian
118. The God of the Deists is not less contradictory, nor less chimerical than the God of the Christians
119. It by no means proves the existence of God to say, that, in every age, all nations have acknowledged some Deity or other
120. All Gods are of a savage origin: all Religions are monuments of the ignorance, superstition, and ferocity of former times: modern Religions are but ancient follies, re-edited with additions and corrections
121. All religious usages bear marks of stupidity and barbarism
122. The more a religious opinion is ancient and general, the more it ought to be suspected
123. Mere scepticism in religious matters, can only be the effect of a very superficial examination
124. Revelations examined
125. Where is the proof that God ever shewed himself to Men, or ever spoke to them?
126. There is nothing that proves miracles to have been ever performed
127. If God has spoken, is it not strange that he should have spoken so differently to the different religious sects?
128. Obscurity and suspicious origin of oracles
129. Absurdity of all miracles
130. Refutation of the reasoning of Pascal concerning the manner in which we must judge of miracles
131. Every new revelation is necessarily false
132. The blood of martyrs testifies against the truth of miracles, and against the divine origin attributed to Christianity
133. The fanaticism of martyrs, and the interested zeal of missionaries, by no means prove the truth of Religion
134. Theology makes its God an enemy to Reason and Common Sense
135. Faith is irreconcilable with Reason; and Reason is preferable to Faith
136. To what absurd and ridiculous sophisms every one is reduced, who would substitute Faith for Reason!
137. Ought a man to believe, on the assurance of another man, what is of the greatest importance to himself
138. Faith can take root only in feeble, ignorant, or slothful minds
139. To teach, that any one Religion has greater pretensions to truth than another, is an absurdity, and cause of tumult
140. Religion is unnecessary to Morality
141. Religion is the weakest barrier that can be opposed to the passions
142. Honour is a more salutary and powerful bond than Religion
143. Religion does not restrain the passions of kings
144. Origin of "the divine right of kings," the most absurd, ridiculous, and odious, of usurpations
145. Religion is fatal to political ameliorations: it makes despots licentious and wicked, and their subjects abject and miserable
146. Christianity has propagated itself by preaching implicit obedience to despotism
147. One object of religious principles is to eternize the tyranny of kings
148. How fatal it is to persuade kings that they are responsible for their actions to God alone
149. A devout king is the scourge of his kingdom
150. Tyranny sometimes finds the aegis of Religion a weak obstacle to the despair of the people
151. Religion favours the wickedness of princes by delivering them from fear and remorse
152. What is an enlightened Sovereign?
153. Of the prevailing passions and crimes of the priesthood
154. The quackery of priests
155. Religion has corrupted Morality, and produced innumerable evils
156. Every Religion is intolerant
157. The evils of a state Religion
158. Religion legitimates and authorizes crime
159. Refutation of the argument, that the evils attributed to Religion are but the bad effects of human passions
160. Religion is incompatible with Morality
161. The Morality of the Gospel is impracticable
162. A society of Saints would be impossible
163. Human nature is not depraved
164. Concerning the effects of Jesus Christ's mission
165. The dogma of the remission of sins was invented for the interest of priests
166. Who fear God?
167. Hell is an absurd invention
168. The bad foundation of religious morals
169. Christian Charity, as preached and practised by Theologians!!!
170. Confession, priestcraft's gold mine, and the destruction of the true principles of Morality
171. The supposition of the existence of a God is by no means necessary to Morality
172. Religion and its supernatural Morality are fatal to the public welfare
173. The union of Church and State is a calamity
174. National Religions are ruinous
175. Religion paralyses Morality
176. Fatal consequences of Devotion
177. The idea of a future life is not consoling to man
178. An Atheist is fully as conscientious as a religious man, and has better motives for doing good
179. An Atheistical king would be far preferable to a religious king
180. Philosophy produces Morality
181. Religious opinions have little influence upon conduct
182. Reason leads man to Atheism
183. Fear alone makes Theists
184. Can we, and ought we, to love God?
185. God and Religion are proved to be absurdities by the different ideas formed of them
186. The existence of God, which is the basis of Religion, has not yet been demonstrated
187. Priests are more actuated by self-interest, than unbelievers
188. Pride, presumption, and badness, are more often found in priests, than in Atheists
189. Prejudices last but for a time: no power is durable which is not founded upon truth
190. What an honourable power ministers of the Gods would obtain, if they became the apostles of reason and the defenders of liberty!
191. What a glorious and happy revolution it would be for the world, if Philosophy were substituted for Religion!
192. The recantation of an unbeliever at the point of death proves nothing against the reasonableness of unbelief
193. It is not true that Atheism breaks the bonds of society
194. Refutation of the often repeated opinion, that Religion is necessary for the vulgar
195. Logical and argumentative systems are not adapted to the capacity of the vulgar
196. On the futility and danger of Theology
197, 198. On the evils produced by implicit faith
199. History teaches us, that all Religions were established by impostors, in days of ignorance
200. All Religions, ancient or modern, have borrowed from one another ridiculous ceremonies
201. Theology has always diverted philosophy from its right path
202. Theology explains nothing
203, 204. Theology has always fettered Morality, and retarded progress
205. It cannot be too often repeated and proved, that Religion is an extravagance and a calamity
206. Religion prevents us from seeing the true causes of misfortunes