§51. We are told, that, in the
formation of the universe, God's only object was the happiness of
man. But, in a world made purposely for him, and governed by an
omnipotent God, is man in reality very happy? Are his enjoyments
durable? Are not his pleasures mixed with pains? Are many persons
satisfied with their fate? Is not man continually the victim of
physical and moral evils? Is not the human machine, which is
represented as a master-piece of the Creator's skill, liable to
derangement in a thousand ways? Should we be surprised at the
workmanship of a mechanic, who should shew us a complex machine,
ready to stop every moment, and which, in a short time, would break
in pieces of itself?
§52. The generous care, displayed by the Deity in providing for the wants, and watching over the happiness of his beloved creatures, is called Providence. But, when we open our eyes, we find that God provides nothing. Providence sleeps over the greater part of the inhabitants of this world. For a very small number of men who are supposed to be happy, what an immense multitude groan under oppression, and languish in misery! Are not nations forced to deprive themselves of bread, to administer to the extravagances of a few gloomy tyrants, who are no happier than their oppressed slaves?
At the same time that our divines emphatically expatiate upon the goodness of Providence, while they exhort us to repose our confidence in her, do we not hear them, at the sight of unforeseen catastrophes, exclaim, that Providence sports with the vain projects of man, that she frustrates their designs, that she laughs at their efforts, that profound wisdom delights to bewilder the minds of mortals? But, shall we put confidence in a malignant Providence, who laughs at, and sports with mankind? How will one admire the unknown ways of a hidden wisdom, whose manner of acting is inexplicable? Judge of it by effects, you will say. We do; and find, that these effects are sometimes useful, and sometimes hurtful.
Men think they justify Providence, by saying, that, in this world, there is much more good than evil to every individual of mankind. Supposing the good, we enjoy from Providence, is to the evil, as a hundred to ten; will it not still follow, that, for a hundred degrees of goodness, Providence possesses ten of malignity; which is incompatible with the supposed perfection of the divine nature.
Almost all books are filled with the most flattering praises of Providence, whose attentive care is highly extolled. It would seem as if man, to live happily here below, needed not his own exertions. Yet, without his own labour, man could subsist hardly a day. To live, he is obliged to sweat, toil, hunt, fish, and labour without intermission. Without these second causes, the first cause, at least in most countries, would provide for none of our wants. In all parts of the globe, we see savage and civilized man in a perpetual struggle with Providence. He is necessitated to ward off the strokes directed against him by Providence, in hurricanes, tempests, frosts, hail-storms, inundations, droughts, and the various accidents, which so often render useless all his labours. In a word, we see man continually occupied in guarding against the ill offices of that Providence, which is supposed to be attentive to his happiness.
A bigot admired divine Providence for wisely ordering rivers to
pass through those places, where men have built large cities. Is
not this man's reasoning as rational, as that of many learned men,
who incessantly talk of final causes, or who pretend that
they clearly perceive the beneficent views of God in the formation
of all things?
§53. Do we see then, that Providence so very sensibly manifests herself in the preservation of those admirable works, which we attribute to her? If it is she, who governs the world, we find her as active in destroying, as in forming; in exterminating, as in producing. Does she not every moment destroy, by thousands, the very men, to whose preservation and welfare we suppose her continually attentive? Every moment she loses sight of her beloved creature. Sometimes she shakes his dwelling, sometimes she annihilates his harvests, sometimes she inundates his fields, sometimes she desolates them by a burning drought. She arms all nature against man. She arms man himself against his own species, and commonly terminates his existence in anguish. Is this then what is called preserving the universe?
If we could view, without prejudice, the equivocal conduct of Providence towards the human race and all sensible beings, we should find, that far from resembling a tender and careful mother, she resembles rather those unnatural mothers, who instantly forgetting the unfortunates of their licentious love, abandon their infants, as soon as they are born, and who, content with having borne them, expose them, helpless, to the caprice of fortune.
The Hottentots, in this respect are much wiser than other
nations, who treat them as barbarians, and refuse to worship God;
because, they say, if he often does good, he often does
evil. Is not this manner of reasoning more just and conformable
to experience, than that of many men, who are determined to see, in
their God, nothing but goodness, wisdom, and foresight, and who
refuse to see that the innumerable evils, of which this world is
the theatre, must come from the same hand, which they kiss with
§54. Common sense teaches, that we cannot, and ought not, to judge of a cause, but by its effects. A cause can be reputed constantly good, only when it constantly produces good. A cause, which produces both good and evil, is sometimes good, and sometimes evil. But the logic of theology destroys all this. According to that, the phenomena of nature, or the effects we behold in this world, prove to us the existence of a cause infinitely good; and this cause is God. Although this world is full of evils; although disorder often reigns in it; although men incessantly repine at their hard fate; we must be convinced, that these effects are owing to a beneficent and immutable cause; and many people believe it, or feign believe.
Every thing that passes in the world, proves to us, in the
clearest manner, that it is not governed by an intelligent being.
We can judge of the intelligence of a being only by the conformity
of the means, which he employs to attain his proposed object. The
object of God, is the happiness of a man. Yet, a like necessity
governs the fate of all sensible beings, who are born only to
suffer much, enjoy little, and die. The cup of man is filled with
joy and bitterness; good is every where attended with evil; order
gives place to disorder; generation is followed by destruction. If
you say, that the designs of God are mysterious and that his ways
are impenetrable; I answer, that, in this case, it is impossible to
judge whether God be intelligent.
§55. You pretend, that God is
immutable! What then produces a continual instability in this
world, which you make his empire? Is there a state, subject to more
frequent and cruel revolutions, than that of this unknown monarch?
How can we attribute to an immutable God, sufficiently powerful to
give solidity to his works, a government, in which every thing is
in continual vicissitude? If I imagine I see a God of uniform
character in all the effects favourable to my species, what kind of
a God can I see in their continual misfortunes? You tell me, it is
our sins, which compel him to punish. I answer, that God, according
to yourselves, is then not immutable, since the sins of men force
him to change his conduct towards them. Can a being, who is
sometimes provoked, and sometimes appeased, be constantly the
§56. The universe can be only what
it is; all sensible beings in it enjoy and suffer; that is, are
moved sometimes in an agreeable, and sometimes in a disagreeable
manner. These effects are necessary; they result necessarily from
causes, which act only according to their properties. These effects
necessarily please, or displease, by a consequence of nature. This
same nature compels me to avoid, avert, and resist some things, and
to seek, desire, and procure others. In a world, where every thing
is necessary, a God, who remedies nothing, who leaves things to run
in their necessary course, -- is he any thing but destiny, or
necessity personified? It is a deaf and useless God, who can effect
no change in general laws, to which he is himself subject. Of what
importance is the infinite power of a being, who will do but very
little in my favour? Where is the infinite goodness of a being,
indifferent to happiness? Of what service is the favour of a being,
who, is able to do an infinite good, does not do even a finite
§57. When we ask, why so many
miserable objects appear under the government of a good God, we are
told, by way of consolation, that the present world is only a
passage, designed to conduct man to a happier one. The divines
assure us, that the earth we inhabit, is a state of trial. In
short, they shut our mouths, by saying, that God could communicate
to his creatures neither impossibility nor infinite happiness,
which are reserved for himself alone. Can such answers be
satisfactory? 1st. The existence of another life is guaranteed to
us only by the imagination of man, who, by supposing it, have only
realized the desire they have of surviving themselves, in order to
enjoy hereafter a purer and more durable happiness. 2ndly. How can
we conceive that a God, who knows every thing, and must be fully
acquainted with the dispositions of his creatures, should want so
many experiments, in order to be sure of their dispositions? 3rdly.
According to the calculations of their chronologists, our earth has
existed six or seven thousand years. During that time, nations have
experienced calamities. History exhibits the human species at all
times tormented and ravaged by tyrants, conquerors, and heroes; by
wars, inundations, famines, plagues, etc. Are such long trials then
likely to inspire us with very great confidence in the secret views
of the Deity? Do such numerous and constant evils give a very
exalted idea of the future state, his goodness is preparing for us?
4thly. If God is so kindly disposed, as he is asserted to be,
without giving men infinite happiness, could he not at least have
communicated the degree of happiness, of which finite beings are
susceptible here below? To be happy, must we have an
infinite or divine happiness? 5thly. If God could not
make men happier than they are here below, what will become of the
hope of a paradise, where it is pretended, that the elect
will for ever enjoy ineffable bliss? If God neither could nor would
avert evil from the earth, the only residence we can know, what
reason have we to presume, that he can or will avert evil from
another world, of which we have no idea? Epicurus observed: "either
God would remove evil out of this world, and cannot; or he can, and
will not; or he has neither the power nor will; or, lastly, he has
both the power and will. If he has the will, and not the power,
this shews weakness, which is contrary to the nature of God. If he
has the power, and not the will, it is malignity; and this is no
less contrary to his nature. If he is neither able nor willing, he
is both impotent and malignant, and consequently cannot be God. If
he be both willing and able (which alone is consonant to the nature
of God) whence comes evil, or why does he not prevent it?"
Reflecting minds are still waiting for a reasonable solution of
these difficulties; and our divines tell us, that they will be
removed only in a future life.
§58. We are told of a pretended
scale of beings. It is supposed, that God has divided his
creatures into different classes, in which each enjoys the degree
of happiness, of which it is susceptible. According to this
romantic arrangement, from the oyster to the celestial angels, all
beings enjoy a happiness, which is suitable to their nature.
Experience explicitly contradicts this sublime reverie. In this
world, all sensible beings suffer and live in the midst of dangers.
Man cannot walk without hurting, tormenting, or killing a multitude
of sensible beings, which are in his way; while he himself is
exposed, at every step, to a multitude of evils, foreseen or
unforeseen, which may lead him to destruction. During the whole
course of his life, he is exposed to pains; he is not sure, a
moment, of his existence, to which he is so strongly attached, and
which he regards as the greatest gift of the Divinity.
§59. The world, it will be said,
has all the perfection, of which it is susceptible: since it is not
God who made it, it must have great qualities and great defects.
But we answer, that, as the world must necessarily have great
defects, it would have been more conformable to the nature of a
good God, not to have created a world, which he could not make
completely happy. If God was supremely happy, before the creation
of the world, and could have continued to be supremely happy,
without creating the world, why did he not remain at rest? Why must
man suffer? Why must man exist? Of what importance is his existence
to God? Nothing, or something? If man's existence is not useful or
necessary to God, why did God make man? If man's existence is
necessary to God's glory, he had need of man; he was deficient in
something before man existed. We can pardon an unskilful workman
for making an imperfect work; because he must work, well or ill,
upon penalty of starving. This workman is excusable, but God is
not. According to you, he is self-sufficient; if so, why does he
make men? He has, you say, every thing requisite to make man happy.
Why then does he not do it? Confess, that your God has more malice
than goodness, unless you admit, that God, was necessitated to do
what he has done, without being able to do it otherwise. Yet, you
assure us, that God is free. You say also, that he is immutable,
although it was in Time that he began and ceased to exercise
his power, like the inconstant beings of this world. O theologians!
Vain are your efforts to free your God from defects. This perfect
God has always some human imperfections.
§60. "Is not God master of his favours? Can he not give them? Can he not take them away? It does not belong to his creatures to require reasons for his conduct. He can dispose of the works of his own hands as he pleases. Absolute sovereign of mortals, he distributes happiness or misery, according to his good pleasure." Such are the solutions given by theologians to console us for the evils which God inflicts upon us. We reply, that a God, who is infinitely good, cannot be master of his favours, but would by his nature be obliged to bestow them upon his creatures; that a being, truly beneficent, cannot refrain from doing good; that a being, truly generous, does not take back what he has given; and that every man, who does so, dispenses with gratitude, and has no right to complain of finding ungrateful men.
How can the odd and capricious conduct, which theologians
ascribe to God, be reconciled with religion, which supposes a
covenant, or mutual engagements between God and men? If God owes
nothing to his creatures, they, on their part, can owe nothing to
their God. All religion is founded upon the happiness that men
think they have a right to expect from the Deity, who is supposed
to say to them: Love me, adore me, obey me: and I will make you
happy. Men, on their part, say to him: Make us happy, be
faithful to your promises, and we will love you, we will adore you,
and obey your laws. By neglecting the happiness of his
creatures, distributing his favours according to his caprice, and
retracting his gifts, does not God break the covenant, which serves
as the basis of all religion? Cicero has justly observed, that
if God is not agreeable to man, he cannot be his God.
Goodness constitutes deity; this goodness can be manifested to man
only by the blessings he enjoys; as soon as he is unhappy, this
goodness disappears, and with it the divinity. An infinite goodness
can be neither limited, partial, nor exclusive. If God be
infinitely good, he owes happiness to all his creatures. The
unhappiness of a single being would suffice to annihilate unbounded
goodness. Under an infinitely good and powerful God, is it possible
to conceive that a single man should suffer? One animal, or mite,
that suffers, furnishes invincible arguments against divine
providence and its infinite goodness.
§61. According to theology, the
afflictions and evils of this life are chastisements, which guilty
men incur from the hand of God. But why are men guilty? If God is
omnipotent, does it cost him more to say: "Let every thing in the
world be in order; let all my subjects be good, innocent, and
fortunate," than to say: "Let every thing exist"? Was it more
difficult for this God to do his work well, than badly? Religion
tells us of a hell; that is, a frightful abode, where,
notwithstanding his goodness, God reserves infinite torments for
the majority of men. Thus after having rendered mortals very
unhappy in this world, religion tells them, that God can render
them still more unhappy in another! The theologian gets over this,
by saying, that the goodness of God will then give place to his
justice. But a goodness, which gives place to the most terrible
cruelty, is not an infinite goodness. Besides, can a God, who,
after having been infinitely good, becomes infinitely bad, be
regarded as an immutable being? Can we discern the shadow of
clemency or goodness, in a God filled with implacable fury?
§62. Divine justice, as stated by our divines, is undoubtedly a quality very proper to cherish in us the love of the Divinity. According to the ideas of modern theology, it is evident, that God has created the majority of men, with the sole view of putting them in a fair way to incur eternal punishment. Would it not have been more conformable to goodness, reason, and equity, to have created only stones or plants, and not to have created sensible beings; than to have formed men, whose conduct in this world might subject them to endless punishment in the other? A God perfidious and malicious enough to create a single man, and then to abandon him to the danger of being damned, cannot be regarded as a perfect being; but as an unreasonable, unjust, and ill-natured. Very far from composing a perfect God, theologians have formed the most imperfect of beings. According to theological notions, God would resemble a tyrant, who, having put out the eyes of the greater part of his slaves, should shut them up in a dungeon, where, for his amusement, he would, incognito, observe their conduct through a trap-door, in order to punish with rigour all those, who, while walking about, should hit against each other; but who would magnificently reward the few whom he had not deprived of sight, in avoiding to run against their comrades. Such are the ideas, which the dogma of gratuitous predestination gives us of the divinity!
Although men are continually repeating that their God is
infinitely good; yet it is evident, that in reality, they can
believe nothing of the kind. How can we love what we do not know?
How can we love a being, whose character is only fit to throw us
into inquietude and trouble? How can we love a being, of whom all
that is said tends to render him an object of utter
§63. Many people make a subtle
distinction between true religion and superstition. They say, that
the latter is only a base and inordinate fear of the Deity; but
that the truly religious man has confidence in his God, and loves
him sincerely; whereas, the superstitious man sees in him only an
enemy, has no confidence in him, and represents him to himself as a
distrustful, cruel tyrant, sparing of his benefits, lavish of his
chastisements. But, in reality, does not all religion give us the
same ideas of God? At the same time that we are told, that God is
infinitely good, are we not also told, that he is very easily
provoked, that he grants his favours to a few people only, and that
he furiously chastises those, to whom he has not been pleased to
§64. If we take our ideas of God
from the nature of things, where we find a mixture of good and
evil, this God, just like the good and evil of which we experience,
must naturally appear capricious, inconstant, sometimes good, and
sometimes malevolent; and therefore, instead of exciting our love,
must generate distrust, fear, and uncertainty. There is then no
real difference between natural religion, and the most gloomy and
servile superstition. If the theist sees God only in a favourable
light; the bigot views him in the most hideous light. The folly of
the one is cheerful, that of the other is melancholy; but both are
§65. If I draw my ideas of God from
theology, he appears to inspire aversion. Devotees, who tell us,
that they sincerely love their God, are either liars or fools, who
see their God only in profile. It is impossible to love a being,
the very idea of whom strikes us with terror, and whose judgments
make us tremble. How can we, without being alarmed, look upon a
God, who is reputed to be barbarous enough to damn us? Let not
divines talk to us of a filial, or respectful fear, mixed with
love, which men ought to have for their God. A son can by no means
love his father, when he knows him to be cruel enough to inflict
upon him studied torments for the least faults he may commit. No
man upon earth can have the least spark of love for a God, who
reserves chastisements, infinite in duration and violence, for
ninety-nine hundredths of his children.
§66. The inventors of the dogma of eternal hell-torments have made of that God, whom they call so good, the most detestable of beings. Cruelty in men is the last act of wickedness. Every sensible mind must revolt at the bare recital of the torments, inflicted on the greatest criminal; but cruelty is much more apt to excite indignation, when void of motives. The most sanguinary tyrants, the Caligulas, the Neros, the Domitians, had, at least, some motives for tormenting their victims. These motives were, either their own safety, or the fury of revenge, or the design of frightening by terrible examples, or perhaps the vanity of making a display of their power, and the desire of satisfying a barbarous curiosity. Can a God have any of these motives? In tormenting the victims of his wrath, he would punish beings, who could neither endanger his immoveable power, nor disturb his unchangeable felicity. On the other hand, the punishments of the other life would be useless to the living, who cannot be witnesses of them. These punishments would be useless to the damned, since in hell there is no longer room for conversion, and the time of mercy is past. Whence it follows, that God, in the exercise of his eternal vengeance, could have no other end than to amuse himself, and insult the weakness of his creatures. I appeal to the whole human race; -- is there a man who feels cruel enough coolly to torment, I do not say his fellow-creature, but any sensible being whatever, without emolument, without profit, without curiosity, without having any thing to fear? Confess then, O theologians, that, even according to your own principles, your God is infinitely more malevolent than the worst of men.
Perhaps you will say, that infinite offences deserve infinite punishments. I answer, that we cannot offend a God, whose happiness is infinite; that the offences of finite beings cannot be infinite; that a God, who is unwilling to be offended, cannot consent that the offences of his creatures should be eternal; that a God, infinitely good, can neither be infinitely cruel, nor grant his creatures an infinite duration, solely for the pleasure of eternal torments.
Nothing but the most savage barbarity, the most egregious
roguery, or the blindest ambition could have imagined the doctrine
of eternal punishments. If there is a God, whom we can offend or
blaspheme, there are not upon earth greater blasphemers than those,
who dare to say, that this same God is a tyrant, perverse enough to
delight, during eternity, in the useless torments of his feeble
§67. To pretend, that God can be offended at the actions of men, is to annihilate all the ideas, which divines endeavour to give us, in other respects, of this being. To say, that man can trouble the order of the universe; that he can kindle the thunder in the hands of his God; that he can defeat his projects, is to say, that man is stronger than his God, that he is the arbiter of his will, that it depends upon him to change his goodness into cruelty. Theology continually pulls down, with one hand, what it erects with the other. If all religion is founded upon a God, who is provoked and appeased, all religion is founded on a palpable contradiction.
All religions agree in exalting the wisdom and infinite power of
the Deity. But no sooner do they display his conduct, than we see
nothing but imprudence, want of foresight, weakness and folly. God,
it is said, created the world for himself; and yet, hitherto, he
has never been able to make himself suitably honoured by it. God
created men in order to have, in his dominions, subjects to render
him their homage; and yet, we see men in continual revolt against
§68. They incessantly extol the
divine perfections; and when we demand proofs of them, they point
to his works, in which, they assure us, these perfections are
written in indelible characters. All these works are, however,
imperfect and perishable. Man, who is ever regarded as the most
marvellous work, as the master-piece of the Deity, is full of
imperfections, which render him disagreeable to the eyes of the
almighty Being, who formed him. This surprising work often becomes
so revolting and odious to its author, that he is obliged to throw
it into the fire. But, if the fairest of God's works is imperfect,
how can we judge of the divine perfections? Can a work, with which
the author himself is so little pleased, induce us to admire the
ability of its Maker? Man, considered in a physical sense, is
subject to a thousand infirmities, to numberless evils, and to
death. Man, considered in a moral sense, is full of faults; yet we
are unceasingly told, that he is the most beautiful work of the
most perfect of beings.
§69. In creating beings more
perfect than men, it appears, that heretofore God has not better
succeeded, nor given stronger proofs of his perfection. Do we not
see, in many religions, that angels, have even attempted to
dethrone him? God proposed the happiness of angels and men; yet, he
has never been able to render happy either angels or men; -- the
pride, malice, sins, and imperfections of the creatures have always
opposed the will of the perfect Creator.
§70. All religion is obviously
founded upon this principle, that God does what he can, and man
what he will. Every system of religion presents to us an
unequal combat between the Deity on one part, and his creatures on
the other, in which the former never comes off to his honour.
Notwithstanding his omnipotence, he cannot succeed in rendering the
works of his hands such as he would have them. To complete the
absurdity, there is a religion, which pretends, that God himself
has died to redeem mankind; and yet, men are not farther from any
thing, than they are from what God would have them.
§71. Nothing is more extravagant, than the part, theology makes the Divinity act in every country. Did he really exist, we should see in him the most capricious, and senseless being. We should be compelled to believe, that God made the world only to be the theatre of his disgraceful wars with his creatures; that he created angels, men, and demons, only to make adversaries, against whom he might exercise his power. He renders men free to offend him, malicious enough to defeat his projects, too obstinate to submit; and all this merely for the pleasure of being angry, appeased, reconciled, and of repairing the disorder they have made. Had the Deity at once formed his creatures such as he would have them, what pains would he not have spared himself, or, at least, from what embarrassments would he not have relieved his theologians!
Every religion represents God as busy only in doing himself
evil. He resembles those empirics, who inflict upon themselves
wounds, to have an opportunity of exhibiting to the public the
efficacy of their ointment. But we see not, that the Deity has
hitherto been able radically to cure himself of the evil, which he
suffers from man.
§72. God is the author of all; and
yet, we are assured that evil does not come from God. Whence then
does it come? From man. But, who made man? God. Evil then comes
from God. If he had not made man as he is, moral evil or sin would
not have existed in the world. The perversity of man is therefore
chargeable to God. If man has power to do evil, or to offend God,
we are forced to infer, that God chooses to be offended; that God,
who made man, has resolved that man shall do evil; otherwise man
would be an effect contrary to the cause, from which he derives his
§73. Man ascribes to God the
faculty of foreseeing, or knowing beforehand whatever will happen;
but this prescience seldom turns to his glory, nor protects him
from the lawful reproaches of man. If God foreknows the future,
must he not have foreseen the fall of his creatures? If he resolved
in his decrees to permit this fall, it is undoubtedly because it
was his will that this fall should take place, otherwise it could
not have happened. If God's foreknowledge of the sins of his
creatures had been necessary or forced, one might suppose, that he
has been constrained by his justice to punish the guilty; but,
enjoying the faculty of foreseeing, and the power of predetermining
every thing, did it not depend upon God not to impose upon himself
cruel laws, or, at least, could he not dispense with creating
beings, whom he might be under the necessity of punishing, and
rendering unhappy by a subsequent decree? Of what consequence is
it, whether God has destined men to happiness or misery by an
anterior decree, an effect of his prescience, or by a posterior
decree, an effect of his justice? Does the arrangement of his
decrees alter the fate of the unhappy? Would they not have the same
right to complain of a God, who, being able to omit their creation,
has notwithstanding created them, although he plainly foresaw that
his justice would oblige him, sooner or later, to punish them?
§74. "Man," you say, "when he came
from the hand of God, was pure, innocent, and good; but his nature
has been corrupted, as a punishment for sin." If man, when just out
of the hands of his God, could sin, his nature was imperfect. Why
did God suffer him to sin, and his nature to be corrupted? Why did
God permit him to be seduced, well knowing that he was too feeble
to resist temptation? Why did God create satan, an evil
spirit, a tempter? Why did not God, who wishes so much good to the
human race, annihilate once for all so many evil genii, who are
naturally enemies of our happiness; or rather, why did God create
evil spirits, whose victories and fatal influence over mankind, he
must have foreseen? In fine, by what strange fatality in all
religions of the world, has the evil principle such a decided
advantage over the good principle, or the divinity?
§75. There is related an instance
of simplicity, which does honour to the heart of an Italian monk.
One day, while preaching, this pious man thought he must announce
to his audience, that he had, thank heaven, at last discovered, by
dint of meditation, a sure way of rendering all men happy. "The
devil," said he, "tempts men only to have in hell companions of his
misery. Let us therefore apply to the Pope, who has the keys of
heaven and hell; let us prevail upon him to pray to God, at the
head of the whole church, to consent to a reconciliation with the
devil, to restore him to favour, to reinstate him in his former
rank, which cannot fail to put an end to his malicious projects
against mankind." Perhaps the honest monk did not see, that the
devil is at least as useful as God to the ministers of religion.
They have too much interest in their dissensions, to be
instrumental in an accommodation between two enemies, upon whose
combats their own existence and revenues depend. Let men cease to
be tempted and to sin, and the ministry of priests will be useless.
Manicheism is evidently the hinge of every religion; but unhappily,
the devil, invented to clear the deity from the suspicion of
malice, proves to us, every moment, the impotence or unskilfulness
of his celestial adversary.
§76. The nature of man, it is said, was necessarily liable to corruption. God could not communicate to him impeccability, which is an inalienable attribute of his divine perfection. But if God could not make man impeccable, why did he give himself the pains to make man, whose nature must necessarily be corrupted, and who must consequently offend God? On the other hand, if God himself could not make human nature impeccable, by what right does he punish men for not being impeccable? It can be only by the right of the strongest; but the right of the strongest is called violence, and violence cannot be compatible with the justest of beings. God would be supremely unjust, should he punish men for not sharing with him his divine perfections, or for not being able to be gods like him.
Could not God, at least, have communicated to all men that kind of perfection, of which their nature is susceptible? If some men are good, or render themselves agreeable to their God, why has not that God done the same favour, or given the same dispositions to all beings of our species? Why does the number of the wicked so much exceed the number of the good? Why, for one friend, has God ten thousand enemies, in a world, which it depended entirely upon him to people with honest men? If it be true, that, in heaven, God designs to form a court of saints, of elect, or of men who shall have lived upon earth conformably to his views, would he not have had a more numerous, brilliant, and honourable assembly, had he composed it of all men, to whom, in creating them, he could grant the degree of goodness, necessary to attain eternal happiness? Finally, would it not have been shorter not to have made man, than to have created him a being full of faults, rebellious to his creator, perpetually exposed to cause his own destruction by a fatal abuse of his liberty?
Instead of creating men, a perfect God ought to have created
only angels very docile and submissive. Angels, it is said, are
free; some have sinned; but, at any rate, all have not abused their
liberty by revolting against their master. Could not God have
created only angels of the good kind? If God has created angels,
who have not sinned, could he not have created impeccable men, or
men who should never abuse their liberty? If the elect are
incapable of sinning in heaven, could not God have made impeccable
men upon earth?
§77. Divines never fail to persuade us, that the enormous distance which separates God and man, necessarily renders the conduct of God a mystery to us, and that we have no right to interrogate our master. Is this answer satisfactory? Since my eternal happiness is at stake, have I not a right to examine the conduct of God himself? It is only in hope of happiness that men submit to the authority of a God. A despot, to whom men submit only through fear, a master, whom they cannot interrogate, a sovereign totally inaccessible, can never merit the homage of intelligent beings. If the conduct of God is a mystery, it is not made for us. Man can neither adore, admire, respect, nor imitate conduct, in which every thing is inconceivable, or, of which he can often form only revolting ideas; unless it is pretended, that we ought to adore every thing of which we are forced to be ignorant, and that every thing, which we do not know, becomes for that reason an object of admiration. Divines! You never cease telling us, that the designs of God are impenetrable; that his ways are not our ways, nor his thoughts our thoughts; that it is absurd to complain of his administration, of the motives and springs of which we are totally ignorant; that it is presumption to tax his judgments with injustice, because we cannot comprehend them. But when you speak in this strain, do you not perceive, that you destroy with your own hands all your profound systems, whose only end is to explain to us the ways of the divinity, which, you say, are impenetrable? Have you penetrated his judgments, his ways, his designs? You dare not assert it, and though you reason about them without end, you do not comprehend them any more than we do. If, by chance, you know the plan of God, which you wish us to admire, while most people find it so little worthy of a just, good, intelligent, and reasonable being, no longer say, this plan is impenetrable. If you are as ignorant of it as we are, have some indulgence for those who ingenuously confess, they comprehend nothing in it, or that they see in it nothing divine. Cease to persecute for opinions, of which you understand nothing yourselves; cease to defame each other for dreams and conjectures, which every thing seems to contradict. Talk to us of things intelligible and really useful to men; and no longer talk to us of the impenetrable ways of God, about which you only stammer and contradict yourselves.
By continually speaking of the immense depths of divine wisdom,
forbidding us to sound them, saying it is insolence to cite God
before the tribunal of our feeble reason, making it a crime to
judge our master, divines teach us nothing but the embarrassment
they are in, when it is required to account for the conduct of a
God, whose conduct they think marvellous only because they are
utterly incapable of comprehending it themselves.
§78. Physical evil is commonly regarded as a punishment for sin. Diseases, famines, wars, earthquakes, are means which God uses to chastise wicked men. Thus, they make no scruple of attributing these evils to the severity of a just and good God. But, do not these scourges fall indiscriminately upon the good and bad, upon the impious and devout, upon the innocent and guilty? How, in this proceeding, would they have us admire the justice and goodness of a being, the idea of whom seems comforting to so many wretches, whose brain must undoubtedly be disordered by their misfortunes, since they forget, that their God is the arbiter, the sole disposer of the events of this world. This being the case, ought they not to impute their sufferings to him, into whose arms they fly for comfort? Unfortunate father! Thou consolest thyself in the bosom of Providence, for the loss of a dear child, or beloved wife, who made thy happiness. Alas! Dost thou not see, that thy God has killed them? Thy God has rendered thee miserable, and thou desirest thy God to comfort thee for the dreadful afflictions he has sent thee!
The chimerical or supernatural notions of theology have so succeeded in destroying, in the minds of men, the most simple, dear, and natural ideas, that the devout, unable to accuse God of malice, accustom themselves to regard the several strokes of fate as indubitable proofs of celestial goodness. When in affliction, they are ordered to believe that God loves them, that God visits them, that God wishes to try them. Thus religion has attained the art of converting evil into good! A profane person said with reason -- If God Almighty thus treats those whom he loves, I earnestly beseech him never to think of me.
Men must have received very gloomy and cruel ideas of their God,
who is called so good, to believe that the most dreadful calamities
and piercing afflictions are marks of his favour! Would an evil
genius, a demon, be more ingenious in tormenting his enemies, than
the God of goodness sometimes is, who so often exercises his
severity upon his dearest friends?
§79. What shall we say of a father, who, we are assured, watches without intermission over the preservation and happiness of his weak and short-sighted children, and who yet leaves them at liberty to wander at random among rocks, precipices, and waters; who rarely hinders them from following their inordinate appetites; who permits them to handle, without precaution, murderous arms, at the risk of their life? What should we think of the same father, if, instead of imputing to himself the evil that happens to his poor children, he should punish them for their wanderings in the most cruel manner? We should say, with reason, that this father is a madman, who unites injustice to folly. A God, who punishes faults, which he could have prevented, is a being deficient in wisdom, goodness, and equity. A foreseeing God would prevent evil, and thereby avoid having to punish it. A good God would not punish weaknesses, which he knew to be inherent in human nature. A just God, if he made man, would not punish him for not being made strong enough to resist his desires. To punish weakness is the most unjust tyranny. Is it not calumniating a just God, to say, that he punishes men for their faults, even in the present life? How could he punish beings, whom it belonged to him alone to reform, and who, while they have not grace, cannot act otherwise than they do?
According to the principles of theologians themselves, man, in
his present state of corruption, can do nothing but evil, since,
without divine grace, he is never able to do good. Now, if the
nature of man, left to itself, or destitute of divine aid,
necessarily determines him to evil, or renders him incapable of
good, what becomes of the free-will of man? According to such
principles, man can neither merit nor demerit. By rewarding man for
the good he does, God would only reward himself; by punishing man
for the evil he does, God would punish him for not giving him
grace, without which he could not possibly do better.
§80. Theologians repeatedly tell us, that man is free, while all their principles conspire to destroy his liberty. By endeavouring to justify the Divinity, they in reality accuse him of the blackest injustice. They suppose, that without grace, man is necessitated to do evil. They affirm, that God will punish him, because God has not given him grace to do good!
Little reflection will suffice to convince us, that man is necessitated in all his actions, that his free will is a chimera, even in the system of theologians. Does it depend upon man to be born of such or such parents? Does it depend upon man to imbibe or not to imbibe the opinions of his parents or instructors? If I had been born of idolatrous or Mahometan parents, would it have depended upon me to become a Christian? Yet, divines gravely assure us, that a just God will damn without pity all those, to whom he has not given grace to know the Christian religion!
Man's birth is wholly independent of his choice. He is not asked whether he is willing, or not, to come into the world. Nature does not consult him upon the country and parents she gives him. His acquired ideas, his opinions, his notions true or false, are necessary fruits of the education which he has received, and of which he has not been the director. His passions and desires are necessary consequences of the temperament given him by nature. During his whole life, his volitions and actions are determined by his connections, habits, occupations, pleasures, and conversations; by the thoughts, that are involuntarily presented to his mind; in a word, by a multitude of events and accidents, which it is out of his power to foresee or prevent. Incapable of looking into futurity, he knows not what he will do. From the instant of his birth to that of his death, he is never free. You will say, that he wills, deliberates, chooses, determines; and you will hence conclude, that his actions are free. It is true, that man wills, but he is not master of his will or his desires; he can desire and will only what he judges advantageous to himself; he can neither love pain, nor detest pleasure. It will be said, that he sometimes prefers pain to pleasure; but then he prefers a momentary pain with a view of procuring a greater and more durable pleasure. In this case, the prospect of a greater good necessarily determines him to forego a less considerable good.
The lover does not give his mistress the features which captivate him; he is not then master of loving, or not loving the object of his tenderness; he is not master of his imagination or temperament. Whence it evidently follows, that man is not master of his volitions and desires. "But man," you will say, "can resist his desires; therefore he is free." Man resists his desires, when the motives, which divert him from an object, are stronger than those, which incline him towards it; but then his resistance is necessary. A man, whose fear of dishonour or punishment is greater than his love of money, necessarily resists the desire of stealing. "Are we not free, when we deliberate?" But, are we masters of knowing or not knowing, of being in doubt or certainty? Deliberation is a necessary effect of our uncertainty respecting the consequences of our actions. When we are sure, or think we are sure, of these consequences, we necessarily decide, and we then act necessarily according to our true or false judgment. Our judgments, true or false, are not free; they are necessarily determined by the ideas, we have received, or which our minds have formed.
Man is not free in his choice; he is evidently necessitated to choose what he judges most useful and agreeable. Neither is he free, when he suspends his choice; he is forced to suspend it until he knows, or thinks he knows, the qualities of the objects presented to him, or, until he has weighed the consequences of his actions. "Man," you will say, "often decides in favour of actions, which he knows must be detrimental to himself; man sometimes kills himself; therefore he is free." I deny it. Is man master of reasoning well or ill? Do not his reason and wisdom depend upon the opinions he has formed, or upon the conformation of his machine? As neither one nor the other depends upon his will, they are no proof of liberty. "If I lay a wager, that I shall do, or not do a thing, am I not free? Does it not depend upon me to do it or not?" No, I answer; the desire of winning the wager will necessarily determine you to do, or not to do the thing in question. "But, supposing I consent to lose the wager?" Then the desire of proving to me, that you are free, will have become a stronger motive than the desire of winning the wager; and this motive will have necessarily determined you to do, or not to do, the thing in question.
"But," you will say, "I feel free." This is an illusion, that may be compared to that of the fly in the fable, who, lighting upon the pole of a heavy carriage, applauded himself for directing its course. Man, who thinks himself free, is a fly, who imagines he has power to move the universe, while he is himself unknowingly carried along by it.
The inward persuasion that we are free to do, or not to do a
thing, is but a mere illusion. If we trace the true principle of
our actions, we shall find, that they are always necessary
consequences of our volitions and desires, which are never in our
power. You think yourself free, because you do what you will; but
are you free to will, or not to will; to desire, or not to desire?
Are not your volitions and desires necessarily excited by objects
or qualities totally independent of you?
§81. "If the actions of men are
necessary, if men are not free, by what right does society punish
criminals? Is it not very unjust to chastise beings, who could not
act otherwise than they have done?" If the wicked act necessarily
according to the impulses of their evil nature, society, in
punishing them, acts necessarily by the desire of
self-preservation. Certain objects necessarily produce in us the
sensation of pain; our nature then forces us against them, and
avert them from us. A tiger, pressed by hunger, springs upon the
man, whom he wishes to devour; but this man is not master of his
fear, and necessarily seeks means to destroy the tiger.
§82. "If every thing be necessary, the errors, opinions, and ideas of men are fatal; and, if so, how or why should we attempt to reform them?" The errors of men are necessary consequences of ignorance. Their ignorance, prejudice, and credulity are necessary consequences of their inexperience, negligence, and want of reflection, in the same manner as delirium or lethargy are necessary effects of certain diseases. Truth, experience, reflection, and reason, are remedies calculated to cure ignorance, fanaticism and follies. But, you will ask, why does not truth produce this effect upon many disordered minds? It is because some diseases resist all remedies; because it is impossible to cure obstinate patients, who refuse the remedies presented to them; because the interest of some men, and the folly of others, necessarily oppose the admission of truth.
A cause produces its effect only when its action is not
interrupted by stronger causes, which then weakens or render
useless, the action of the former. It is impossible that the best
arguments should be adopted by men, who are interested in error,
prejudiced in its favour, and who decline all reflection; but truth
must necessarily undeceive honest minds, who seek her sincerely.
Truth is a cause; it necessarily produces its effects, when its
impulse is not intercepted by causes, which suspend its
§83. "To deprive man of his free
will," it is said, "makes him a mere machine, an automaton. Without
liberty, he will no longer have either merit or virtue." What is
merit in man? It is a manner of acting, which renders him estimable
in the eyes of his fellow-beings. What is virtue? It is a
disposition, which inclines us to do good to others. What can there
be contemptible in machines, or automatons, capable of producing
effects so desirable? Marcus Aurelius was useful to the vast Roman
Empire. By what right would a machine despise a machine, whose
springs facilitate its action? Good men are springs, which second
society in its tendency to happiness; the wicked are ill-formed
springs, which disturb the order, progress, and harmony of society.
If, for its own utility, society cherishes and rewards the good, it
also harasses and destroys the wicked, as useless or hurtful.
§84. The world is a necessary
agent. All the beings, that compose it, are united to each other,
and cannot act otherwise than they do, so long as they are moved by
the same causes, and endued with the same properties. When they
lose properties, they will necessarily act in a different way. God
himself, admitting his existence, cannot be considered a free
agent. If there existed a God, his manner of acting would
necessarily be determined by the properties inherent in his nature;
nothing would be capable of arresting or altering his will. This
being granted, neither our actions, prayers, nor sacrifices could
suspend, or change his invariable conduct and immutable designs;
whence we are forced to infer, that all religion would be
§85. Were not divines in perpetual
contradiction with themselves, they would see, that, according to
their hypothesis, man cannot be reputed free an instant. Do they
not suppose man continually dependent on his God? Are we free, when
we cannot exist and be preserved without God, and when we cease to
exist at the pleasure of his supreme will? If God has made man out
of nothing; if his preservation is a continued creation; if God
cannot, an instant, lose sight of his creature; if whatever happens
to him, is an effect of the divine will; if man can do nothing of
himself; if all the events, which he experiences, are effects of
the divine decrees; if he does no good without grace from on high,
how can they maintain, that a man enjoys a moment's liberty? If God
did not preserve him in the moment of sin, how could man sin? If
God then preserves him, God forces him to exist, that he may
§86. The Divinity is frequently compared to a king, whose revolted subjects are the greater part of mankind; and it is said, he has a right to reward the subjects who remain faithful to him, and to punish the rebellious. This comparison is not just in any of its parts. God presides over a machine, every spring of which he has created. These springs act agreeable to the manner, in which God has formed them; he ought to impute it to his own unskilfulness, if these springs do not contribute to the harmony of the machine, into which it was his will to insert them. God is a created king, who has created to himself subjects of every description; who has formed them according to his own pleasure whose will can never find resistance. If God has rebellious subjects in his empire, it is because God has resolved to have rebellious subjects. If the sins of men disturb the order of the world, it is because it is the will of God that this order should be disturbed.
Nobody dares to call in question the divine justice; yet, under
the government of a just God, we see nothing but acts of injustice
and violence. Force decides the fate of nations, equity seems
banished from the earth; a few men sport, unpunished, with the
peace, property, liberty, and life of others. All is disorder in a
world governed by a God who is said to he infinitely displeased
§87. Although men are for ever admiring the wisdom, goodness, justice, and beautiful order of Providence, they are, in reality, never satisfied with it. Do not the prayers, continually addressed to heaven, shew, that men are by no means satisfied with the divine dispensations? To pray to God for a favour, shews diffidence of his watchful care; to pray to him to avert or put an end to an evil, is to endeavour to obstruct the course of his justice; to implore the assistance of God in our calamities, is to address the author himself of these calamities, to represent to him, that he ought, for our sake, to rectify his plan, which does not accord with our interest.
The Optimist, or he who maintains that all is well, and
who incessantly cries that we live in the best world
possible, to be consistent, should never pray; neither ought he
to expect another world, where man will be happier. Can there be a
better world than the best world possible? Some theologians
have treated the Optimists as impious, for having intimated that
God could not produce a better world, than that in which we live.
According to these doctors, it is to limit the power of God, and to
offer him insult. But do not these divines see, that it shews much
less indignity to God, to assert that he has done his best in
producing this world, than to say, that, being able to produce a
better, he has had malice enough to produce a very bad one? If the
Optimist, by his system, detracts from the divine power, the
theologian, who treats him as a blasphemer, is himself a
blasphemer, who offends the goodness of God in espousing the cause
of his omnipotence.
§88. When we complain of the evils, of which our world is the theatre, we are referred to the other world, where it is said, God will make reparation for all the iniquity and misery, which, for a time, he permits here below. But if God, suffering his eternal justice to remain at rest for a long time, could consent to evil during the whole continuance of our present world, what assurance have we, that, during the continuance of another world, divine justice will not, in like manner, sleep over the misery of its inhabitants?
The divines console us for our sufferings by saying, that God is
patient, and that his justice, though often slow, is not the less
sure. But do they not see, that patience is incompatible with a
just, immutable, and omnipotent being? Can God then permit
injustice, even for an instant? To temporize with a known evil,
announces either weakness, uncertainty, or collusion. To tolerate
evil, when one has power to prevent it, is to consent to the
commission of evil.
§89. Divines every where exclaim, that God is infinitely just; but that his justice is not the justice of man. Of what kind or nature then is this divine justice? What idea can I form of a justice, which so often resembles injustice? Is it not to confound all ideas of just and unjust, to say, that what is equitable in God is iniquitous in his creatures? How can we receive for our model a being, whose divine perfections are precisely the reverse of human?
"God," it is said, "is sovereign arbiter of our destinies. His supreme power, which nothing can limit, justly permits him to do with the works of his own hands according to his good pleasure. A worm, like man, has no right even to complain." This arrogant style is evidently borrowed from the language, used by the ministers of tyrants, when they stop the mouths of those who suffer from their violences. It cannot then be the language of the ministers of a God, whose equity is highly extolled; it is not made to be imposed upon a being, who reasons. Ministers of a just God! I will inform you then, that the greatest power cannot confer upon your God himself the right of being unjust even to the vilest of his creatures. A despot is not a God. A God, who arrogates to himself the right of doing evil, is a tyrant; a tyrant is not a model for men; he must be an object execrable to their eyes.
Is it not indeed strange, that in order to justify the Divinity, they make him every moment the most unjust of beings! As soon as we complain of his conduct, they think to silence us by alleging, that God is master; which signifies, that God, being the strongest, is not bound by ordinary rules. But the right of the strongest is the violation of all rights. It seems right only to the eyes of a savage conqueror, who in the heat of his fury imagines, that he may do whatever he pleases with the unfortunate victims, whom he has conquered. This barbarous right can appear legitimate only to slaves blind enough to believe that everything is lawful to tyrants whom they feel too weak to resist.
In the greatest calamities, do not devout persons, through a ridiculous simplicity, or rather a sensible contradiction in terms, exclaim, that the Almighty is master. Thus, inconsistent reasoners, believe, that the Almighty (a Being, one of whose first attributes is goodness,) sends you pestilence, war, and famine! You believe that the Almighty, this good being, has the will and right to inflict the greatest evils, you can bear! Cease, at least, to call your God good, when he does you evil; say not, that he is just, say that he is the strongest, and that it is impossible for you to ward off the blows of his caprice.
God, say you, chastises only for our good. But
what real good can result to a people from being exterminated by
the plague, ravaged by wars, corrupted by the examples of perverse
rulers, continually crushed under the iron sceptre of a succession
of merciless tyrants, annihilated by the scourges of a bad
government, whose destructive effects are often felt for ages? If
chastisements are good, then they cannot have too much of a good
thing! The eyes of faith must be strange eyes, if with them
they see advantages in the most dreadful calamities, in the vices
and follies with which our species are afflicted.
§90. What strange ideas of divine justice must Christians have, who are taught to believe, that their God, in view of reconciling to himself the human race, guilty, though unconscious, of the sin of their fathers, has put to death his own son, who was innocent and incapable of sinning? What should we say of a king, whose subjects should revolt, and who, to appease himself, should find no other expedient than to put to death the heir of his crown, who had not participated in the general rebellion? "It is," the Christian will say, "through goodness to his subjects, unable of themselves to satisfy divine justice, that God has consented to the cruel death of his son." But the goodness of a father to strangers does not give him the right of being unjust and barbarous to his own son. All the qualities, which theology ascribes to God, reciprocally destroy one another. The exercise of one of his perfections is always at the expense of the exercise of another.
Has the Jew more rational ideas of divine justice than the
Christian? The pride of a king kindles the anger of heaven;
Jehovah causes the pestilence to descend upon his innocent
people; seventy thousand subjects are exterminated to expiate the
fault of a monarch, whom the goodness of God resolved to spare.
§91. Notwithstanding the various
acts of injustice, with which all religions delight to blacken the
Divinity, men cannot consent to accuse him of iniquity. They fear,
that, like the tyrants of this world, truth will offend him, and
redouble upon them the weight of his malice and tyranny. They
hearken therefore to their priests, who tell them, that their God
is a tender father; that this God is an equitable monarch whose
object in this world is to assure himself of the love, obedience
and respect of his subjects; who gives them liberty of acting only
to afford them an opportunity of meriting his favours, and of
acquiring an eternal happiness, which he does not owe them. By what
signs can men discover the tenderness of a father, who has given
life to the greater part of his children merely to drag out upon
the earth a painful, restless, bitter existence? Is there a more
unfortunate present, than that pretended liberty, which, we are
told, men are very liable to abuse, and thereby to incur eternal
§92. By calling mortals to life, what a cruel and dangerous part has not the Deity forced them to act? Thrown into the world without their consent, provided with a temperament of which they are not masters, animated by passions and desires inherent in their nature, exposed to snares which they have not power to escape, hurried away by events which they could not foresee or prevent, unhappy mortals are compelled to run a career, which may lead them to punishments horrible in duration and violence.
Travellers inform us, that, in Asia, a Sultan reigned, full of
fantastical ideas, and very absolute in his whims. By a strange
madness, this prince spent his time seated at a table, upon which
were placed three dice and a dice-box. One end of the table was
covered with pieces of silver, designed to excite the avarice of
his courtiers and people. He, knowing the foible of his subjects,
addresses them as follows: Slaves, I wish your happiness. My
goodness proposes to enrich you, and make you all happy. Do you see
these treasures? Well, they are for you; strive to gain them; let
each, in his turn, take the box and dice; whoever has the fortune
to throw sixes, shall be master of the treasure. But, I forewarn
you, that he who has not the happiness to throw the number
required, shall be precipitated for ever into a dark dungeon, where
my justice demands that he be burned with a slow fire. Upon
this discourse of the monarch, the company look at each other
affrighted. No one wishes to expose himself to so dangerous a
chance. What! says the enraged Sultan, does no one offer
to play? I tell you then you must; My glory requires that you
should play. Play then; obey without replying. It is well to
observe, that the dice of the despot are so prepared, that out of a
hundred thousand throws, there is but one, which can gain the
number required. Thus the generous monarch has the pleasure of
seeing his prison well filled, and his riches seldom ravished from
him. Mortals! this sultan is your GOD; his
treasure is heaven;
his dungeon is hell,
and it is you who hold the dice!
§93. Divines repeatedly assure us, that we owe Providence infinite gratitude for the numberless blessings it bestows. They loudly extol the happiness of existence. But, alas! how many mortals are truly satisfied with their mode of existence? If life has sweets, with how much bitterness is it not mixed? Does not a single chagrin often suffice suddenly to poison the most peaceable and fortunate life? Are there many, who, if it were in their power would begin again, at the same price, the painful career, in which, without their consent, destiny has placed them?
They say, that existence is a great blessing. But is not this
existence continually troubled with fears, and maladies, often
cruel and little deserved? May not this existence, threatened on so
many sides, be torn from us any moment? Where is the man, who has
not been deprived of a dear wife, beloved child, or consoling
friend, whose loss every moment intrudes upon his thoughts? There
are few, who have not been forced to drink of the cup of
misfortune; there are few, who have not desired their end. Finally,
it did not depend upon us to exist or not to exist. Should the bird
then be very grateful to the fowler for taking him in his net and
confining him in his cage for his diversion?
§94. Notwithstanding the infirmities and misery which man is forced to undergo, he has, nevertheless, the folly to think himself the favourite of his God, the object of all his cares, the sole end of all his works. He imagines, that the whole universe is made for him; he arrogantly calls himself the king of nature, and values himself far above other animals. Mortal! upon what canst thou found thy haughty pretensions? It is, sayest thou, upon thy soul, upon thy reason, upon the sublime faculties, which enable thee to exercise an absolute empire over the beings, which surround thee. But, weak sovereign of the world; art thou sure, one moment, of the continuance of thy reign? Do not the smallest atoms of matter, which thou despisest, suffice to tear thee from thy throne, and deprive thee of life? Finally, does not the king of animals at last become the food of worms? Thou speakest of thy soul! But dost thou know what a soul is? Dost thou not see, that this soul is only the assemblage of thy organs, from which results life? Wouldst thou then refuse a soul to other animals, who live, think, judge, and compare, like thee; who seek pleasure, and avoid pain, like thee; and who often have organs, which serve them better than thine? Thou boastest of thy intellectual faculties; but do these faculties, of which thou art so proud, make thee happier than other animals? Dost thou often make use of that reason, in which thou gloriest, and to which religion commands thee not to listen? Are those brutes, which thou disdainest, because they are less strong or less cunning than thou art, subject to mental pains, to a thousand frivolous passions, to a thousand imaginary wants, to which thou art a continual prey? Are they, like thee, tormented by the past, alarmed at the future? Confined solely to the present, does not what you call their instinct, and what I call their intelligence, suffice to preserve and defend them, and to supply them with all they want? Does not this instinct, of which thou speakest with contempt, often serve them better than thy wonderful faculties? Is not their peaceful ignorance more advantageous to them, than those extravagant meditations and worthless researches, which render thee unhappy, and for which thy zeal urges thee even to massacre the beings of thy noble species? Finally, have these beasts, like so many mortals, a troubled imagination, which makes them fear, not only death, but likewise eternal torments?
Augustus, hearing that Herod, king of Judea, had put his sons to
death, exclaimed: It is much better to be Herod's hog, than his
son. As much may be said of man. This dear child of Providence
runs far greater risks than all other animals; having suffered much
in this world, does he not imagine, that he is in danger of
suffering eternally in another?
§95. Where is the precise line of distinction between man and the animals whom he calls brutes? In what does he differ essentially from beasts? It is, we are told, by his intelligence, by the faculties of his mind, and by his reason, that man appears superior to all other animals, who, in all their actions, move only by physical impulses, in which reason has no share. But finally, brutes, having fewer wants than man, easily do without his intellectual faculties, which would be perfectly useless in their mode of existence. Their instinct is sufficient; while all the faculties of man scarcely suffice to render his existence supportable, and to satisfy the wants, which his imagination and his prejudices multiply to his torment.
Brutes are not influenced by the same objects, as man; they have
not the same wants, desires, nor fancies; and they very soon arrive
to maturity, while the mind of man seldom attains to the full
enjoyment and free exercise of its faculties and to such a use of
them, as is conducive to his happiness.
§96. We are assured, that the human soul is a simple substance. It should then be the same in every individual, each having the same intellectual faculties; yet this is not the case. Men differ as much in the qualities of the mind, as in the features of the face. There are human beings as different from one another, as man is from a horse or a dog. What conformity or resemblance do we find between some men? What an infinite distance is there between the genius of a Locke or a Newton, and that of a peasant, Hottentot, or Laplander?
Man differs from other animals only in his organization, which enables him to produce effects, of which animals are not capable. The variety, observable in the organs of individuals of the human species suffices to explain the differences in what is called their intellectual faculties. More or less delicacy in these organs, warmth in the blood, mobility in the fluids, flexibility or stiffness in the fibres and nerves, must necessarily produce the infinite diversity, which we observe in the minds of men. It is by exercise, habit and education, that the mind is unfolded and becomes superior to that of others. Man, without culture and experience, is as void of reason and industry, as the brute. A stupid man is one, whose organs move with difficulty, whose brain does not easily vibrate, whose blood circulates slowly. A man of genius is he, whose organs are flexible, whose sensations are quick, whose brain vibrates with celerity. A learned man is he, whose organs and brain have been long exercised upon objects to which he is devoted.
Without culture, experience, or reason, is not man more
contemptible and worthy of hatred, than the vilest insects or most
ferocious beasts? Is there in nature a more detestable being, than
a Tiberius, a Nero, or a Caligula? Have those destroyers of the
human race, known by the name of conquerors, more estimable souls
than bears, lions, or panthers? Are there animals in the world more
detestable than tyrants?
§97. The superiority which man so
gratuitously arrogates to himself over other animals, soon vanishes
in the light of reason, when we reflect on human extravagances. How
many animals shew more mildness, reflection, and reason, than the
animal, who calls himself reasonable above all others? Are there
among men, so often enslaved and oppressed, societies as well
constituted as those of the ants, bees, or beavers? Do we ever see
ferocious beasts of the same species mangle and destroy one another
without profit? Do we ever see religious wars among them? The
cruelty of beasts towards other species arises from hunger, the
necessity of nourishment; the cruelty of man towards man arises
only from the vanity of his masters and the folly of his
impertinent prejudices. Speculative men, who endeavour to make us
believe, that all in the universe was made for man, are much
embarrassed, when we ask, how so many hurtful animals can
contribute to the happiness of man? What known advantage results to
the friend of the gods, from being bitten by a viper, stung by a
gnat, devoured by vermin, torn in pieces by a tiger, etc.? Would
not all these animals reason as justly as our theologians, should
they pretend that man was made for them?
§98. AN EASTERN TALE.
At some distance from Bagdad, a hermit, renowned for his
sanctity, passed his days in an agreeable solitude. The
neighbouring inhabitants, to obtain an interest in his prayers,
daily flocked to his hermitage, to carry him provisions and
presents. The holy man, without ceasing, gave thanks to God for the
blessings, with which providence loaded him. "O Allah!" said he,
"how ineffable is thy love to thy servants. What have I done to
merit the favours, that I receive from thy bounty? O Monarch of the
skies! O Father of nature! what praises could worthily celebrate
thy munificence, and thy paternal care! O Allah! how great is thy
goodness to the children of men!" Penetrated with gratitude, the
hermit made a vow to undertake, for the seventh time, a pilgrimage
to Mecca. The war which then raged between the Persians and Turks,
could not induce him to defer his pious enterprise. Full of
confidence in God, he sets out under the inviolable safeguard of a
religious habit. He passes through the hostile troops without any
obstacle; far from being molested, he receives, at every step,
marks of veneration from the soldiers of the two parties. At
length, borne down with fatigue, he is obliged to seek refuge
against the rays of a scorching sun; he rests under the cool shade
of a group of palm-trees. In this solitary place, the man of God
finds not only an enchanting retreat, but a delicious repast. He
has only to put forth his hand to gather dates and other pleasant
fruits; a brook affords him the means of quenching his thirst. A
green turf invites him to sleep; upon waking he performs the sacred
ablution, and exclaims in a transport of joy: "O Allah! how great
is thy goodness to the children of men!" After this perfect
refreshment, the saint, full of strength and gaiety, pursues his
way; it leads him across a smiling country, which presents to his
eyes flowery hillocks, enamelled meadows, and trees loaded with
fruit. Affected by this sight, he ceases not to adore the rich and
liberal hand of providence, which appears every where providing for
the happiness of the human race. Going a little farther, the
mountains are pretty difficult to pass; but having once arrived at
the summit, a hideous spectacle suddenly appears to his view. His
soul is filled with horror. He discovers a vast plain laid waste
with fire and sword; he beholds it covered with hundreds of
carcases, the deplorable remains of a bloody battle, lately fought
upon this field. Eagles, vultures, ravens and wolves were greedily
devouring the dead bodies with which the ground was covered. This
sight plunges our pilgrim into a gloomy meditation. Heaven, by
special favour, had enabled him to understand the language of
beasts. He heard a wolf, gorged with human flesh, cry out in the
excess of his joy: "O Allah! how great is thy goodness to the
children of wolves. Thy provident wisdom takes care to craze the
minds of these detestable men, who are so dangerous to our species.
By an effect of thy Providence, which watches over thy creatures,
these destroyers cut one another's throats, and furnish us with
sumptuous meals. O Allah! how great is thy goodness to the children
§99. A heated imagination sees in the universe only the blessings of heaven; a calmer mind finds in it both good and evil. "I exist," say you; but is this existence always a good? "Behold," you say, "that sun, which lights; this earth, which for you is covered with crops and verdure; these flowers, which bloom to regale your senses; these trees, which bend under the weight of delicious fruits; these pure waters, which run only to quench your thirst; those seas, which embrace the universe to facilitate your commerce; these animals, which a foreseeing nature provides for your use." Yes; I see all these things, and I enjoy them. But in many climates, this beautiful sun is almost always hidden; in others, its excessive heat torments, creates storms, produces frightful diseases, and parches the fields; the pastures are without verdure, the trees without fruit, the crops are scorched, the springs are dried up; I can only with difficulty subsist, and now complain of the cruelties of nature, which to you always appears so beneficent. If these seas bring me spices, and useless commodities, do they not destroy numberless mortals, who are foolish enough to seek them? The vanity of man persuades him, that he is the sole center of the universe; he creates for himself a world and a God; he thinks himself of sufficient consequence to derange nature at his pleasure. But, concerning other animals, he reasons like an atheist. Does he not imagine, that the individuals different from his own are automatons unworthy of the blessings of universal providence, and that brutes cannot be objects of his justice or goodness? Mortals regard the happy or unhappy events, health or sickness, life or death, plenty or want, as rewards or punishments for the right use or abuse of the liberty, with which they erroneously imagine themselves endowed. Do they reason in the same manner concerning the brutes? No. Although they see them, under a just God, enjoy and suffer, equally subject to health and sickness, live and die, like themselves, it never occurs to them to ask by what crime, these beasts could have incurred the displeasure of their Creator? Have not men, blinded by their religious prejudices, in order to free themselves from embarrassment, carried their folly so far as to pretend that beasts have no feeling?
Will men never renounce their foolish pretensions? Will they
never acknowledge that nature is not made for them? Will they never
see that nature has placed equality among all beings she has
produced? Will they never perceive that all organized beings are
equally made to be born and die, enjoy and suffer? Finally, far
from having any cause to be puffed up with their mental faculties,
are they not forced to grant, that these faculties often make them
more unhappy than beasts, in which we find neither opinions,
prejudices, vanities, nor follies, which every moment decide the
welfare of man?
§100. The superiority which men arrogate over other animals, is chiefly founded upon their opinion, that they have the exclusive possession of an immortal soul. But ask them what this soul is, and they are puzzled. They will say, it is an unknown substance -- a secret power distinct from their bodies -- a spirit, of which they have no idea. Ask them how this spirit, which they suppose to be like their God wholly void of extension, could combine itself with their material bodies, and they will tell you, they know nothing about it; that it is to them a mystery; that this combination is an effect of the omnipotence of God. These are the ideas that men form of the hidden, or rather imaginary substance, which they consider as the main spring of all their actions!
If the soul is a substance essentially different from the body,
and can have no relation to it, their union would be, not a
mystery, but an impossibility. Besides, this soul being of a nature
different from the body, must necessarily act in a different
manner; yet we see that this pretended soul is sensible of the
motions experienced by the body, and that these two substances,
essentially different, always acts in concert. You will say that
this harmony is also a mystery. But I will tell you, that I see not
my soul, that I know and am sensible of my body only, that it is
this body which feels, thinks, judges, suffers, and enjoys; and
that all these faculties are necessary results of its own
mechanism, or organization.
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