§151. If sacerdotal flatteries succeed in perverting princes and making them tyrants; tyrants, on their part, necessarily corrupt both the great and the humble. Under an unjust ruler, void of goodness and virtue, who knows no law but his caprice, a nation must necessarily be depraved. Will this ruler wish to have, about his person, honest, enlightened, and virtuous men? No. He wants none but flatterers, approvers, imitators, slaves, base and servile souls, who conform themselves to his inclinations. His court will propagate the contagion of vice among the lower ranks. All will gradually become corrupted in a state, whose chief is corrupt. It was long since said, that "Princes seem to command others to do whatever they do themselves."
Religion, far from being a restraint upon sovereigns, enables
them to indulge without fear or remorse, in acts of licentiousness
as injurious to themselves, as to the nations whom they govern. It
is never with impunity, that men are deceived. Tell a sovereign,
that he is a god; he will very soon believe that he owes nothing to
any one. Provided he is feared, he will care very little about
being loved: he will observe neither rules, nor relations with his
subjects, nor duties towards them. Tell this prince, that he is
accountable for his actions to God alone, and he will soon
act as if he were accountable to no one.
§152. An enlightened sovereign is
he, who knows his true interests; who knows, that they are
connected with the interests of his nation; that a prince cannot be
great, powerful, beloved, or respected, while he commands only
unhappy slaves; that equity, beneficence, and vigilance will give
him more real authority over his people, than the fabulous titles,
said to be derived from heaven. He will see, that Religion is
useful only to priests, that it is useless to society and often
troubles it, and that it ought to be restrained in order to be
prevented from doing injury. Finally, he will perceive, that, to
reign with glory, he must have good laws and inculcate virtue, and
not found his power upon impostures and fallacies.
§153. The ministers of religion have taken great care to make of their God, a formidable, capricious, and fickle tyrant. Such a God was necessary to their variable interests. A God, who should be just and good, without mixture of caprice or perversity; a God, who had constantly the qualities of an honest man, or of a kind sovereign, would by no means suit his ministers. It is useful to priests, that men should tremble before their God, in order that they may apply to them to obtain relief from their fears. "No man is a hero before his valet de chambre." It is not surprising, that a God, dressed up by his priests so as to be terrible to others, should rarely impose upon them, or should have but very little influence upon their conduct. Hence, in every country, their conduct is very much the same. Under pretext of the glory of their God, they every where prey upon ignorance, degrade the mind, discourage industry, and sow discord. Ambition and avarice have at all times been the ruling passions of the priesthood. The priest every where rises superior to sovereigns and laws; we see him every where occupied with the interests of his pride, of his cupidity, and of his despotic, revengeful humour. In the room of useful and social virtues, he everywhere substitutes expiations, sacrifices, ceremonies, mysterious practices, in a word, inventions lucrative to himself and ruinous to others.
The mind is confounded and the reason is amazed upon viewing the
ridiculous customs and pitiful means, which the ministers of the
gods have invented in every country to purify souls, and render
heaven favourable. Here they cut off part of a child's prepuce, to
secure for him divine benevolence; there, they pour water upon his
head, to cleanse him of crimes, which he could not as yet have
committed. In one place, they command him to plunge into a river,
whose waters have the power of washing away all stains; in another,
he is forbidden to eat certain food, the use of which will not fail
to excite the celestial wrath; in other countries, they enjoin upon
sinful man to come periodically and confess his faults to a priest,
who is often a greater sinner than himself, etc., etc., etc.
§154. What should we say of a set of empirics, who, resorting every day to a public place, should extol the goodness of their remedies, and vend them as infallible, while they themselves were full of the infirmities, which they pretend to cure? Should we have much confidence in the recipes of these quacks, though they stun us with crying, "take our remedies, their effects are infallible; they cure every body; except us." What should we afterwards think, should those quacks spend their lives in complaining, that their remedies never produced the desired effect upon the sick, who take them? In fine, what idea should we form of the stupidity of the vulgar, who, notwithstanding these confessions, should not cease to pay dearly for remedies, the inefficacy of which every thing tends to prove? Priests resemble these alchymists, who boldly tell us, they have the secret of making gold, while they have scarcely clothes to cover their nakedness.
The ministers of religion incessantly declaim against the
corruption of the age, and loudly complain of the little effect of
their lessons, while at the same time they assure us, that religion
is the universal remedy, the true panacea against the
wickedness of mankind. These priests are very sick themselves, yet
men continue to frequent their shops, and to have faith in their
divine antidotes, which, by their own confession, never effect a
§155. Religion, especially with the moderns, has tried to identify itself with Morality, the principles of which it has thereby totally obscured. It has rendered men unsociable by duty, and forced them to be inhuman to everyone who thought differently from themselves. Theological disputes, equally unintelligible to each of the enraged parties, have shaken empires, caused revolutions, been fatal to sovereigns, and desolated all Europe. These contemptible quarrels have not been extinguished even in rivers of blood. Since the extinction of paganism, the people have made it a religious principle to become outrageous, whenever any opinion is advanced which their priests think contrary to sound doctrine. The sectaries of a religion, which preaches, in appearance, nothing but charity, concord, and peace, have proved themselves more ferocious than cannibals or savages, whenever their divines excited them to destroy their brethren. There is no crime, which men have not committed under the idea of pleasing the Divinity, or appeasing his wrath.
The idea of a terrible God, whom we paint to ourselves as a despot, must necessarily render his subjects wicked. Fear makes only slaves, and slaves are cowardly, base, cruel, and think every thing lawful, in order to gain the favour or escape the chastisements of the master whom they fear. Liberty of thinking alone can give men humanity and greatness of soul. The notion of a tyrant-god tends only to make them abject, morose, quarrelsome, intolerant slaves.
Every religion, which supposes a God easily provoked, jealous, revengeful, punctilious about his rights or the etiquette with which he is treated; -- a God little enough to be hurt by the opinions which men can form of him; -- a God unjust enough to require that we have uniform notions of his conduct; a religion which supposes such a God necessarily becomes restless, unsociable, and sanguinary; the worshippers of such a God would never think, that they could, without offence, forbear hating and even destroying every one, who is pointed out to them, as an adversary of this God; they would think, that it would be to betray the cause of their celestial Monarch, to live in friendly intercourse with rebellious fellow-citizens. If we love what God hates, do we not expose ourselves to his implacable hatred?
Infamous persecutors, and devout men-haters! Will you never
discern the folly and injustice of your intolerant disposition? Do
you not see, that man is no more master of his religious opinions,
his belief or unbelief, than of the language, which he learns from
infancy? To punish a man for his errors, is it not to punish him
for having been educated differently from you? If I am an
unbeliever, is it possible for me to banish from my mind the
reasons that have shaken my faith? If your God gives men leave to
be damned, what have you to meddle with? Are you more prudent and
wise, than this God, whose rights you would avenge?
§156. There is no devotee, who does not, according to his temperament, hate, despise, or pity the adherents of a sect, different from his own. The established religion, which is never any other than that of the sovereign and the armies, always makes its superiority felt in a very cruel and injurious manner by the weaker sects. As yet there is no true toleration upon earth; men every where adore a jealous God, of whom each nation believes itself the friend, to the exclusion of all others.
Every sect boasts of adoring alone the true God, the universal God, the Sovereign of all nature. But when we come to examine this Monarch of the world, we find that every society, sect, party, or religious cabal, makes of this powerful God only a pitiful sovereign, whose care and goodness extend only to a small number of his subjects, who pretend that they alone have the happiness to enjoy his favours, and that he is not at all concerned about the others.
The founders of religions, and the priests who support them,
evidently proposed to separate the nations, whom they taught, from
the other nations; they wished to separate their own flock by
distinguishing marks; they gave their followers gods, who were
hostile to the other gods; they taught them modes of worship,
dogmas and ceremonies apart; and above all, they persuaded them,
that the religion of others was impious and abominable. By this
unworthy artifice, the ambitious knaves established, their
usurpation over the minds of their followers, rendered them
unsociable, and made them regard with an evil eye all persons who
had not the same mode of worship and the same ideas as they had.
Thus it is, that Religion has shut up the heart and for ever
banished from it the affection that man ought to have for his
fellow-creature. Sociability, indulgence, humanity, those first
virtues of all morality, are totally incompatible with religious
§157. Every national religion is calculated to make man vain, unsociable, and wicked; the first step towards humanity is to permit every one peaceably to embrace the mode of worship and opinions, which he judges to be right. But this conduct cannot be pleasing to the ministers of religion, who wish to have the right of tyrannizing over men even in their thoughts.
Blind and bigoted princes! You hate and persecute heretics, and
order them to execution, because you are told, that these wretches
displease God. But do you not say, that your God is full of
goodness? How then can you expect to please him by acts of
barbarity, which he must necessarily disapprove? Besides, who has
informed you, that their opinions displease your God? Your priests?
But, who assures you, that your priests are not themselves deceived
or wish to deceive you? The same priests? Princes! It is then upon
the hazardous word of your priests, that you commit the most
atrocious crimes, under the idea of pleasing the Divinity!
§158. Pascal says, "that man never does evil so fully and cheerfully, as when he acts from a false principle of conscience." Nothing is more dangerous than a religion, which lets loose the ferocity of the multitude, and justifies their blackest crimes. They will set no bounds to their wickedness, when they think it authorized by their God, whose interests, they are told, can make every action legitimate. Is religion in danger? -- the most civilized people immediately becomes true savages, and think nothing forbidden. The more cruel they are, the more agreeable they suppose they are to their God, whose cause they imagine cannot be supported with too much warmth.
All religions have authorized innumerable crimes. The Jews, intoxicated with the promises of their God, arrogated the rights of exterminating whole nations. Relying on the oracles of their God, the Romans conquered and ravaged the world. The Arabians, encouraged by their divine prophet, carried fire and sword among the Christians and the idolaters. The Christians, under pretext of extending their holy religion, have often deluged both hemispheres in blood.
In all events favourable to their own interest, which they
always call the cause of God, priests show us the finger
of God. According to these principles, the devout have the
happiness to see the finger of God in revolts, revolutions,
massacres, regicides, crimes, prostitutions, horrors; and, if these
things contribute ever so little to the triumph of religion, we are
told, that "God uses all sorts of means to attain his ends." Is any
thing more capable of effacing every idea of morality from the
minds of men, than to inform them, that their God, so powerful and
perfect, is often forced to make use of criminal actions in order
to accomplish his designs?
§159. No sooner do we complain of the extravagancies and evils, which Religion has so often caused upon the earth, than we are reminded, that these excesses are not owing to Religion; but "that they are the sad effects of the passions of men." But I would ask, what has let loose these passions? It is evidently Religion; it is zeal, that renders men inhuman, and serves to conceal the greatest atrocities. Do not these disorders then prove, that religion, far from restraining the passions of men, only covers them with a veil, which sanctifies them, and that nothing would be more useful, than to tear away this sacred veil of which men often make such a terrible use? What horrors would be banished from society, if the wicked were deprived of so plausible a pretext for disturbing it!
Instead of being angels of peace among men, priests have been
demons of discord. They have pretended to receive from heaven the
right of being quarrelsome, turbulent, and rebellious. Do not the
ministers of the Lord think themselves aggrieved, and pretend that
the divine Majesty is offended, whenever sovereigns have the
temerity to prevent them from doing evil? Priests are like the
spiteful woman who cried fire! murder! assassination! while
her husband held her hands to prevent her from striking him.
§160. Notwithstanding the bloody tragedies, which Religion often acts, it is insisted, that, without Religion, there can be no Morality. If we judge theological opinions by their effects, we may confidently assert, that all Morality is perfectly incompatible with men's religious opinions.
"Imitate God," exclaim the pious. But, what would be our Morality, should we imitate this God! and what God ought we to imitate? The God of the Deist? But even this God cannot serve us as a very constant model of goodness. If he is the author of all things, he is the author both of good and evil. If he is the author of order, he is also the author of disorder, which could not take place without his permission. If he produces, he destroys; if he gives life, he takes it away; if he grants abundance, riches, prosperity, and peace, he permits or sends scarcity, poverty, calamities, and wars. How then can we receive as a model of permanent beneficence, the God of Deism or natural religion, whose favourable dispositions are every instant contradicted by all the effects we behold? Morality must have a basis less tottering than the example of a God, whose conduct varies, and who cannot be called good, unless we obstinately shut our eyes against the evil which he causes or permits in this world.
Shall we imitate the beneficent, mighty Jupiter of heathen antiquity? To imitate such a god, is to admit as a model, a rebellious son, who ravishes the throne from his father. It is to imitate a debauchee, an adulterer, one guilty of incest and of base passions, at whose conduct every reasonable mortal would blush. What would have been the condition of men under paganism, had they imagined, like Plato, that virtue consisted in imitating the gods!
Must we imitate the God of the Jews! Shall we find in Jehovah a model for our conduct? This is a truly savage god, made for a stupid, cruel, and immoral people; he is always furious, breathes nothing but vengeance, commands carnage, theft, and unsociability. The conduct of this god cannot serve as a model to that of an honest man, and can be imitated only by a chief of robbers.
Shall we then imitate the Jesus of the Christians? Does
this God, who died to appease the implacable fury of his father,
furnish us an example which men ought to follow? Alas! we shall see
in him only a God, or rather a fanatic, a misanthrope, who, himself
plunged in wretchedness and preaching to wretches, will advise them
to be poor, to combat with and stifle nature, to hate pleasure,
seek grief, and detest themselves. He will tell them to leave
father, mother, relations, friends, etc., to follow him. "Fine
morality!" you say. It is, undoubtedly, admirable: it must be
divine, for it is impracticable to men. But is not such sublime
morality calculated to render virtue odious? According to the so
much boasted morality of the man-God of the Christians, a
disciple of his in this world must be like Tantalus,
tormented with a burning thirst, which he is not allowed to quench.
Does not such morality give us a wonderful idea of the author of
nature? If, as we are assured, he has created all things for his
creatures, by what strange whim does he forbid them the use of the
goods he has created for them? Is pleasure then, which man
continually desires, only a snare, which God has maliciously laid
to surprise his weakness?
§161. The followers of Christ would have us regard, as a miracle, the establishment of their Religion, which is totally repugnant to nature, opposite to all the propensities of the heart, and inimical to sensual pleasures. But the austerity of a doctrine renders it the more marvellous in the eyes of the vulgar. The same disposition, which respects inconceivable mysteries as divine and supernatural, admires, as divine and supernatural, a Morality, that is impracticable, and beyond the powers of man.
To admire a system of Morality, and to put it in practice, are two very different things. All Christians admire and extol the Morality of the gospel; which they do not practise.
The whole world is more or less infected with a Religious
morality, founded upon the opinion, that to please the Divinity, it
is absolutely necessary to render ourselves unhappy upon earth. In
all parts of our globe, we see penitents, fakirs, and fanatics, who
seem to have profoundly studied the means of tormenting themselves,
in honour of a being whose goodness all agree in celebrating.
Religion, by its essence, is an enemy to the joy and happiness of
men. "Blessed are the poor, blessed are they, who weep; blessed are
they, who suffer; misery to those, who are in abundance and joy."
Such are the rare discoveries, announced by Christianity!
§162. What is a Saint in every religion? A man, who prays, and fasts, who torments himself, and shuns the world; who like an owl, delights only in solitude, abstains from all pleasure, and seems frightened of every object, which may divert him from his fanatical meditations. Is this virtue? Is a being of this type, kind to himself, or useful to others? Would not society be dissolved, and man return to a savage state, if every one were fool enough to be a Saint?
It is evident, that the literal and rigorous practice of the divine Morality of the Christians would prove the infallible ruin of nations. A Christian, aiming at perfection, ought to free his mind from whatever can divert it from heaven, his true country. Upon earth, he sees nothing but temptations, snares, and rocks of perdition. He must fear science, as hurtful to faith; he must avoid industry, as a means of obtaining riches, too fatal to salvation; he must renounce offices and honours, as capable of exciting his pride, and calling off his attention from the care of his soul. In a word, the sublime Morality of Christ, were it practicable, would break all the bonds of society.
A Saint in society is as useless, as a Saint in the desert; his humour is morose, discontented, and often turbulent; his zeal sometimes obliges him in conscience to trouble society by opinions or dreams, which his vanity makes him consider as inspirations from on high. The annals of every religion are full of restless Saints, intractable Saints, and seditious Saints, who have become famous by the ravages, with which, for the greater glory of God, they have desolated the universe. If Saints, who live in retirement, are useless, those who live in the world, are often very dangerous.
The vanity of acting, the desire of appearing illustrious and
peculiar in conduct, commonly constitute the distinguishing
character of Saints. Pride persuades them, that they are
extraordinary men far above human nature, beings much more perfect
than others, favourites whom God regards with much more
complaisance than the rest of mortals. Humility, in a Saint, is
commonly only a more refined pride than that of the generality of
men. Nothing but the most ridiculous vanity can induce man to wage
continual war against his own nature.
§163. A morality, which contradicts the nature of man, is not made for man. "But," say you, "the nature of man is depraved." In what consists this pretended depravity? In having passions? But, are not passions essential to man? Is he not obliged to seek, desire, and love what is, or what he thinks is, conducive to his happiness? Is he not forced to fear and avoid what he judges disagreeable or fatal? Kindle his passions for useful objects; connect his welfare with those objects; divert him, by sensible and known motives, from what may injure either him or others, and you will make him a reasonable and virtuous being. A man without passions would be equally indifferent to vice and to virtue.
Holy Doctors! you are always repeating to us that the nature of man is perverted; you exclaim, "that all flesh has corrupted its way, that all the propensities of nature have become inordinate." In this case, you accuse your God; who was either unable, or unwilling, that this nature should preserve its primitive perfection. If this nature is corrupted, why has not God repaired it? The Christian immediately assures me, "that human nature is repaired; that the death of his God has restored its integrity." How then, I would ask, do you pretend that human nature, notwithstanding the death of a God, is still depraved? Is then the death of your God wholly fruitless? What becomes of his omnipotence and of his victory over the Devil, if it is true that the Devil still preserves the empire, which, according to you, he has always exercised in the world?
According to Christian theology, Death is the wages of
sin. This opinion is conformable to that of some negro and
savage nations, who imagine that the Death of a man is always the
supernatural effect of the anger of the Gods. Christians firmly
believe, that Christ has delivered them from sin; though they see,
that, in their Religion, as in others, man is subject to Death. To
say that Jesus Christ has delivered us from sin, is it not to say,
that a judge has pardoned a criminal, while we see that he leaves
him for execution?
§164. If shutting our eyes upon whatever passes in the world, we would credit the partisans of the Christian Religion, we should believe, that the coming of their divine Saviour produced the most wonderful and complete reform in the morals of nations.
If we examine the Morals of Christian nations, and listen to the
clamours of their priests, we shall be forced to conclude, that
Jesus Christ, their God, preached and died, in vain; his omnipotent
will still finds in men, a resistance, over which he cannot, or
will not triumph. The Morality of this divine Teacher, which his
disciples so much admire and so little practise, is followed, in a
whole century only by half a dozen obscure saints, and fanatics,
and unknown monks, who alone will have the glory of shining in the
celestial court, while all the rest of mortals, though redeemed by
the blood of this God, will be the prey of eternal flames.
§165. When a man is strongly inclined to sin, he thinks very little about his God. Nay more, whatever crimes he has committed, he always flatters himself, that this God will soften, in his favour, the rigour of his decrees. No mortal seriously believes, that his conduct can damn him. Though he fears a terrible God, who often makes him tremble, yet, whenever he is strongly tempted, he yields; and he afterwards sees only the God of mercies, the idea of whom calms his apprehensions. If a man commits evil, he hopes, he shall have time to reform, and promises to repent at a future day.
In religious pharmacy, there are infallible prescriptions to
quiet consciences: priests, in every country, possess sovereign
secrets to disarm the anger of heaven. Yet, if it be true that the
Deity is appeased by prayers, offerings, sacrifices, and penances,
it can no longer be said, that Religion is a check to the
irregularities of men; they will first sin, and then seek the means
to appease God. Every Religion, which expiates crime and promises a
remission of them, if it restrain some persons, encourages the
majority to commit evil. Notwithstanding his immutability, God, in
every Religion, is a true Proteus. His priests represent him
at one time armed with severity, at another full of clemency and
mildness; sometimes cruel and unmerciful, and sometimes easily
melted by the sorrow and tears of sinners. Consequently, men see
the Divinity only on the side most conformable to their present
interests. A God always angry would discourage his worshippers, or
throw them into despair. Men must have a God, who is both
irritable, and placable. If his anger frightens some timorous
souls, his clemency encourages the resolutely wicked, who depend
upon recurring, sooner or later, to the means of accommodation. If
the judgments of God terrify some faint-hearted pious persons, who
by constitution and habit are not prone to evil, the treasures
of divine mercy encourage the greatest criminals, who have
reason to hope they participate therein equally with the
§166. Most men seldom think of God, or, at least, bestow on him serious attention. The only ideas we can form of him are so devoid of object, and are at the same time so afflicting, that the only imaginations they can arrest are those of melancholy hypochondriacs, who do not constitute the majority of the inhabitants of this world. The vulgar have no conception of God; their weak brains are confused, whenever they think of him. The man of business thinks only of his business; the courtier of his intrigues; men of fashion, women, and young people of their pleasures; dissipation soon effaces in them all the fatiguing notions of Religion. The ambitious man, the miser and the debauchee carefully avoid speculations too feeble to counterbalance their various passions.
Who is awed by the idea of a God? A few enfeebled men, morose
and disgusted with the world; a few, in whom the passions are
already deadened by age, by infirmity, or by the strokes of
fortune. Religion is a check, to those alone who by their state of
mind and body, or by fortuitous circumstances, have been already
brought to reason. The fear of God hinders from sin only those, who
are not much inclined to it, or else those who are no longer able
to commit it. To tell men, that the Deity punishes crimes in this
world, is to advance an assertion, which experience every moment
contradicts. The worst of men are commonly the arbiters of the
world, and are those whom fortune loads with her favours. To refer
us to another life, in order to convince us of the judgments of
God, is to refer us to conjectures, in order to destroy facts,
which cannot be doubted.
§167. Nobody thinks of the life to come, when he is strongly smitten with the objects he finds here below. In the eyes of a passionate lover, the presence of his mistress extinguishes the flames of hell, and her charms efface all the pleasures of paradise. Woman! you leave, say you, your lover for your God. This is either because your lover is no longer the same in your eyes, or because he leaves you.
Nothing is more common, than to see ambitious, perverse, corrupt, and immoral men, who have some ideas of Religion, and sometimes appear even zealous for its interest. If they do not practise it at present, they hope to in the future. They lay it up, as a remedy, which will be necessary to salve the conscience for the evil they intend to commit. Besides, the party of devotees and priests being very numerous, active, and powerful, is it not astonishing, that rogues and knaves seek its support to attain their ends? It will undoubtedly be said, that many honest people are sincerely religious, and that without profit; but is uprightness of heart always accompanied with knowledge?
It is urged, that many learned men, many men of genius have been
strongly attached to Religion. This proves, that men of genius may
have prejudices, be pusillanimous, and have an imagination, which
misleads them and prevents them from examining subjects coolly.
Pascal proves nothing in favour of Religion, unless that a man of
genius may be foolish on some subjects, and is but a child, when he
is weak enough to listen to his prejudices. Pascal himself tells
us, that the mind may be strong and contracted, enlarged and
weak. He previously observes, that a man may have a sound
mind, and not understand every subject equally well; for there are
some, who, having a sound judgment in a certain order of things,
are bewildered in others.
§168. What is virtue according to theology? It is, we are told, the conformity of the actions of man to the will of God. But, what is God? A being, of whom nobody has the least conception, and whom every one consequently modifies in his own way. What is the will of God? It is what men, who have seen God, or whom God has inspired, have declared to be the will of God. Who are those, who have seen God? They are either fanatics, or rogues, or ambitious men, whom we cannot believe.
To found Morality upon a God, whom every man paints to himself differently, composes in his way, and arranges according to his own temperament and interest, is evidently to found Morality upon the caprice and imagination of men; it is to found it upon the whims of a sect, a faction, a party, who believe they have the advantage to adore a true God to the exclusion of all others.
To establish Morality or the duties of man upon the divine will,
is to found it upon the will, the reveries and the interests of
those, who make God speak, without ever fearing that he will
contradict them. In every Religion, priests alone have a right to
decide what is pleasing or displeasing to their God, and we are
certain they will always decide, that it is what pleases or
displeases themselves. The dogmas, the ceremonies, the morals, and
the virtues, prescribed by every Religion, are visibly calculated
only to extend the power or augment the emoluments of the founders
and ministers of these Religions. The dogmas are obscure,
inconceivable, frightful, and are therefore well calculated to
bewilder the imagination and to render the vulgar more obsequious
to the will of those who wish to domineer over them. The ceremonies
and practices procure the priests, riches or respect. Religion
consists in a submissive faith, which prohibits the exercise of
reason; in a devout humility, which insures priests the submission
of their slaves; in an ardent zeal, when Religion, that is, when
the interest of these priests, is in danger. The only object of all
religions is evidently the advantage of its ministers.
§169. When we reproach theologians with the barrenness of their divine virtues, they emphatically extol charity, that tender love of one's neighbour, which Christianity makes an essential duty of its disciples. But, alas! what becomes of this pretended charity, when we examine the conduct of the ministers of the Lord? Ask them, whether we must love or do good to our neighbour, if he be an impious man, a heretic, or an infidel, that is, if he do not think like them? Ask them, whether we must tolerate opinions contrary to those of the religion, they profess? Ask them, whether the sovereign can show indulgence to those who are in error? Their charity instantly disappears, and the established clergy will tell you, that the prince bears the sword only to support the cause of the Most High: they will tell you that, through love for our neighbour, we must prosecute, imprison, exile, and burn him. You will find no toleration except among a few priests, persecuted themselves, who will lay aside Christian charity the instant they have power to persecute in their turn.
The Christian religion, in its origin preached by beggars and miserable men, under the name of charity, strongly recommends alms. The religion of Mahomet also enjoins it as an indispensable duty. Nothing undoubtedly is more conformable to humanity, than to succour the unfortunate, to clothe the naked, to extend the hand of beneficence to every one in distress. But would it not be more humane and charitable to prevent the source of misery and poverty? If Religion, instead of deifying princes, had taught them to respect the property of their subjects, to be just, to exercise only their lawful rights, we should not be shocked by the sight of such a multitude of beggars. A rapacious, unjust, tyrannical government multiplies misery; heavy taxes produce discouragement, sloth, and poverty, which in their turn beget robberies, assassinations, and crimes of every description. Had sovereigns more humanity, charity, and equity, their dominions would not be peopled by so many wretches, whose misery it becomes impossible to alleviate.
Christian and Mahometan states are full of large hospitals, richly endowed, in which we admire the pious charity of the kings and sultans, who erected them. But would it not have been more humane to govern the people justly, to render them happy, to excite and favour industry and commerce, and to let men enjoy in safety the fruit of their labours, than to crush them under a despotic yoke, to impoverish them by foolish wars, to reduce them to beggary, in order that luxury may be satisfied, and then to erect splendid buildings, which can contain but a very small portion of those, who have been rendered miserable? Religion has only deluded men; instead of preventing evils, it always applies ineffectual remedies.
The ministers of heaven have always known how to profit by the calamities of others. Public misery is their element. They have every where become administrators of the property of the poor, distributors of alms, depositaries of charitable donations; and thereby they have at all times extended and supported their power over the unhappy, who generally compose the most numerous, restless, and seditious part of society. Thus the greatest evils turn to the profit of the ministers of the Lord. Christian priests tell us, that the property they possess is the property of the poor, and that it is therefore sacred. Consequently they have eagerly accumulated lands, revenues, and treasures. Under colour of charity, spiritual guides have become extremely opulent, and in the face of impoverished nations enjoy wealth, which was destined solely for the unfortunate; while the latter, far from murmuring, applaud a pious generosity, which enriches the church, but rarely contributes to the relief of the poor.
According to the principles of Christianity, poverty itself is a virtue; indeed, it is the virtue, which sovereigns and priests oblige their slaves to observe most rigorously. With this idea, many pious Christians have of their own accord renounced riches, distributed their patrimony among the poor, and retired into deserts, there to live in voluntary indigence. But this enthusiasm, this supernatural taste for misery, has been soon forced to yield to nature. The successors of these volunteers in poverty sold to the devout people their prayers, and their intercessions with the Deity. They became rich and powerful. Thus monks and hermits lived in indolence, and under colour of charity, impudently devoured the substance of the poor.
The species of poverty, most esteemed by Religion, is poverty
of mind. The fundamental virtue of every Religion, most useful
to its ministers, is faith. It consists in unbounded
credulity, which admits, without enquiry, whatever the interpreters
of the Deity are interested in making men believe. By the aid of
this wonderful virtue, priests became the arbiters of right and
wrong, of good and evil: they could easily cause the commission of
crimes to advance their interest. Implicit faith has been the
source of the greatest outrages that have been committed.
§170. He, who first taught nations, that, when we wrong Man, we must ask pardon of God, appease him by presents, and offer him sacrifices, evidently destroyed the true principles of Morality. According to such ideas, many persons imagine that they may obtain of the king of heaven, as of kings of the earth, permission to be unjust and wicked, or may at least obtain pardon for the evil they may commit.
Morality is founded upon the relations, wants, and constant interests of mankind; the relations, which subsist between God and Men, are either perfectly unknown, or imaginary. Religion, by associating God with Man, has wisely weakened, or destroyed, the bonds, which unite them. Mortals imagine, they may injure one another with impunity, by making suitable satisfaction to the almighty being, who is supposed to have the right of remitting all offences committed against his creatures.
Is any thing better calculated to encourage the wicked or harden them in crimes, than to persuade them that there exists an invisible being, who has a right to forgive acts of injustice, rapine, and outrage committed against society? By these destructive ideas, perverse men perpetrate the most horrid crimes, and believe they make reparation by imploring divine mercy; their conscience is at rest, when a priest assures them that heaven is disarmed by a repentance, which, though sincere, is very useless to the world.
In the mind of a devout man, God must be regarded more than his
creatures; it is better to obey him, than men. The interests of the
celestial monarch must prevail over those of weak mortals. But the
interests of heaven are obviously those of its ministers; whence it
evidently follows, that in every religion, priests, under pretext
of the interests of heaven or the glory of God, can dispense with
the duties of human Morality, when they clash with the duties,
which God has a right to impose. Besides, must not he, who has
power to pardon crimes, have a right to encourage the commission of
§171. We are perpetually told, that, without a God there would be no moral obligation; that the people and even the sovereigns require a legislator powerful enough to constrain them. Moral constraint supposes a law; but this law arises from the eternal and necessary relations of things with one another; relations, which have nothing common with the existence of a God. The rules of Man's conduct are derived from his own nature which he is capable of knowing, and not from the Divine nature of which he has no idea. These rules constrain or oblige us; that is, we render ourselves estimable or contemptible, amiable or detestable, worthy of reward or of punishment, happy or unhappy, accordingly as we conform to, or deviate from these rules. The law, which obliges man not to hurt himself, is founded upon the nature of a sensible being, who, in whatever way he came into this world, is forced by his actual essence to seek good and shun evil, to love pleasure and fear pain. The law, which obliges man not to injure, and even to do good to others, is founded upon the nature of sensible beings, living in society, whose essence compels them to despise those who are useless, and to detest those who oppose their felicity.
Whether there exists a God or not, whether this God has spoken
or not, the moral duties of men will be always the same, so long as
they are sensible beings. Have men then need of a God whom they
know not, of an invisible legislator, of a mysterious religion and
of chimerical fears, in order to learn that every excess evidently
tends to destroy them, that to preserve health they must be
temperate; that to gain the love of others it is necessary to do
them good, that to do them evil is a sure means to incur their
vengeance and hatred? "Before the law there was no sin." Nothing is
more false than this maxim. It suffices that man is what he is, or
that he is a sensible being, in order to distinguish what gives him
pleasure or displeasure. It suffices that one man knows that
another man is a sensible being like himself, to perceive what is
useful or hurtful to him. It suffices that man needs his
fellow-creature, in order to know that he must fear to excite
sentiments unfavourable to himself. Thus the feeling and thinking
being has only to feel and think, in order to discover what he must
do for himself and others. I feel, and another feels like me; this
is the foundation of all morals.
§172. We can judge of the goodness of a system of Morals, only by its conformity to the nature of man. By this comparison, we have a right to reject it, if contrary to the welfare of our species. Whoever has seriously meditated Religion; whoever has carefully weighed its advantages and disadvantages, will be fully convinced, that both are injurious to the interests of Man, or directly opposite to his nature.
"To arms! the cause of your God is at stake! Heaven is outraged!
The faith is in danger! Impiety! blasphemy! heresy!" The magical
power of these formidable words, the real value of which the people
never understand, have at all times enabled priests to excite
revolts, to dethrone kings, to kindle civil wars, and to lay waste.
If we examine the important objects, which have produced so many
ravages upon earth, it appears, that either the foolish reveries
and whimsical conjectures of some theologian who did not understand
himself, or else the pretensions of the clergy, have broken every
social bond and deluged mankind with blood and tears.
§173. The sovereigns of this world, by associating the Divinity in the government of their dominions, by proclaiming themselves his vicegerents and representatives upon earth, and by acknowledging they hold their power from him, have necessarily constituted his ministers their own rivals or masters. Is it then astonishing, that priests have often made kings feel the superiority of the Celestial Monarch? Have they not more than once convinced temporal princes, that even the greatest power is compelled to yield to the spiritual power of opinion? Nothing is more difficult than to serve two masters, especially when they are not agreed upon what they require.
The association of Religion with Politics necessarily introduced double legislation. The law of God, interpreted by his priests, was often repugnant to the law of the sovereign, or the interest of the state. When princes have firmness and are confident of the love of their subjects, the law of God is sometimes forced to yield to the wise intentions of the temporal sovereign; but generally the sovereign authority is obliged to give way to the divine authority, that is, to the interests of the clergy. Nothing is more dangerous to a prince, than to encroach upon the authority of the Church, that is, to attempt to reform abuses consecrated by religion. God is never more angry than when we touch the divine rights, privileges, possessions, or immunities of his priests.
The metaphysical speculations or religious opinions of men
influence their conduct, only when they judge them conformable to
their interest. Nothing proves this truth more clearly, than the
conduct of many princes with respect to the spiritual power, which
they often resist. Ought not a sovereign, persuaded of the
importance and rights of Religion, to believe himself in conscience
bound to receive respectfully the orders of its priests, and to
regard them as the orders of the Divinity? There was a time, when
kings and people, more consistent in their conduct, were convinced
of the rights of spiritual power, and becoming its slaves, yielded
to it upon every occasion, and were but docile instruments in its
hands. That happy time is passed. By a strange inconsistency the
most devout monarchs are sometimes seen to oppose the enterprises
of those, whom they yet regard as the ministers of God. A
sovereign, deeply religious, ought to remain prostrate at the feet
of his ministers, and regard them as true sovereigns. Is there upon
earth a power which has a right to put itself in competition with
that of the Most High?
§174. Have princes then, who imagine themselves interested in cherishing the prejudices of their subjects, seriously reflected upon the effects, which have been, and may be again produced by certain privileged demagogues, who have a right to speak at pleasure, and in the name of heaven to inflame the passions of millions of subjects? What ravages would not these sacred haranguers cause, if they should conspire, as they have so often done, to disturb the tranquillity of a state!
To most nations, nothing is more burthensome and ruinous than
the worship of their gods. Not only do the ministers of these gods
every where constitute the first order in the state, but they also
enjoy the largest portion of the goods of society, and have a right
to levy permanent taxes upon their fellow-citizens. What real
advantages then do these organs of the Most High procure the
people, for the immense profits extorted from their industry? In
exchange for their riches and benefits, what do they give them but
mysteries, hypotheses, ceremonies, subtle questions, and endless
quarrels, which states are again compelled to pay with blood?
§175. Religion, though said to be the firmest prop of Morality, evidently destroys its true springs, in order to substitute imaginary ones, inconceivable chimeras, which, being obviously contrary to reason, nobody firmly believes. All nations declare that they firmly believe in a God, who rewards and punishes; all say they are persuaded of the existence of hell and paradise; yet, do these ideas render men better or counteract the most trifling interests? Every one assures us, that he trembles at the judgments of God; yet every one follows his passions, when he thinks himself sure of escaping the judgments of Man. The fear of invisible powers is seldom so strong as the fear of visible ones. Unknown or remote punishments strike the multitude far less forcibly than the sight of the gallows. Few courtiers fear the anger of their God so much as the displeasure of their master. A pension, a title, or a riband suffices to efface the remembrance both of the torments of hell, and of the pleasures of the celestial court. The caresses of a woman repeatedly prevail over the menaces of the Most High. A jest, a stroke of ridicule, a witticism, make more impression upon the man of the world, than all the grave notions of his Religion.
Are we not assured that a true repentance is enough to
appease the Deity? Yet we do not see that this true
repentance is very sincere; at least, it is rare to see noted
thieves, even at the point of death, restore goods, which they have
unjustly acquired. Men are undoubtedly persuaded, that they shall
fit themselves for eternal fire, if they cannot insure themselves
against it. But, "Some useful compacts may be made with heaven." By
giving the church a part of his fortune, almost every devout rogue
may die in peace, without concerning himself in what he gained his
§176. By the confession of the warmest defenders of Religion and of its utility, nothing is more rare than sincere conversions, and, we might add, nothing more unprofitable to society. Men are not disgusted with the world, until the world is disgusted with them.
If the devout have the talent of pleasing God and his priests,
they have seldom that of being agreeable or useful to society. To a
devotee, Religion is a veil, which covers all passions; pride,
ill-humour, anger, revenge, impatience, and rancour. Devotion
arrogates a tyrannical superiority, which banishes gentleness,
indulgence, and gaiety; it authorizes people to censure their
neighbours, to reprove and revile the profane for the greater glory
of God. It is very common to be devout, and at the same time
destitute of every virtue and quality necessary to social life.
§177. It is asserted, that the
dogma of another life is of the utmost importance to peace and
happiness; that without it, men would be destitute of motives to do
good. What need is there of terrors and fables to make man sensible
how he ought to conduct himself? Does not every one see, that he
has the greatest interest, in meriting the approbation, esteem, and
benevolence of the beings who surround him, and in abstaining from
every thing, by which he may incur the censure, contempt, and
resentment of society? However short an entertainment, a
conversation, or visit, does not each desire to act his part
decently, and agreeably to himself and others? If life is but a
passage, let us strive to make it easy; which we cannot effect, if
we fail in regard for those who travel with us. Religion, occupied
with its gloomy reveries, considers man merely as a pilgrim upon
earth; and therefore supposes that, in order to travel the more
securely, he must forsake company, and deprive himself of pleasure
and amusements, which might console him for the tediousness and
fatigue of the journey. A stoical and morose philosopher sometimes
gives us advice as irrational as that of Religion. But a more
rational philosophy invites us to spread flowers upon the way of
life, to dispel melancholy and banish terrors, to connect our
interest with that of our fellow-travellers, and by gaiety and
lawful pleasures, to divert our attention from difficulties and
accidents, to which we are often exposed; it teaches us, that, to
travel agreeably, we should abstain from what might be injurious to
ourselves, and carefully shun what might render us odious to our
§178. It is asked, what motives an Atheist can have to do good? The motive to please himself and his fellow-creatures; to live happily and peaceably; to gain the affection and esteem of men. "Can he, who fears not the gods, fear any thing?" He can fear men; he can fear contempt, dishonour, the punishment of the laws; in short, he can fear himself, and the remorse felt by all those who are conscious of having incurred or merited the hatred of their fellow-creatures.
Conscience is the internal testimony, which we bear to ourselves, of having acted so as to merit the esteem or blame of the beings, with whom we live; and it is founded upon the clear knowledge we have of men, and of the sentiments which our actions must produce in them. The Conscience of the religious man consists in imagining that he has pleased or displeased his God, of whom he has no idea, and whose obscure and doubtful intentions are explained to him only by men of doubtful veracity, who, like him, are utterly unacquainted with the essence of the Deity, and are little agreed upon what can please or displease him. In a word, the conscience of the credulous is directed by men, who have themselves an erroneous conscience, or whose interest stifles knowledge.
"Can an Atheist have a Conscience? What are his motives to
abstain from hidden vices and secret crimes of which other men are
ignorant, and which are beyond the reach of laws?" He may be
assured by constant experience, that there is no vice, which, by
the nature of things, does not punish itself. Would he preserve
this life? he will avoid every excess, that may impair his health;
he will not wish to lead a languishing life, which would render him
a burden to himself and others. As for secret crimes, he will
abstain from them, for fear he shall be forced to blush at himself,
from whom he cannot flee. If he has any reason, he will know the
value of the esteem which an honest man ought to have for himself.
He will see, that unforeseen circumstances may unveil the conduct,
which he feels interested in concealing from others. The other
world furnishes no motives for doing good, to him, who finds none
§179. "The speculative Atheist,"
says the Theist, "may be an honest man, but his writings will make
political Atheists. Princes and ministers, no longer restrained by
the fear of God, will abandon themselves, without scruple, to the
most horrid excesses." But, however great the depravity of an
Atheist upon the throne, can it be stronger and more destructive,
than that of the many conquerors, tyrants, persecutors, ambitious
men, and perverse courtiers, who, though not Atheists, but often
very religious and devout, have notwithstanding made humanity groan
under the weight of their crimes? Can an atheistical prince do more
harm to the world, than a Louis XI., a Philip II., a Richelieu, who
all united Religion with crime? Nothing is more rare, than
atheistical princes; nothing more common, than tyrants and
ministers, who are very wicked and very religious.
§180. A man of reflection cannot be incapable of his duties, of discovering the relations subsisting between men, of meditating his own nature, of discerning his own wants, propensities, and desires, and of perceiving what he owes to beings, who are necessary to his happiness. These reflections naturally lead him to a knowledge of the Morality most essential to social beings. Dangerous passions seldom fall to the lot of a man who loves to commune with himself, to study, and to investigate the principles of things. The strongest passion of such a man will be to know truth, and his ambition to teach it to others. Philosophy cultivates the mind. On the score of morals and honesty, has not he who reflects and reasons, evidently an advantage over him, who makes it a principle never to reason?
If ignorance is useful to priests, and to the oppressors of
mankind, it is fatal to society. Man, void of knowledge, does not
enjoy reason; without reason and knowledge, he is a savage, liable
to commit crimes. Morality, or the science of duties, is acquired
only by the study of Man, and of what is relative to Man. He, who
does not reflect, is unacquainted with true Morality, and walks
with precarious steps, in the path of virtue. The less men reason,
the more wicked they are. Savages, princes, nobles, and the dregs
of the people, are commonly the worst of men, because they reason
the least. The devout man seldom reflects, and rarely reasons. He
fears all enquiry, scrupulously follows authority, and often,
through an error of conscience, makes it a sacred duty to commit
evil. The Atheist reasons: he consults experience, which he prefers
to prejudice. If he reasons justly, his conscience is enlightened;
he finds more real motives to do good than the bigot whose only
motives are his fallacies, and who never listens to reason. Are not
the motives of the Atheist sufficiently powerful to counteract his
passions? Is he blind enough to be unmindful of his true interest,
which ought to restrain him? But he will be neither worse nor
better, than the numerous believers, who, notwithstanding Religion
and its sublime precepts, follow a conduct which Religion condemns.
Is a credulous assassin less to be feared, than an assassin who
believes nothing? Is a very devout tyrant less tyrannical than an
§181. Nothing is more uncommon, than to see men consistent. Their opinions never influence their conduct except when conformable to their temperaments, passions, and interests. Daily experience shows, that religious opinions produce much evil and little good. They are hurtful, because they often favour the passions of tyrants, of ambitious men, of fanatics, and of priests; they are of no effect, because incapable of counter-balancing the present interests of the greater part of mankind. Religious principles are of no avail, when they act in opposition to ardent desires; though not unbelievers, men then conduct themselves as if they believed nothing.
We shall always be liable to err, when we judge of the opinions of men by their conduct, or of their conduct by their opinions. A religious man, notwithstanding the unsociable principles of a sanguinary religion, will sometimes by a happy inconsistency, be humane, tolerant, and moderate; the principles of his religion do not then agree with the gentleness of his character. Libertines, debauchees, hypocrites, adulterers, and rogues, often appear to have the best ideas upon morals. Why do they not reduce them to practice? Because their temperament, their interest, and their habits do not accord with their sublime theories. The rigid principles of Christian morality, which many people regard as divine, have but little influence upon the conduct of those, who preach them to others. Do they not daily tell us, to do what they preach, and not what they practise?
The partisans of Religion often denote an infidel by the word
libertine. It is possible that many unbelievers may have
loose morals, which is owing to their temperament, and not to their
opinions. But how does their conduct affect their opinions? Cannot
then an immoral man be a good physician, architect, geometrician,
logician, or metaphysician? A man of irreproachable conduct may be
extremely deficient in knowledge and reason. In quest of truth, it
little concerns us from whom it comes. Let us not judge men by
their opinions, nor opinions by men; let us judge men by their
conduct, and their opinions by their conformity with experience and
reason and by their utility to mankind.
§182. Every man, who reasons, soon becomes an unbeliever; for reason shows, that theology is nothing but a tissue of chimeras; that religion is contrary to every principle of good sense, that it tinctures all human knowledge with falsity. The sensible man is an unbeliever, because he sees, that, far from making men happier, religion is the chief source of the greatest disorders, and the permanent calamities, with which man is afflicted. The man, who seeks his own welfare and tranquillity, examines and throws aside religion, because he thinks it no less troublesome than useless, to spend his life in trembling before phantoms, fit to impose only upon silly women or children.
If licentiousness, which reasons but little, sometimes leads to irreligion, the man of pure morals may have very good motives for examining his religion, and banishing it from his mind. Religious terrors, too weak to impose upon the wicked in whom vice is deeply rooted, afflict, torment and overwhelm restless imaginations. Courageous and vigorous minds soon shake off the insupportable yoke. But those, who are weak and timorous, languish under it during life; and as they grow old their fears increase.
Priests have represented God as so malicious, austere, and
terrible a being, that most men would cordially wish, that there
was no God. It is impossible to be happy, while always trembling.
Ye devout! you adore a terrible God! But you hate him; you would be
glad, if he did not exist. Can we refrain from desiring the absence
or destruction of a master, the idea of whom destroys our
happiness? The black colours, in which priests paint the Divinity,
are truly shocking, and force us to hate and reject him.
§183. If fear created the gods,
fear supports their empire over the minds of mortals. So early are
men accustomed to shudder at the mere name of the Deity, that they
regard him as a spectre, a hobgoblin, a bugbear, which torments and
deprives them of courage even to wish relief from their fears. They
apprehend, that the invisible spectre, will strike them the moment
they cease to be afraid. Bigots are too much in fear of their God
to love him sincerely. They serve him like slaves, who, unable to
escape his power, resolve to flatter their master, and who, by dint
of lying, at length persuade themselves, that they in some measure
love him. They make a virtue of necessity. The love of devotees for
their God, and of slaves for their despots, is only a feigned
§184. Christian divines have
represented their God so terrible and so little worthy of love,
that several of them have thought they must dispense with loving
him; a blasphemy, shocking to other divines, who were less
ingenuous. St. Thomas having maintained, that we are obliged to
love God as soon as we attain the use of reason, the Jesuit Sirmond
answered him, that is very soon. The Jesuit Vasquez assures
us, that it is enough to love God at the point of death.
Hurtado, more rigid, says, we must love God very year.
Henriquez is contented that we love him every five years;
Sotus, every Sunday. Upon what are these opinions grounded?
asks father Sirmond; who adds, that Suarez requires us to love
God sometimes. But when? He leaves that to us; he knows nothing
about it himself. Now, says he, who will be able to know
that, of which such a learned divine is ignorant? The same
Jesuit Sirmond further observes, that God "does not command
us to love him with an affectionate love, nor does he promise us
salvation upon condition that we give him our hearts; it is enough
to obey and love him with an effective love by executing his
orders; this is the only love we owe him; and he has not so much
commanded us to love him, as not to hate him." This doctrine
appears heretical, impious, and abominable to the Jansenists, who,
by the revolting severity they attribute to their God, make him far
less amiable, than the Jesuits, their adversaries. The latter, to
gain adherents, paint God in colours capable of encouraging the
most perverse of mortals. Thus nothing is more undecided with the
Christians, than the important question, whether they can, ought,
or ought not to love God. Some of their spiritual guides maintain,
that it is necessary to love him with all one's heart,
notwithstanding all his severity; others, like father Daniel, think
that, an act of pure love to God is the most heroic act of
Christian virtue, and almost beyond the reach of human
weakness. The Jesuit Pintereau goes farther; he says, a
deliverance from the grievous yoke of loving God is a privilege of
the new covenant.
§185. The character of the Man always decides that of his God; every body makes one for himself and like himself. The man of gaiety, involved in dissipation and pleasure, does not imagine, that God can be stern and cross; he wants a good-natured God, with whom he can find reconciliation. The man of a rigid, morose, bilious, sour disposition, must have a God like himself, a God of terror; and he regards, as perverse, those, who admit a placable, indulgent God. As men are constituted, organized, and modified in a manner, which cannot be precisely the same, how can they agree about a chimera, which exists only in their brains?
The cruel and endless disputes between the ministers of the
Lord, are not such as to attract the confidence of those, who
impartially consider them. How can we avoid complete infidelity,
upon viewing principles, about which those who teach them to others
are never agreed? How can we help doubting the existence of a God,
of whom it is evident that even his ministers can only form very
fluctuating ideas? How can we in short avoid totally rejecting a
God, who is nothing but a shapeless heap of contradictions? How can
we refer the matter to the decision of priests, who are perpetually
at war, treating each other as impious and heretical, defaming and
persecuting each other without mercy, for differing in the manner
of understanding what they announce to the world?
§186. The existence of a God is
the basis of all Religion. Nevertheless, this important truth has
not as yet been demonstrated, I do not say so as to convince
unbelievers, but in a manner satisfactory to theologians
themselves. Profound thinkers have at all times been occupied in
inventing new proofs. What are the fruits of their meditations and
arguments? They have left the subject in a worse condition; they
have demonstrated nothing; they have almost always excited the
clamours of their brethren, who have accused them of having poorly
defended the best of causes.
§187. The apologists of religion daily repeat, that the passions alone make unbelievers. "Pride," say they, "and the desire of signalizing themselves, make men Atheists. They endeavour to efface from their minds the idea of God, only because they have reason to fear his terrible judgments." Whatever may be the motives, which incline men to Atheism, it is our business to examine, whether their sentiments are founded in truth. No man acts without motives. Let us first examine the arguments and afterwards the motives. We shall see whether these motives are not legitimate, and more rational than those of many credulous bigots, who suffer themselves to be guided by masters little worthy of the confidence of men.
You say then, Priests of the Lord! that the passions make
unbelievers; that they renounce Religion only through interest, or
because it contradicts their inordinate propensities; you assert,
that they attack your gods only because they fear their severity.
But, are you yourselves, in defending Religion and its chimeras,
truly exempt from passions and interests? Who reap advantages from
this Religion, for which priests display so much zeal? Priests. To
whom does Religion procure power, influence, riches, and honours?
To Priests. Who wage war, in every country, against reason,
science, truth, and philosophy, and render them odious to
sovereigns and people? Priests. Who profit by the ignorance and
vain prejudices of men? Priests. -- Priests! you are rewarded,
honoured and paid for deceiving mortals, and you cause those to be
punished who undeceive them. The follies of men procure you
benefices, offerings, and expiations; while those, who announce the
most useful truths, are rewarded only with chains, gibbets and
funeral-piles. Let the world judge between us.
§188. Pride and vanity have been, and ever will be, inherent in the priesthood. Is any thing more capable of rendering men haughty and vain, than the pretence of exercising a power derived from heaven, of bearing a sacred character, of being the messengers and ministers of the Most High? Are not these dispositions perpetually nourished by the credulity of the people, the deference and respect of sovereigns, the immunities, privileges, and distinctions enjoyed by the clergy? In every country, the vulgar are much more devoted to their spiritual guides, whom they regard as divine, than to their temporal superiors, whom they consider as no more than ordinary men. The parson of a village acts a much more conspicuous part, than the lord of the manor or the justice of the peace. Among the Christians, a priest thinks himself far above a king or an emperor. A Spanish grandee having spoken rather haughtily to a monk, the latter arrogantly said, "Learn to respect a man, who daily has your God in his hands, and your Queen at his feet." Have priests then a right to accuse unbelievers of pride? Are they themselves remarkable for uncommon modesty or profound humility? Is it not evident, that the desire of domineering over men is essential to their trade? If the ministers of the Lord were truly modest, should we see them so greedy of respect, so impatient of contradiction, so positive in their decisions, and so unmercifully revengeful to those whose opinions offend them? Has not Science the modesty to acknowledge how difficult it is to discover truth? What other passion but ungovernable pride can make men so savage, revengeful, and void of indulgence and gentleness? What can be more presumptuous, than to arm nations and deluge the world in blood, in order to establish or defend futile conjectures?
You say, that presumption alone makes Atheists. Inform them then
what your God is; teach them his essence; speak of him
intelligibly; say something about him, which is reasonable, and not
contradictory or impossible. If you are unable to satisfy them, if
hitherto none of you have been able to demonstrate the existence of
a God in a clear and convincing manner; if by your own confession,
his essence is completely veiled from you, as from the rest of
mortals, forgive those, who cannot admit what they can neither
understand nor make consistent with itself; do not tax with
presumption and vanity those who are sincere enough to confess
their ignorance; do not accuse of folly those who find themselves
incapable of believing contradictions; and for once, blush at
exciting the hatred and fury of sovereigns and people against men,
who think not like you concerning a being, of whom you have no
idea. Is any thing more rash and extravagant, than to reason
concerning an object, known to be inconceivable? You say, that the
corruption of the heart produces Atheism, that men shake off the
yoke of the Deity only because they fear his formidable judgments.
But, why do you paint your God in colours so shocking, that he
becomes insupportable? Why does so powerful a God permit men to be
so corrupt? How can we help endeavouring to shake off the yoke of a
tyrant, who, able to do as he pleases with men, consents to their
perversion, who hardens, and blinds them, and refuses them his
grace, that he may have the satisfaction to punish them eternally,
for having been hardened, and blinded, and for not having the grace
which he refused? Theologians and priests must be very confident of
the grace of heaven and a happy futurity, to refrain from detesting
a master so capricious as the God they announce. A God, who damns
eternally, is the most odious of beings that the human mind can
§189. No man upon earth is truly interested in the support of error, which is forced sooner or later to yield to truth. The general good must at length open the eyes of mortals: the passions themselves sometimes contribute to break the chains of prejudices. Did not the passions of sovereigns, centuries ago, annihilate in some countries of Europe the tyrannical power, which a too haughty pontiff once exercised over all princes of his sect? In consequence of the progress of political science, the clergy were then stripped of immense riches, which credulity had accumulated upon them. Ought not this memorable example to convince priests, that prejudices triumph but for a time, and that truth alone can insure solid happiness?
By caressing sovereigns, by fabricating divine rights for them, by deifying them, and by abandoning the people, bound hand and foot, to their will, the ministers of the Most High must see, that they are labouring to make them tyrants. Have they not reason to apprehend, that the gigantic idols, which they raised to the clouds, will one day crush them by their enormous weight? Do not a thousand examples remind them that these tyrants, after preying upon the people, may prey upon them in their turn.
We will respect priests, when they become sensible men. Let
them, if they please, use the authority of heaven to frighten those
princes who are continually desolating the earth; but let them no
more adjudge to them the horrid right of being unjust with
impunity. Let them acknowledge, that no man is interested in living
under tyranny; and let them teach sovereigns, that they themselves
are not interested in exercising a despotism, which, by rendering
them odious, exposes them to danger, and detracts from their power
and greatness. Finally, let priests and kings become so far
enlightened as to acknowledge, that no power is secure which is not
founded upon truth, reason, and equity.
§190. By waging war against Reason, which they ought to have protected and developed, the ministers of the gods evidently act against their own interest. What power, influence, and respect might they not have gained among the wisest of men, what gratitude would they not have excited in the people, if, instead of wasting their time about their vain disputes, they had applied themselves to really useful science, and investigated the true principles of philosophy, government, and morals! Who would dare to reproach a body with its opulence or influence, if the members dedicating themselves to the public good, employed their leisure in study, and exercised their authority in enlightening the minds both of sovereigns and subjects?
Priests! Forsake your chimeras, your unintelligible dogmas, your
contemptible quarrels! Banish those phantoms which could be useful
only in the infancy of nations. Assume, at length, the language of
reason. Instead of exciting persecution; instead of entertaining
the people with silly disputes; instead of preaching useless and
fanatical dogmas, preach human and social morality; preach virtues
really useful to the world; become the apostles of reason, the
defenders of liberty, and the reformers of abuses.
§191. Philosophers have every where taken upon themselves a part, which seemed destined to the ministers of Religion. The hatred of the latter for philosophy was only a jealousy of trade. But, instead of endeavouring to injure and decry each other, all men of good sense should unite their efforts to combat error, seek truth, and especially to put to flight the prejudices, that are equally injurious to sovereigns and subjects, and of which the abettors themselves sooner or later become the victims.
In the hands of an enlightened government, the priests would
become the most useful of the citizens. Already richly paid by the
state, and free from the care of providing for their own
subsistence, how could they be better employed than in qualifying
themselves for the instruction of others? Would not their minds be
better satisfied with discovering luminous truths, than in
wandering through the thick darkness of error? Would it be more
difficult to discern the clear principles of Morality, than the
imaginary principles of a divine and theological Morality? Would
men of ordinary capacities find it as difficult to fix in their
heads the simple notions of their duties, as to load their memories
with mysteries, unintelligible words and obscure definitions, of
which they can never form a clear idea? What time and pains are
lost in learning and teaching things, which are not of the least
real utility! What resources for the encouragement of the sciences,
the advancement of knowledge, and the education of youth, well
disposed sovereigns might find in the many monasteries, which in
several countries live upon the people without in the slightest
degree profiting them! But superstition, jealous of its exclusive
empire, seems resolved to form only useless beings. To what
advantage might we not turn a multitude of cenobites of both sexes,
who, in many countries, are amply endowed for doing nothing?
Instead of overwhelming them with fasting and austerities; instead
of barren contemplations, mechanical prayers, and trifling
ceremonies; why should we not excite in them a salutary emulation,
which may incline them to seek the means, not of being dead
to the world, but of being useful to it? Instead of filling
the youthful minds of their pupils with fables, sterile dogmas, and
puerilities, why are not priests obliged, or invited to teach them
truths, and to render them useful citizens of their country? Under
the present system, men are only useful to the clergy who blind
them, and to the tyrants who fleece them.
§192. The partisans of credulity often accuse unbelievers of insincerity, because they sometimes waver in their principles, alter their minds in sickness, and retract at death. When the body is disordered, the faculty of reasoning is commonly disordered with it. At the approach of death, man, weak and decayed, is sometimes himself sensible that Reason abandons him, and that Prejudice returns. There are some diseases, which tend to weaken the brain; to create despondency and pusillanimity; and there are others, which destroy the body, but do not disturb the reason. At any rate, an unbeliever who recants in sickness is not more extraordinary, than a devotee who neglects in health the duties which his religion explicitly enjoins.
Ministers of Religion openly contradict in their daily conduct
the rigorous principles, they teach to others; in consequence of
which, unbelievers, in their turn, may justly accuse them of
insincerity. Is it easy to find many prelates humble, generous,
void of ambition, enemies of pomp and grandeur, and friends of
poverty? In short, is the conduct of Christian ministers
conformable to the austere morality of Christ, their God, and their
§193. Atheism, it is said,
breaks all the ties of society. Without the belief of a God,
what will become of the sacredness of oaths? How shall we oblige a
man to speak the, truth, who cannot seriously call the Deity to
witness what he says? But, does an oath strengthen our
obligation to fulfil the engagements contracted? Will he, who is
not fearful of lying, be less fearful of perjury? He, who is base
enough to break his word, or unjust enough to violate his
engagements, in contempt of the esteem of men, will not be more
faithful therein for having called all the gods to witness his
oaths. Those, who disregard the judgments of men, will soon
disregard the judgments of God. Are not princes, of all men, the
most ready to swear, and the most ready to violate their oaths?
§194. The vulgar, it is repeatedly said, must have a Religion. If enlightened persons have no need of the restraint of opinion, it is at least necessary to rude men, whose reason is uncultivated by education. But, is it indeed a fact, that religion is a restraint upon the vulgar? Do we see, that this religion preserves them from intemperance, drunkenness, brutality, violence, fraud, and every kind of excess? Could a people who have no idea of the Deity conduct themselves in a more detestable manner, than these believing people, among whom we find dissipation and vices, the most unworthy of reasonable beings? Upon going out of the churches, do not the working classes, and the populace, plunge without fear into their ordinary irregularities, under the idea, that the periodical homage, which they render to their God, authorizes them to follow, without remorse, their vicious habits and pernicious propensities? Finally, if the people are so low-minded and unreasonable, is not their stupidity chargeable to the negligence of their princes, who are wholly regardless of public education, or who even oppose the instruction of their subjects? Is not the want of reason in the people evidently the work of the priests, who, instead of instructing men in a rational morality, entertain them with fables, reveries, ceremonies, fallacies, and false virtues which they think of the greatest importance?
To the people, Religion is but a vain display of ceremonies, to which they are attached by habit, which entertains their eyes, and produces a transient emotion in their torpid understandings, without influencing their conduct or reforming their morals. Even by the confession of the ministers of the altars, nothing is more rare than that internal and spiritual Religion, which alone is capable of regulating the life of man and of triumphing over his evil propensities. In the most numerous and devout nation, are there many persons, who are really capable of understanding the principles of their religious system, and who find them powerful enough to stifle their perverse inclinations?
Many persons will say, that any restraint whatever is better
than none. They will maintain, that if religion awes not the
greater part, it serves at least to restrain some individuals, who
would otherwise without remorse abandon themselves to crime.
Men ought undoubtedly to have a restraint, but not an imaginary
one. Religion only frightens those whose imbecility of character
has already prevented them from being formidable to their
fellow-citizens. An equitable government, severe laws, and sound
morality have an equal power over all; at least, every person must
believe in them, and perceive the danger of not conforming to
§195. Perhaps it will be asked, whether Atheism can be proper for the multitude? I answer, that any system, which requires discussion, is not made for the multitude. What purpose then can it serve to preach Atheism? It may at least serve to convince all those who reason, that nothing is more extravagant than to fret one's self, and nothing more unjust than to vex others, for mere groundless conjectures. As for the vulgar who never reason, the arguments of an Atheist are no more fit for them than the systems of a natural philosopher, the observations of an astronomer, the experiments of a chemist, the calculations of a geometrician, the researches of a physician, the plans of an architect, or the pleadings of a lawyer, who all labour for the people without their knowledge.
Are the metaphysical reasonings and religious disputes, which have so long engrossed the time and attention of so many profound thinkers, better adapted to the generality of men than the reasoning of an Atheist? Nay, as the principles of Atheism are founded upon plain common sense, are they not more intelligible, than those of a theology, beset with difficulties, which even the persons of the greatest genius cannot explain? In every country, the people have a religion, the principles of which they are totally ignorant, and which they follow from habit without any examination: their priests alone are engaged in theology, which is too dense for vulgar heads. If the people should chance to lose this unknown theology, they mighty easily console themselves for the loss of a thing, not only perfectly useless, but also productive of dangerous commotions.
It would be madness to write for the vulgar, or to attempt to
cure their prejudices all at once. We write for those only, who
read and reason; the multitude read but little, and reason still
less. Calm and rational persons will require new ideas, and
knowledge will be gradually diffused.
§196. If theology is a branch of commerce profitable to theologians, it is evidently not only superfluous, but injurious to the rest of society. Self-interest will sooner or later open the eyes of men. Sovereigns and subjects will one day adopt the profound indifference and contempt, merited by a futile system, which serves only to make men miserable. All persons will be sensible of the inutility of the many expensive ceremonies, which contribute nothing to public felicity. Contemptible quarrels will cease to disturb the tranquility of states, when we blush at having considered them important.
Instead of Parliament meddling with the senseless combats of
your clergy; instead of foolishly espousing their impertinent
quarrels, and attempting to make your subjects adopt uniform
opinions -- strive to make them happy in this world. Respect their
liberty and property, watch over their education, encourage them in
their labours, reward their talents and virtues, repress
licentiousness; and do not concern yourselves with their manner of
thinking. Theological fables are useful only to tyrants and the
§197. Does it then require an extraordinary effort of genius to comprehend, that what is above the capacity of man, is not made for him; that things supernatural are not made for natural beings; that impenetrable mysteries are not made for limited minds? If theologians are foolish enough to dispute upon objects, which they acknowledge to be unintelligible even to themselves, ought society to take any part in their silly quarrels? Must the blood of nations flow to enhance the conjectures of a few infatuated dreamers? If it is difficult to cure theologians of their madness and the people of their prejudices, it is at least easy to prevent the extravagancies of one party, and the silliness of the other from producing pernicious effects. Let every one be permitted to think as he pleases; but never let him be permitted to injure others for their manner of thinking. Were the rulers of nations more just and rational, theological opinions would not affect the public tranquillity, more than the disputes of natural philosophers, physicians, grammarians, and critics. It is tyranny which causes theological quarrels to be attended with serious consequences.
Those, who extol the importance and utility of Religion, ought to shew us its happy effects, the advantages for instance, which the disputes and abstract speculations of theology can be to porters, artisans, and labourers, and to the multitude of unfortunate women and corrupt servants with which great cities abound. All these beings are religious; they have what is called an implicit faith. Their parsons believe for them; and they stupidly adhere to the unknown belief of their guides. They go to hear sermons, and would think it a great crime to transgress any of the ordinances, to which, in childhood, they are taught to conform. But of what service to morals is all this? None at all. They have not the least idea of Morality, and are even guilty of all the roguery, fraud, rapine, and excess, that is out of the reach of law.
The populace have no idea of their Religion; what they call
Religion is nothing but a blind attachment to unknown opinions and
mysterious practices. In fact, to deprive people of Religion is to
deprive them of nothing. By overthrowing their prejudices, we
should only lessen or annihilate the dangerous confidence they put
in interested guides, and should teach them to mistrust those, who,
under the pretext of Religion, often lead them into fatal
§198. While pretending to instruct and enlighten men, Religion in reality keeps them in ignorance, and stifles the desire of knowing the most interesting objects. The people have no other rule of conduct, than what their priests are pleased to prescribe. Religion supplies the place of every thing else: but being in itself essentially obscure, it is more proper to lead mortals astray than to guide them in the path of science and happiness. Religion renders enigmatical all Natural Philosophy, Morality, Legislation and Politics. A man blinded by religious prejudices, fears truth, whenever it clashes with his opinions: he cannot know his own nature he cannot cultivate his reason, he cannot perform experiments.
Everything concurs to render the people devout; but every thing tends to prevent them from being humane, reasonable and virtuous. Religion seems to have no other object, than to stupefy the mind.
Priests have been ever at war with genius and talent, because
well-informed men perceive, that superstition shackles the human
mind, and would keep it in eternal infancy, occupied solely by
fables and frightened by phantoms. Incapable of improvement itself,
Theology opposed insurmountable barriers to the progress of true
knowledge; its sole object is to keep nations and their rulers in
the most profound ignorance of their duties, and of the real
motives, that should incline them to do good. It obscures Morality,
renders its principles arbitrary, and subjects it to the caprice of
the gods or of their ministers. It converts the art of governing
men into a mysterious tyranny, which is the scourge of nations. It
changes princes into unjust, licentious despots, and the people
into ignorant slaves, who become corrupt in order to merit the
favour of their masters.
§199. By tracing the history of the human mind, we shall be easily convinced, that Theology has cautiously guarded against its progress. It began by giving out fables as sacred truth: it produced poetry, which filled the imagination of men with its puerile fictions: it entertained them with its gods and their incredible deeds. In a word, Religion has always treated men, like children, whom it lulled to sleep with tales, which its ministers would have us still regard as incontestable truths.
If the ministers of the gods have sometimes made useful discoveries, they have always been careful to give them a dogmatical tone, and envelope them in the shades of mystery. Pythagoras and Plato, in order to acquire some trifling knowledge, were obliged to court the favour of priests, to be initiated in their mysteries, and to undergo whatever trials they were pleased to impose. At this price, they were permitted to imbibe those exalted notions, still so bewitching to all those who admire only what is perfectly unintelligible. It was from Egyptian, Indian, and Chaldean priests, from the schools of these visionaries, professionally interested in bewildering human reason, that philosophy was obliged to borrow its first rudiments. Obscure and false in its principles, mixed with fictions and fables, and made only to dazzle the imagination, the progress of this philosophy was precarious, and its theories unintelligible; instead of enlightening, it blighted the mind, and diverted it from objects truly useful.
The theological speculations and mystical reveries of the ancients are still law in a great part of the philosophic world; and being adopted by modern theology, it is heresy to abandon them. They tell us "of aerial beings, of spirits, angels, demons, genii," and other phantoms, which are the object of their meditations, and serve as the basis of metaphysics, an abstract and futile science, which for thousands of years the greatest geniuses have vainly studied. Hypothesis, imagined by a few visionaries of Memphis and Babylon, constitute even now the foundations of a science, whose obscurity makes it revered as marvellous and divine.
The first legislators were priests; the first mythologists,
poets, learned men, and physicians were priests. In their hands
science became sacred and was withheld from the profane. They spoke
only in allegories, emblems, enigmas, and ambiguous oracles --
means well calculated to excite curiosity, and above all to inspire
the astonished vulgar with a holy respect for men, who when they
were thought to be instructed by the gods, and capable of reading
in the heavens the fate of the earth, boldly proclaimed themselves
the oracles of the Deity.
§200. The religions of ancient priests have only changed form. Although our modern theologians regard their predecessors as impostors, yet they have collected many scattered fragments of their religious systems. In modern Religions we find, not only their metaphysical dogmas, which theology has merely clothed in a new dress, but also some remarkable remains of their superstitious practices, their magic, and their enchantments. Christians are still commanded to respect the remaining monuments of the legislators, priests, and prophets of the Hebrew Religion, which had borrowed its strange practices from Egypt. Thus extravagancies, imagined by knaves or idolatrous visionaries, are still sacred among Christians!
If we examine history, we shall find a striking resemblance
among all Religions. In all parts of the earth, we see, that
religious notions, periodically depress and elevate the people. The
attention of man is every where engrossed, by rites often
abominable, and by mysteries always formidable, which become the
sole objects of meditation. The different superstitions borrow,
from one another, their abstract reveries and ceremonies. Religions
are in general mere unintelligible rhapsodies, combined by new
teachers, who use the materials of their predecessors, reserving
the right of adding or retrenching whatever is not conformable to
the present age. The religion of Egypt was evidently the basis of
the religion of Moses, who banished the worship of idols: Moses was
merely a schismatic Egyptian. Christianism is only reformed
Judaism. Mahometanism is composed of Judaism, Christianity, and the
ancient religion of Arabia, etc.
§201. Theology, from the remotest
antiquity to the present time, has had the exclusive privilege of
directing philosophy. What assistance has been derived from its
labours? It changed philosophy into an unintelligible jargon,
calculated to render uncertain the clearest truths; it has
converted the art of reasoning into a jargon of words; it has
carried the human mind into the airy regions of metaphysics, and
there employed it in vainly fathoming an obscure abyss. Instead of
physical and simple causes, this transformed philosophy has
substituted supernatural, or rather, occult causes; it has
explained phenomena difficult to be conceived by agents still more
inconceivable. It has filled language with words, void of sense,
incapable of accounting for things, better calculated to obscure
than enlighten, and which seems invented expressly to discourage
man, to guard him against the powers of his mind, to make him
mistrust the principles of reason and evidence, and to raise an
insurmountable barrier between him and truth.
§202. Were we to believe the partisans of Religion, nothing could be explained without it; nature would be a perpetual enigma, and man would be incapable of understanding himself. But, what does this Religion in reality explain? The more we examine it, the more we are convinced that its theological notions are fit only to confuse our ideas; they change every thing into mystery: they explain difficult things by things that are impossible. Is it a satisfactory explanation of phenomena, to attribute them to unknown agents, to invisible powers, to immaterial causes? Does the human mind receive much light by being referred to the depths of the treasures of divine wisdom, to which, we are repeatedly told, it is vain to extend our rash enquiries? Can the divine nature, of which we have no conception, enable us to conceive the nature of man?
Ask a Christian, what is the origin of the world? He will answer, that God created it. What is God? He cannot tell. What is it to create? He knows not. What is the cause of pestilence, famine, wars, droughts, inundations and earthquakes? The anger of God. What remedies can be applied to these calamities? Prayers, sacrifices, processions, offerings, and ceremonies are, it is said, the true means of disarming celestial fury. But why is heaven enraged? Because men are wicked. Why are men wicked? Because their nature is corrupt. What is the cause of this corruption? It is, says the theologian, because the first man, beguiled by the first woman, ate an apple, which God had forbidden him to touch. Who beguiled this woman into such folly? The devil. Who made the devil? God. But, why did God make this devil, destined to pervert mankind? This is unknown; it is a mystery which the Deity alone is acquainted with.
It is now universally acknowledged, that the earth turns round the sun. Centuries ago, this opinion was blasphemy, as being irreconcileable with the sacred books which every Christian reveres as inspired by the Deity himself. Notwithstanding divine revelation, astronomers now depend rather upon evidence, than upon the testimony of their inspired books.
What is the hidden principle of the motions of the human body?
The soul. What is a soul? A spirit. What is a spirit? A substance,
which has neither form, nor colour, nor extension, nor parts. How
can we form any idea of such a substance? How can it move a body?
That is not known; it is a mystery. Have beasts souls? But, do they
not act, feel, and think, in a manner very similar to man? Mere
illusion! By what right do you deprive beasts of a soul, which you
attribute to man, though you know nothing at all about it? Because
the souls of beasts would embarrass our theologians, who are
satisfied with the power of terrifying and damning the immaterial
souls of men, and are not so much interested in damning those of
beasts. Such are the puerile solutions, which philosophy, always in
the leading strings of theology, was obliged to invent, in order to
explain the problems of the physical and moral world?
§203. How many evasions have been used, both in ancient and modern times, in order to avoid an engagement with the ministers of the gods, who have ever been the tyrants of thought? How many hypotheses and shifts were such men as Descartes, Mallebranche, and Leibnitz, forced to invent, in order to reconcile their discoveries with the fables and mistakes which Religion had consecrated! In what guarded phrases have the greatest philosophers expressed themselves, even at the risk of being absurd, inconsistent, or unintelligible, whenever their ideas did not accord with the principles of theology! Priests have been always attentive to extinguish systems which opposed their interest. Theology was ever the bed of Procrustes, to be adapted to which, the limbs of travellers, if too long were cut off, and if too short were lengthened.
Can any sensible man, delighted with the sciences and attached
to the welfare of his fellow-creatures, reflect, without vexation
and anguish, how many profound, laborious, and subtle brains have
been for ages foolishly occupied in the study of absurdities? What
a treasure of knowledge might have been diffused by many celebrated
thinkers, if instead of engaging in the impertinent disputes of
vain theology, they had devoted their attention to intelligible
objects really important to mankind? Half the efforts which
religious opinions have cost genius, and half the wealth which
frivolous forms of worship have cost nations would have sufficed to
instruct them perfectly in morality, politics, natural philosophy,
medicine, agriculture, etc. Superstition generally absorbs the
attention, admiration, and treasures of the people; their Religion
costs them very dear; but they have neither knowledge, virtue, nor
happiness, for their money.
§204. Some ancient and modern philosophers have been bold enough to assume experience and reason for their guides, and to shake off the chains of superstition. Democritus, Epicurus, and other Greeks presumed to tear away the veil of prejudice, and to deliver philosophy from theological shackles. But their systems, too simple, too sensible, and too free from the marvellous, for imaginations enamoured with chimeras, were obliged to yield to the fabulous conjectures of such men as Plato and Socrates. Among the moderns, Hobbes, Spinosa, Bayle, etc., have followed the steps of Epicurus; but their doctrine has found very few followers, in a world, still intoxicated with fables, to listen to reason.
In every age, it has been dangerous to depart from prejudices. Discoveries of every kind have been prohibited. All that enlightened men could do, was to speak ambiguously, hence they often confounded falsehood with truth. Several had a double doctrine, one public and the other secret; the key of the latter being lost, their true sentiments, have often become unintelligible and consequently useless.
How could modern philosophers, who, under pain of cruel
persecution, were commanded to renounce reason, and to subject it
to faith, that is, to the authority of priests; how, I say, could
men, thus bound, give free scope to their genius, improve reason,
and accelerate the progress of the human mind? It was with fear and
trembling that even the greatest men obtained a glimpse of truth;
rarely had they the courage to announce it; and those, who did,
were terribly punished. With Religion, it has ever been unlawful to
think, or to combat the prejudices of which man is every where the
victim and the dupe.
§205. Every man, sufficiently
intrepid to announce truths to the world, is sure of incurring the
hatred of the ministers of Religion, who loudly call to their aid
secular powers; and want the assistance of laws to support both
their arguments and their gods. Their clamours expose too evidently
the weakness of their cause.
In Religion, man is not permitted to err. In general, those who err are pitied, and some kindness is shewn to persons who discover new truths; but, when Religion is thought to be interested either in the errors or the discoveries, a holy zeal is kindled, the populace become frantic, and nations are in an uproar.
Can any thing be more afflicting, than to see public and private
felicity depending upon a futile system, which is destitute if
principles, founded only on a distempered imagination, and
incapable of presenting any thing but words void of sense? In what
consists the so much boasted utility of a Religion, which nobody
can comprehend, which continually torments those who are weak
enough to meddle with it, which is incapable of rendering men
better, and which often makes them consider it meritorious to be
unjust and wicked? Is there a folly more deplorable, and more
justly to be combated, than that, which far from doing any service
to the human race, only makes them blind, delirious, and miserable,
by depriving them of Truth, the sole cure for their
§206. Religion has ever filled the
mind of man with darkness, and kept him in ignorance of his real
duties and true interests. It is only by dispelling the clouds and
phantoms of Religion, that we shall discover Truth, Reason, and
Morality. Religion diverts us from the causes of evils, and from
the remedies which nature prescribes; far from curing, it only
aggravates, multiplies, and perpetuates them. Let us observe with
the celebrated Lord Bolingbroke, that "theology is the box of
Pandora; and if it is impossible to shut it, it is at least useful
to inform men, that this fatal box is open."
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