Freethought Archives > Baron d'Holbach > Christianity Unveiled
ALL which has hitherto been said, demonstrates, in the clearest manner, that the Christian religion is contrary to true policy, and the welfare of mankind. It can be advantageous only to ignorant and vicious princes, who are desirous to reign over slaves, and who, in order to strip and tyrannize over them with impunity, form a league with the priesthood, whose function it has ever been to deceive in the name of heaven. But such imprudent princes should remember, that, in order to succeed in their projects, they must themselves become the staves of the priesthood, who (should the former fail in due submission, or refuse to be subservient to their passions) will infallibly turn their sacred arms against their royal heads.
We have seen, above, that the Christian religion is not, on account of its fanatic virtues, blind zeal, and pretended perfections, the less injurious to sound morality, right reason, the happiness of individuals, and domestic harmony. It is easy to perceive that a Christian, who proposes to himself as a model, a gloomy and suffering God, must take pains to afflict and render himself wretched, if this world be only a passage, if this life he only a pilgrimage, it must be ridiculous for a man to attach himself to any thing here below. If his God be offended with either the actions or opinions of his fellow-creatures, he must do every thing in his power to punish them with severity, or be wanting in zeal seed affection to his God. A good Christian must fly the world, or become a torment to himself and others.
These reflections are sufficient to answer those who pretend that the Christian religion is the foundation of true policy and morality, and that where it is not professed there can be neither good men nor good citizens. The converse of this proposition is undoubtedly much truer; for we may assert, that a perfect Christian, who conforms to all the principles of his religion, who faithfully imitates the divine men proposed to him as a model, and practices their austerities in solitude, or carries their fanatic enthusiasm and bigotry into society, must be either useless to mankind, or a troublesome and dangerous citizen. [94:1]
Were we to believe the advocates of the Christian religion, it would appear, that no morality can exist where this religion is not established. Yet we may perceive, at a single glance, that there are virtues in every corner of the earth. No political society could exist without them. Among the Chinese, the Indians, and the Mahometans, there are, undoubtedly, good citizens, tender fathers, affectionate husbands, and dutiful children. And good people there, as well as with us, would be more numerous if they were governed by a wise policy, which, instead of causing children to be taught a senseless religion, should give them equitable laws, teach them a pure morality uncontaminated with fanaticism, deter them from vice by suitable punishments, and invite them to the practice of virtue by proper rewards.
In truth, it seems (I repeat it) that religion has been invented to relieve governments from the care of being just, and reigning by equitable laws. Religion is the art of inspiring mankind with an enthusiasm. which is designed to divert their attention from the evils with which they are overwhelmed by those who govern them. By means of the invisible powers with which they are threatened, they are forced to suffer in silence the miseries with which they are afflicted by visible ones. They are taught to hope that, if they consent to become miserable in this world, they will for that reason be happy in the next.
Thus religion has become the most powerful support of a shameful and iniquitous policy, which holds it necessary to deceive mankind, that they may the more easily be governed. Far from enlightened and virtuous governments be resources so base! Let them learn their true interests, and know that these cannot be separated from that of the people. Let them know that no state can be truly potent, except the citizens who compose it be courageous, active, industrious, virtuous, and attached to their government. Let governments know, that the attachment of their constituents can have no other foundation than the happiness which the former procures the latter. If governments were penetrated with these important truths, they would need the aid of neither religion nor priests. Let them be just and equitable--let them be careful to reward talents and virtue, to discourage inutility and punish vice, and their states will soon he filled with worthy and sensible citizens, who will feel it their own interest to serve and defend their country, and support the government which is the instrument of their felicity. They will do their duties, without the influence of revelation, or mysteries of paradise or hell.
Morality will be preached in vain if it is not supported by the example of influential characters. It belongs to magistrates to teach morality, by practising it, by inciting to virtue and repressing vice in every form. Their power is weakened the moment they suffer a power to arise in the state, whose influence is exerted to render morality subservient to superstition and fanaticism. In states where education is entrusted to a fanatic enthusiastic clergy, we find citizens overwhelmed with superstition, and destitute of every virtue, except a blind faith, a ferocious zeal, a ridiculous submission to puerile ceremonies, and, in one word, fantastic notions, which never render them better men. Notwithstanding the happy influences attributed to the Christian religion, do we find more virtues in those who profess it, than in those who are strangers to it? Are the men, redeemed by the blood of even a Deity, more honest than others? Among Christians, impressed with their religion, one would imagine, we should search in vain for rapine, fornication, adultery, and oppression. Among the orthodox courtiers, who surround Christian thrones, do we see intrigues, calumny, or perfidy? Among the clergy, who announce to others such redoubtable dogmas, and such terrible chastisements, do we find crimes that shun the day, and every species of iniquity? All these men are Christians, who, unbridled by their religion, continually violate the plainest duties of morality, and knowingly offend a God, whom they are conscious of having irritated. Yet they flatter themselves that they shall be able, by a tardy repentance at death, to appease that divine justice which they have insulted during the whole course of their lives.
In the mean time, we shall not deny, that the Christian religion sometimes proves a restraint to timorous minds, which are incapable of that fanaticism, and destitute of that destructive energy, which leads to the commission of great crimes. But such minds would have been honest and harmless without this restraint. The fear of rendering themselves odious to mankind, of incurring contempt, and losing their reputation, would have been a chain of equal strength, on the actions of such men. Those who are so blind as to tread these considerations under foot, would never be deterred from it by the menaces of religion.
Every man, who has received a proper education, experiences within himself a painful sentiment of mingled shame and fear, whenever he soils himself with the guilt of a dishonest action. He even condemns himself frequently, with greater severity than others do. He dreads, and shuns the eyes of his fellow-creatures; he even wishes to fly from himself. This is what constitutes remorse.
In a word, Christianity puts no restraint upon the passions of mankind, which might not be more efficaciously applied to them by reason, education, and sound morality. If the wicked were sure of being punished, as often as they think of committing dishonest actions, they would be forced to desist. In a society well constituted, contempt will always follow vice, and crimes will produce punishment. Education, guided only by the good of society, ought ever to teach mankind to esteem themselves, to dread the contempt of others, and fear infamy more than death itself. But this kind of morality can never be consistent with a religion which commands men to despise themselves, avoid the esteem of others, and attempt to please only a God, whose conduct is inexplicable.
In fine, if the Christian religion be, as is pretended, a restraint to the crimes of men, if it produces salutary effects on some individuals; can these advantages, so rare, so weak and doubtful, be compared with the evident and immense evils which this religion has produced on the earth? Can some few trifling crimes prevented, some conversions useless to society, some steril and tardy repentances, enter into the balance against the continual dissensions, bloody wars, horrid massacres, persecutions, and cruelties, of which the Christian religion has been a continual cause and pretext? For one secret sinful thought suppressed by it, there are even whole nations armed for reciprocal destruction; the hearts of millions of fanatics are inflamed; families and states are plunged into confusion; and the earth is bedewed with tears and blood. [97:1] After this, let common sense decide the magnitude of the advantages which mankind derive from the glad tidings which Christians pretend to have received from their God.
Many honest people, although not ignorant of the ills produced among mankind by this religion, nevertheless consider it a necessary evil, and think it dangerous to attempt to uproot it. Mankind, say they, are naturally superstitious; they must be amused with chimeras, and become outrageous when deprived of them. But, I answer, mankind are superstitious only because, in infancy, every thing contributes to render them so. He is led to expect his happiness from chimeras, because he is forbidden to seek for it from realities.
In fine, it is for philosophers and for magistrates to conduct mankind back to reason. The former will obtain the confidence and love of the latter, when they endeavour to promote the public good. Undeceived themselves, they may undeceive others by degrees. Governments will prevent superstition from doing harm, when they despise it and stand aloof from its ridiculous disputes. When they tolerate all sects, and side with none, those sects, after quarrelling awhile, will drop their masks, and become contemptible even to themselves. Superstition falls beneath its own weight when, freedom of conscience being restored to mankind, reason is at liberty to attack their follies. True toleration and freedom of thought are the most proper instruments for the destruction of religious fanaticism. Imposture is in nature timid, and when she finds herself confronted with truth, her arms fall from her hands.
If a criminal and undiscerning policy has, hitherto, in almost all parts of the earth, had recourse to the aid of religion, to enslave mankind and render them miserable, let a virtuous and more enlightened policy hereafter destroy it by little and little to render them happy. If education has hitherto formed enthusiasts and fanatics, let it be hereafter calculated to form good citizens. If a morality founded on miracles, and looking to futurity, has been unable to restrain the passions of mankind, let a morality established upon their present and real wants demonstrate that, in a well constituted society, happiness is always the reward of virtue: shame, contempt, and punishment the companions of vice, and the wages of sin.
If error be an evil, to it let truth be opposed. If enthusiasm produce disorders in society; let it be suppressed. Let us leave to Asia a religion begotten by the ardent imaginations of the orientals. Let our milder climates be more reasonable, more free, and more happy. Let us make them the residence of honesty, activity, industry, social affections, and exalted minds. May not reason be permitted to hope, that she shall one day reassume the power so long usurped from her by error, illusion, and deceit? When will nations renounce chimerical hopes, to contemplate their true interests? Will they never shake off the yokes of those hypocritical tyrants, who are interested only in the errors of mankind? Let us hope it. Truth must at last triumph over falsehood.-- Mankind, fatigued with their own credulity, will return to her arms.--Reason will break their chains.--Reason, which was created to reign, with undivided empire over all intelligent beings.
[94:1] The clergy incessantly cry out against unbelievers and philosophers, whom they style dangerous subjects. Yet, if we open history, we do not find that philosophers are those who have embroiled states and empires; but that such events have generally been produced by the religious. The Dominican, who poisoned the emperor Henry XI. James Clement and Ravaillac, were not unbelievers. They were not philosophers, but fanatic Christians, who led Charles I. to the scaffold. It was the minister Gomare, and not Spinosa, who set Holland on fire, &c. &c. &c.
[97:1] Witness, even in this enlightened age, the Holy Crusade against France, for the purpose of restoring the Christian religion.