Freethought Archives > Baron d'Holbach > Christianity Unveiled
HOW can we know, without the aid of reason, that God hath spoken? But, on the other side, is not reason proscribed by the Christian religion? Is not the use of reason forbidden, in the examination of the marvellous dogmas with which we are presented by this religion? Does it not continually exclaim against a profane reason, which it accuses of insufficiency, and often regards as rebellious to heaven? In order to be capable of judging of divine revelation, we must have a just idea of the Divinity. But seeing human reason is too weak and groveling to exalt itself to an acquaintance with the Supreme Being, from what source shall we derive that idea, beside revelation itself? Thus revelation itself is to become the proof of the authority of revelation.
Let us pass on from this conjurer's circle, and open the sacred books, destined to enlighten mankind, and before which reason must fall prostrate. Do they exhibit any precise ideas of the God, whose oracles they announce? Can we draw from them any just conceptions of its attributes? Is not this God represented as a mass of extraordinary qualities, which form an inexplicable enigma? If this revelation be, as is supposed, an emanation from God himself, who can confide in him? Does he not paint himself as false, unjust, deceitful, and cruel ; as setting snares for mankind; seducing, hardening, and leading them astray? [26:1] Thus the man, desirous of being assured of the truth of Christian revelation, finds himself, at the first step of enquiry, plunged into distrust and perplexity, which is increased by the indeterminable disputes of his sacred guides, who have never been able to agree upon the manner of understanding the oracles of a Divinity which they say has revealed itself.
The hesitation and fear of the man who honestly examines the revelation adopted by Christians, must redouble, when he sees their God represented as revealing himself only to a few favourites of the human race, while he carefully conceals himself from the remainder, to whom, notwithstanding this, revelation is equally necessary. He must be uncertain whether or not he is of the number, to whom this partial God deigns to make himself known.
Most not his heart be troubled at the sight of a God, who vouchsafes to discover himself, and announce his decrees, only to a number or men, inconsiderable in comparison with the whole human race? Is he not tempted to accuse this God of a malevolence too dark, when he finds that for want of revealing himself to so many millions of mankind, he has caused their inevitable misery through an endless succession of ages? What ideas must he form to himself of a God who inflicts this punishment upon them for their ignorance of secret laws, which he has published by stealth in an obscure and unknown corner of Asia?
Thus Christians, even when they consult the Scriptures, find all things conspiring to put them on their guard against the God exhibited therein. Every thing inspires distrust of his moral character. All things float in an uncertainty. This God, in concert with the pretended interpreters of his will, seems to have the design of redoubling the darkness of his ignorance. He is, however, told, in order to appease his doubts, that the revealed will of God consists of mysteries; that is to say, things inaccessible to human understanding. In this case what need was there of having spoken? Ought a God to reveal himself to mankind for the sole purpose of not being comprehended? Is not such conduct as ridiculous as it is unreasonable? To say that God has revealed himself only to announce mysteries, is to say that he has revealed himself in order to remain unknown, to conceal from us his views, embarrass our understandings, and augment our ignorance and uncertainty.
A true revelation, proceeding from a just and good God, and necessary to all mankind, ought to be clear enough to be understood by all the human race. But will the revelation, upon which Judaism and Christianity are founded, bear the test of this criterion? The Elements of Euclid are intelligible to all who endeavour to understand them. This work excited no dispute among geometricians. Is it so with the Bible? and do its revealed truths occasion no disputes among divines? By what fatality have writings revealed by God himself still need of commentaries? and why do they demand additional lights from on high, before they can be believed or understood? Is it not astonishing, that what was intended as a guide for mankind, should be wholly above their comprehending? Is it not cruel, that what is of most importance to them should be least known? All is mystery, darkness, uncertainty, and matter of dispute, in a religion intended by the Most High, to enlighten the human race.
Far from contenting themselves with the pretended mysteries contained in the Scriptures, the priests of the Christian religion have, from age to age, invented new ones, which, though never mentioned by their God, their disciples are forced to believe. No Christian can entertain a doubt concerning the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the efficacy of sacraments; and yet Christ never explained these subjects. Among Christians every thing seems to be abandoned to the imagination, caprice, and arbitrary decision of priests, who arrogate to themselves the right of fabricating mysteries and articles of faith, as their interests occasionally require. Thus, this revelation perpetuates itself by means of the church, which pretends to be inspired by God, and which, far from enlightening the minds of her children, delights to confound, and plunges them in a sea of uncertainty.
Such are the effects of this revelation, which forms the basis of the Christian religion, and of the reality of which we are not permitted to doubt. God, it is said, has spoken to mankind. But when has he spoken? Thousands of years ago, by prophets and inspired men, whom he has chosen as organs of communication with mankind. But how can it be proved to have been God himself who spoke, except by having recourse to the testimony of the very persons who pretend to have received his commands? These interpreters of the divine will were then men; and are not men liable to be deceived themselves, and prone to deceive others? How then can we discover what confidence is due to the testimony which these organs of heaven give in favour of their own mission? How shall we be made sure that they have not been the dupes of some illusion, or an overheated imagination? At this remote period, how can we be certain that Moses conversed with God, and received from him the law which he communicated to the Hebrews? What was the temperament of this Moses? Was he phlegmatic or enthusiastic, honest or knavish, ambitious or disinterested, a practiser of truths or of falsehood? What confidence can be placed in the testimony of a man, who, after pretending to have performed so many miracles, could not convert his people from idolatry; and who, after having caused forty-seven thousand Israelites to perish by the sword, has the effrontery to assume the title of the meekest of mankind? Is it certain that the books which are attributed to Moses, and report so many miraculous circumstances, are perfectly authentic? In fine, what proof have we of its mission, except the testimony of a number of superstitious, ignorant, and credulous Israelites, who were probably the dupes of a ferocious legislator?
What proofs does the Christian give us of the mission of Jesus Christ? Are we acquainted with his character and temperament? What degree of confidence can we place in the testimony of his disciples, who, by their own confession, were ignorant and unlearned men, and, consequently, liable to be imposed upon by the artifices of a dexterous impostor? Ought not the testimony of the most learned in Jerusalem to have greater weight with us, than that of the lowest vulgar, whose ignorance always renders them the dupes of those who endeavour to deceive them? These enquiries bring us to an examination of the proofs which are adduced in support of the Christian religion.
[26:1] By the
Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church, God is always represented
as a seducer. He permits Eve to be seduced by a serpent. He hardens
the heart of Pharaoh. Christ himself is a stone of stumbling. Such
are the points of view under which the Divinity is exhibited to
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