Freethought Archives > Baron d'Holbach > Christianity Unveiled
OF THE CHRISTIAN VIRTUES.
WHAT has been said is sufficient to show what we ought to think of Christian morality. If we examine the virtues recommended in the Christian religion, we find them but ill calculated for mankind. They lift him above his sphere, are useless to society, and often of dangerous consequence. In the boasted precepts, which Jesus Christ came to give mankind, we find little but extravagant maxims, the practice of which is impossible, and rules which, literally followed, must prove injurious to society. In those of his precepts that are practicable, we find nothing which was not as well or better known to the sages of antiquity, without the aid of revelation.
According to the Messiah, the whole duty of man consists in loving God above all things, and his neighbour as himself. Is it possible to obey this precept? Can man love a God above all things, who is represented as wrathful, capricious, unjust, and implacable? who is said to he cruel enough to damn his creatures eternally? Can man love, above all things, an object the most dreadful that human imagination could ever conceive? Can such an object excite in the human heart a sentiment of love? How can we love that which we dread? How can we delight in the God under whose rod we tremble? Do we not deceive ourselves when we think we love a being so terrible, and so calculated to excite nothing but horror? [61:1]
Is it even practicable for mankind to love their neighbours as themselves? Every man naturally loves himself in preference to all others. He loves his fellow creatures only in proportion as they contribute to his happiness. He exercises virtue in doing good to his neighbour. He acts generously when he sacrifices his self love to his love for another. Yet he will never love his fellow creatures but for the useful qualities he finds in them. He can love them no farther than they are known to him, and his love for them must ever be governed by the good he receives from them.
To love one's enemies is then impossible. A man may abstain from doing evil to the person by whom he is injured; but love is an affection which can he excited in our hearts only by an object which we supposed friendly to us. Politic nations, who have enacted just and wise laws, have always forbidden individuals to revenge, or do justice to themselves. A sentiment of generosity, of greatness of soul or heroism, may induce mankind to do good to those from whom they suffer injuries. By such means they exalt themselves above their enemies, and may even change the disposition of their hearts. Thus, without having recourse to a supernatural morality, we feel that it is our interest to stifle in our hearts the lust of revenge. Christians may, therefore, cease to boast the forgiveness of injuries, as a precept that could be given only by their God, and which proves the divine origin of their morality. Pythagoras, long before the time of Christ, had said, let men revenge themselves upon their enemies, only by labouring to convert them into friends. Socrates taught that it was not lawful for a man, who had received an injury, to revenge it by doing another injury.
Christ must have forgotten that he spoke to men, when, in order to conduct them to perfection, he commanded them to abandon their possessions to the avidity of the first who should demand them; to turn the other check to receive a new insult; to oppose no resistance to the most outrageous violence; to renounce the perishable riches of this world; to forsake houses, possessions, relations, and friends to follow him; and to reject even the most innocent pleasures. Who does not see, in these sublime precepts, the language of enthusiasm and hyperbole? Are not they calculated to discourage man, and throw him into despair? If literally practised, would they not prove ruinous to society?
What shall we say of the morality, which commands the human heart to detach itself from objects which reason commands it to love? When we refuse the blessings offered us by nature, do we not despise the benefactions of the One Supreme? What real good can result to society front the melancholy and ferocious virtues which Christians consider indispensable? Can a man continue useful to society, when his mind is perpetually agitated with imaginary terrors, gloomy ideas, and black inquietudes, which incapacitate him for the performance of his duties to his family, his country, and mankind? If the Christian adhere strictly to the gloomy principles of his religion, must he not become equally insupportable to himself, and those by whom he is surrounded?
It cannot be said, that, in general, fanaticism and enthusiasm are the bases of the morality of Christ. The virtues which he recommends tend to render men unsocial, to plunge them into melancholy, and often to render them injurious to their fellow-creatures. Among human beings, human virtues are necessary; Christian virtues are not calculated on the scale of real life. Society has need of real virtues, from which it may derive energy, activity, and support. Vigilance, labour, and affection, are necessary to families. A desire of enjoying lawful pleasures, and augmenting the sum of their happiness, is necessary to all mankind. The Christian religion is perpetually busied in degrading mankind by threatening them with dismaying terrors, or diverting them with frivolous hopes; sentiments equally proper to turn them from their true duties. If the Christian literally obey the precepts of his legislator, he will ever be either an useless or injurious member of society. [63:1]
What real advantage can mankind derive from those ideal virtues, which Christians style evangelic, divine, &.c. and which they prefer to the social, humane, and substantial virtues, and without which they pretend no man can please God, or enter into his glory? Let us examine those boasted virtues in detail. Let us see of what utility they are to society, and whether they truly merit the preference which is given them, to those which are pointed out by reason, as necessary to the welfare of mankind.
The first of the Christian virtues is faith, which serves as a foundation for all the others. It consists in an impossible conviction of the revealed doctrines and absurd fables which the Christian religion commands its disciples to believe. Hence it appears that this virtue exacts a total renunciation of reason, and impracticable assent to improbable facts, and a blind submission to the authority of priests, who are the only guarantees of the truth of the doctrines and miracles that every Christian must believe under penalty of damnation.
This virtue, although necessary to all mankind, is, nevertheless, a gift of heaven, and the effect of a special grace. It forbids all doubt and enquiry; and it deprives man of the liberty of exercising his reason and reflection. It reduces him to the passive acquiescence of beasts in matters which he is, at the same time, told are of all, things the most important to his happiness. Hence it is plain, that faith is a virtue invented by men, who, shrinking from the light of reason, deceived their fellow-creatures, to subject them to their own authority, and degraded them that they might exercise an empire over them. If faith be a virtue, it is certainly useful only to the spiritual guides of the Christians, for they alone gather its fruits. It cannot but be injurious to other men, who are taught by it to despite that reason, which distinguishes them from brutes, and is their only faithful guide in this world. Christians, however, represent this reason as perverted, and an unfaithful guide; by which they seem to intimate that it was not made for reasonable beings. May we not, however, ask them how far this renunciation of reason ought to be carried? Do not they themselves, in certain cases, have recourse to reason? Do they not appeal to reason, when they endeavour to prove the existence of their God?
Be this as it may, it is all absurdity to say we believe that of which we have no conception. What, then, are the motives of the Christian, for pretending to such a belief? His confidence in his spiritual guides. But what is the foundation of this confidence? Revelation. On what, then, is Revelation itself founded? On the authority of spiritual guides. Such is the manner in which Christians reason. Their arguments in favour of faith are comprised in the following sentence. To believe our religion it is necessary to have faith, and to have faith you must believe in our religion. Or, it is necessary to have faith already, in order to believe in the necessity of faith [64:1].
The phantom Faith vanishes at the approach of the sun of reason. It can never sustain a calm examination. Hence it arises that certain Christian divines are so much at enmity with science. The founder of their religion declared, that his law was made for ignorant men and children. Faith is the effect of a grace which God seldom grants to enlightened persons, who are accustomed to consult their reason. It is adapted only to the minds of men who are incapable of reflection, rendered insane by enthusiasm, or invincibly attached to the prejudices of childhood. Science must ever be at enmity with this religion; for in proportion as either of them gains ground the other must lose.
Another Christian virtue, proceeding from the former, is Hope. Founded on the flattering promises given by this religion to those who render themselves wretched in this life, it feeds their enthusiasm. It induces them firmly to believe that God will reward, in heaven, their gloominess. inutility, indolence, prayers, and detestation of pleasures on earth. How can a man, who, being intoxicated with these pompous hopes, becomes indifferent to his own happiness, concern himself with that of his fellow-creatures? The Christian believes that he pleases his God by rendering himself miserable in this life ; and however flattering his hopes may be for the future, they are here empoisoned by the idea of a jealous God, who commands him to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling, and who will plunge him into eternal torture, if he for a moment has the weakness to be a man.
Another of the Christian virtues is Charity. It consists in loving God and our neighbour. We have always seen how difficult, not to say impossible, it is to feel sentiments of tenderness for any being whom we fear. It will, undoubtedly be said, that the fear of Christians is a filial fear. But words cannot change the essence of things. Fear is a passion, totally opposite to love. A son, who rears the anger, and dreads the caprices of a father, can never love him sincerely. The love, therefore, of a Christian to his God can never he true. In vain he endeavours to feel sentiments of tenderness for a rigorous master, at whose idea his heart shrinks back in terror. He can never love him but as a tyrant, to whom his mouth renders the homage that his heart refuses. The devotee is not honest to himself, when he pretends to love his God. His affection is a dissembled homage, like that which men are forced to render to certain inhuman despots, who, while they tread their subjects in the dust, demand from them the exterior marks of attachment. If some tender minds, by force of illusion, feel sentiments or divine love, it is then a mystic and romantic passion, produced by a warm temperament, and an ardent imagination, which present their God to them dressed in smiles, with all his imputed faults concealed. [66:1] The love of God is not the least incomprehensible mystery of this religion.
Charity, considered as the love of mankind, is a virtuous and necessary disposition. It then becomes no more than that tender humanity which attaches us to our fellows, and inclines us to love and assist them. But how shall we reconcile this attachment with the commands of a jealous God, who would have us to love none but himself, and who came to separate the friend from the friend, and the son from the father? According to the precepts of the gospel, it would be criminal to offer God a heart shared by an earthly object. It would be idolatry thus to confound the creature with the Creator. And further, how can the Christian love beings who continually offend his God? Beings who would continually betray himself into offence? How can he love sinners? Experience teaches us that the devout, obliged by principle to hate themselves, have very little more affection for others. If this be not the case, they have not arrived at the perfection of divine love. We do not find that those, who are so supposed to love the Creator most ardently, show much affection for his creatures. On the contrary, we see them fill with bitterness all who surround them; they criticise with severity the faults of others, and make it a crime to speak of human frailty with indulgence. [66:2] A sincere love for God must be accompanied with zeal,
A true Christian must be enraged when he sees his God offended. He must arm himself with a just and holy severity to repress the offenders. He must have an ardent desire to extend the empire of his religion. A zeal, originating in this divine love, has been the source of the terrible persecutions of which Christians have so often been guilty. Zeal produces murderers as well as martyrs. It is zeal that prompts intolerant man to wrest the thunder from the hand of the Most High, to avenge him of his enemies. It is this that causes members of the same state, and the same family, to detest and torment each other for opinions, and puerile ceremonies, which they are led to esteem as of the last importance. It is this zeal that has a thousand times kindled those religious wars so remarkable for their atrocity. Finally, it is this zeal for religion which justifies calumny, treason, carnage, and, in short, the disorders most fatal to society. It has always been considered as lawful to employ artifice, falsehood, and force, in support of the cause of God. The most choleric and corrupted men are commonly the most zealous. They hope that, for the sake of their zeal, Heaven will pardon the depravity of their manners be it ever so excessive.
It is from an effect of the same zeal that enthusiastic Christians fly over every sea and continent to extend the empire of their God and make new proselytes. Stimulated by this zeal, missionaries go to trouble the repose of what they call heathen nations, whilst they would be astonished and enraged to find missionaries from those nations endeavouring to propagate a new religion in their country. [67:1]
When these propagators of the faith have had power in their hands, they have excited the most horrid rebellions; and have, in conquered countries, exercised cruelties calculated only to render the God detestable whom they pretended to serve. They have thought that men who have so long been strangers to their God could be little better than beasts; and, therefore, judged it lawful to exercise every kind of violence over them. In the eyes of a Christian an infidel is seldom worthier than a dog.
It is apparently in imitation of the Jews that Christian nations have usurped the possessions of the inhabitants of the new world. The Castilians and Portuguese had the same right to the possession of America and Africa, that the Hebrews had to make themselves masters of the land of Canaan, and exterminate its inhabitants, or reduce them to slavery. Have not Popes arrogated the right of disposing of distant empires to their favourite Monarchs in Europe? These manifest violations of the law of nature and of nations appeared just to those Christian Princes, in favour of whom religion sanctified avarice, cruelty, and usurpation. [68:1]
Humility is, also, considered by Christians as a sublime virtue, and of inestimable value. No supernatural and divine revelations are necessary to teach us that pride does not become man, and that it renders him disagreeable to others. All must be convinced, on a moment's reflection, that arrogance, presumption, and vanity, are disgusting and contemptible qualities. But Christian humility is carried to a more refined extreme. The Christian must renounce his reason, mistrust his virtues, refuse to do justice to his own good actions,, and repress all self-esteem, however well merited. Whence it appears, that this pretended virtue only degrades and debases man in his own eyes, deprives him of all energy, and stifles in him every desire of rendering himself useful to society. To forbid mankind to esteem themselves and merit the esteem of others, as to break the only powerful string that inclines them to study, industry, and noble actions. This Christian virtue is calculated only to render them abject slaves, wholly useless to the world, and make all virtue give place in them to a blind submission to their spiritual guides.
Let us not be surprised, that a religion which boasts of being supernatural should endeavour to unnaturalize man. This religion, in the delirium of its enthusiasm, forbids mankind to love themselves. It commands them to hate pleasures and court grief. It makes a merit of all voluntary evils they do unto themselves. Hence those austerities and penances so destructive to health; those extravagant mortifications, cruel privations, and gradual suicides, by which fanatic Christians think they merit heaven. It must be confessed, all Christians do not feel themselves capable of such marvellous perfections, but all believe themselves more or less obliged to mortify the flesh, and renounce the blessings prepared for them by a bounteous God, who they suppose, offers his good things only that they may be refused, and would be offended should his creatures presume to touch them.
Reason cannot approve virtues which are destructive to ourselves, nor admit a God who is delighted when mankind render themselves miserable, and voluntarily submit to torments. Reason and experience, without the aid of superstition, are sufficient to prove, that passions and pleasures, pushed to excess, destroy us; and that the abuse of the best things becomes a real evil. Nature herself inculcates upon us the privation of things which prove injurious to us. A being, solicitous for his own preservation, must restrain irregular propensities, and fly whatever tends to his destruction. It is plain, that by the Christian religion, suicide is, at least, indirectly authorised.
It was in consequence of these fanatical ideas that, in the earliest ages of Christianity, the forests and deserts were peopled with perfect Christians, who by flying from the world, left their families destitute of support, and their country of citizens, to abandon themselves to an idle and contemplative life. Hence those legions of monks and cenobites, who, under the standards of different enthusiasts, have enrolled themselves into a militia, burthensome and injurious to society. They thought to merit heaven, by burying talents, which might be serviceable to their fellow-citizens, and vowing a life of indolence and celibacy. Thus, in nations which are the most faithful to Christianity, a multitude of men render themselves useless and wretched all their lives. What heart is so hard as to refuse a tear to the lot of the hapless victims taken from that enchanting sex which was destined to give happiness to our own! Unfortunate dupes of youthful enthusiasm, or sacrificed to the ambitious views of imperious families, they are for ever exiled from the world! They are bound by rash oaths to unending slavery and misery. Engagements, contradicted by every precept of nature, force them to perpetual virginity. It is in vain that riper feelings, sooner or later, warm their breasts, and make them groan under the weight of their imprudent vows. They regret their voluntary sterility, and find themselves forgotten in society. Cut off from their families, and subjected to troublesome and despotic gaolers, they sink into a life of disgust, of bitterness, and tears. In fine, thus exiled from society, thus unrelated and unbeloved, there only remains for them the shocking consolation of seducing other victims to share with them the torments of their solitude and mortifications.
The Christian religion seems to have undertaken to combat nature and reason in every thing. If it admits some virtues, approved by reason, it always carries them to a vicious excess. It never observes that just mean, which is the point of perfection. All illicit and shameful pleasures will be avoided by every man, who is desirous of his own preservation, and the esteem of his fellow-creatures. The heathens knew and taught this truth, notwithstanding the depravity of morals with which they are reproached by Christians. [70:1] The church even recommends celibacy as a state of perfection, and considers the natural tie of marriage as an approach to sin. God, however, declares in Genesis, that it is not good for man to be alone. He also formally commanded all creatures to increase and multiply. His Son, in the gospel, comes to annul those laws. He teaches that, to attain to perfection, it is necessary to avoid marriage, and resist the strongest desire with which the breast of man is inspired--that of perpetuating his existence by a posterity, and providing supports for his old age and infirmities.
If we consult reason, we find, that the pleasures of love are always injurious when taken in excess; and that they are always criminal when they prove injurious. We shall perceive, that to debauch a woman is to condemn her to distress and infamy, and annihilate to her all the advantages of society; that adultery is destructive to the greatest felicity of human life, conjugal union. Hence we shall be convinced, that marriage, being the only means, of satisfying our desire of increasing the species and providing filial supports, is a state far more respectable and sacred, than the destructive celibacy and voluntary castration recommended as a virtue by the Christian religion.
Nature, or its author, invites man, by the attraction of pleasure, to multiply himself. He has unequivocally declared, that women are necessary to men. Experience shows, that they are formed for society, not solely for the purpose of a transient pleasure, but to give mutual assistance in the misfortunes of life, to produce and educate children, form them into citizens, and provide in them support for themselves in old age. In giving man superior strength, nature has pointed out his duty of labouring for the support of his family; the weaker organs of his companion are destined to functions less violent, but not less necessary. In giving her a soul more soft and sensible, nature has, by a tender sentiment, attached her more particularly to her children. Such are the sure bands which the Christian religion would tear asunder. Such the blessings it would wrest from man, while it substitutes in their place an unnatural celibacy, which renders man selfish and useless, depopulates society, and which can be advantageous only to the odious policy of some Christian priests, who, separating from their fellow- citizens, have formed a destructive body, which eternalizes itself without posterity. Gens aeterna in qua nemo nascitur.
If this religion has permitted marriage to some sects, who have not the temerity to soar to the highest pinnacle of perfection, it seems to have sufficiently punished them for this indulgence, by the unnatural shackles it has fixed on the connubial state. Thus, among them, we see divorce forbidden, and the most wretched unions indissoluble. Persons once married, are forced to groan under the weight of wedlock, even when affection and esteem are dead, and the place of these essentials to conjugal happiness is supplied by hatred and contempt. Temporal laws also conspiring with religion, forbid the wretched prisoners to break their chains. It seems as if the Christian religion exerted all its powers to make us view marriage with disgust, and give the preference to a celibacy which is pregnant with debauchery, adultery, and dissolution. Yet the God of the Hebrews made divorce lawful, and I know not by what right his Son, who came to accomplish the law of Moses, revoked an indulgence so reasonable.
Such are the perfections which Christianity inculcates on her children, and such the virtues she prefers to those which are contemptuously styled human virtues. She even rejects these, and calls them false and sinful, because their possessors are, forsooth, not filled with faith. What! the virtues of Greece and Rome, so amiable, and so heroic, were they not true virtues? If justice, humanity, generosity, temperance, and patience be not virtues, to what can the name be given? And are the virtues less because professed by heathens? Are not the virtues of Socrates, Cato, Epictetus, and Antonine, real and preferable to the zeal of the Cyrills, the obstinacy of Athanasius, the uselessness of Anthony, the rebellion of Chrysostom, the ferocity of Dominic, and the meanness of Francis?
All the virtues admitted by Christians, are either overstrained and fanatic, tending to render man useless, abject, and miserable, or obstinate, haughty, cruel, and destructive to society. Such are the effects of a religion, which contemning the earth, hesitates not to overwhelm it with trouble, provided it thereby heightens the triumph of its God over his enemies. No true morality can ever be compatible with such a religion.
[61:1] Seneca says, with much truth, that a man of sense cannot fear the Gods, because no man can love what he fears. De Benef. 4. The Bible says, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I think it rather the beginning of folly.
[63:1] Notwithstanding the eulogies lavished by Christians on the precepts of their divine master, same of them are wholly contrary to equity and right reason. When Jesus says, make to yourselves friends in heaven with the mammon of unrighteousness, does he not plainly insinuate, that we may take from others wherewithal to give aims to the poor? Divines will say that he spoke in parables; these parables are, however, easily unfolded. In the mean time, this precept is but too well followed. Many Christians cheat and swindle during all their lives, to have the pleasure of making donations at their death to churches, monasteries, &c. The Messiah at another time, treated his mother, who with parental solicitude was seeking him, extremely ill. He commands his disciples to steal an ass. He drowns an herd of swine, &c. It must be confessed, these things do not agree extremely well with good morality.
[64:1] Many divines have maintained, that faith without works is sufficient for salvation. This is the virtue which is, in general, most cried up by them. It is, at least, the one most necessary to their existence. It is not, therefore, surprising that they have endeavoured to establish it by fire and sword. It was for the support of faith that the Inquisition burned heretics and Jews. Kings and priests persecute for the establishment of faith. Christians have destroyed those who were destitute of faith, in order to demonstrate to them their error. O wondrous virtue, and worthy of the God of mercies! His ministers punish mankind, when he refuses them his grace!!!
[66:1] It is an ardent and tender temperament that produces mystic devotion. Hysterical women are those who commonly love God with most vivacity, they love him to distraction, as they would love a man. In monasteries, particularly Ste. Madeleine de Pazzy, Marie a la Coque, most of the devotees are of this description. Their imagination grows wild, and they give to their God, whom they paint in the most captivating colours, that tenderness which they are not permitted to bestow on beings of their own species. It requires a strong imagination to be smitten with an object unknown.
[66:2] Devotees are generally considered as scourges of society. A devout woman has seldom the talent of conciliating the love of her husband and his domestics. A gloomy and melancholy religion cannot render its disciples very amiable. A sad and sullen monarch must have sad and sullen subjects. Christians have judiciously remarked, that Jesus Christ wept, but never smiled.
[67:1] Kambi, Emperor of China, asked the Jesuit missionaries at Pekin, what they would say, if he should send missionaries to their nation. The revolts excited by Jesuits in Japan and Ethiopia are well known. A holy missionary has been heard to say, that without muskets, missionaries could never make proselytes.
[68:1] St. Augustin says, that of right divine, all things belong to the just. A maxim which is founded on a passage in the Psalms, which says, the just shall eat the fruit of the labour of the unrighteous. It is known that the Pope, by a bull given in favour of the kings of Castile, Arragon, and Portugal, fixed the line of demarcation which was to rule the conquests which each had gained over the Infidels. After such principles, is not the whole earth to become a prey to Christian rapacity?
[70:1] Aristotle and Epictetus recommended chastity of speech. Manander said, that a good man could never consent to debauch a virgin or commit adultery. Tibullus said, casta placent superis. Mark Anthony thanks the Gods, that he had preserved his chastity in his youth. The Romans made laws against adultery. Father Tachard informs us, that the Siamans forbid not only dishonest actions, but also impure thoughts and desires. Whence it appears, that chastity and purity of manners were esteemed even before the Christian religion existed.
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