Freethought Archives > Baron d'Holbach > Christianity Unveiled
OF THE POLITICAL EFFECTS OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION.
AFTER having seen the inutility and even danger of the perfections, virtues, and duties proposed by the Christian religion, let us enquire whether its political influences be more happy, and whether it can in reality promote the welfare of nations, among whom it is established and faithfully observed. We at once find, that wherever this religion is admitted, two opposite legislations, ever at variance with each other, establish themselves. Although this religion preaches love and peace, it soon annihilates the effects of those precepts by the divisions which it necessarily sows among its sectaries, who unavoidably interpret diversely the ambiguous oracles announced in holy writ. We find, that from the infancy of religion the most acrimonious disputes have continually taken place among divines. The successive ages of Christianity have been stained with schisms, heresies, persecutions, and contests, widely discordant from its boasted spirit of peace and concord; which is in fact incompatible with a religion whose precepts are so dark and equivocal. In all religious disputes, each party believes that God is on its side, and consequently they are obstinate. Indeed, how can it he otherwise, when they confound the cause of God with that of their own vanity? Thus, mutually averse to concession, they quarrel and fight until force has decided a concession, in which they never appeal to reason. In fact, political authorities have ever been forced to interfere, in all the dissensions which have arisen among Christians. Governments have always taken in the frivolous disputes of priests, and foolishly considered them as objects of the last importance. They have conceived that, in a religion established by God himself, there could be nothing of a trifling nature. Thus, princes have arrived themselves against their own subjects, whose opinions differed from theirs. The way of thinking at court has decided the creed and the faith of subjects. Opinions supported by kings and priests have been the only true ones. Their creatures have been the guardians of orthodoxy, and were commissioned to exterminate all whom they chose to denominate heretics and rebels.
The prejudices of princes or their false policy, have caused them to look upon those of their subjects, who differ from themselves in religious opinions, as bad citizens, dangerous to the state, and enemies to their power. If, leaving to priests the business or finishing their own impertinent disputes, they had not assisted their quarrels and persecutions, they would have died away of themselves, and never have disturbed the peace of nations. If those kings had impartially recompensed the good and punished the bad, without regard to their worship, ceremonies, and speculative opinions, they would not have made many of their subjects such enemies to that power, by which they found themselves oppressed. Christians have always attempted to reclaim heretics by injustice, violence, and persecution. Ought not they to have perceived, that this conduct was calculated only to produce hypocrites and hidden enemies, or open rebellions?
But these reflections are not designed for princes, who, from their infancy, have been filled with fanaticism and prejudices. They, instead of being actuated by virtuous motives, have formed obstinate attachments to frivolities, and impetuous ardour for doctrines foreign to the welfare of their states, and a boundless wrath against all who refuse to bend to their despotic opinions. Such sovereigns find it a shorter way to destroy mankind than reclaim them by mild means. Their haughty despotism will not condescend to reason. Religion assures them that tyranny is lawful, and cruelty meritorious when they are employed in the cause of heaven.
The Christian religion, in fact, always makes despots and tyrants of all the sovereigns by whom it is adopted. It represents them as gods upon earth; it causes their very caprices to be respected as the will of heaven itself. It delivers mankind into their hands as an herd of slaves, of whom they may dispose at their pleasure. In return for their zeal for religion, all the outrages upon justice that they can commit are forgiven, and their subjects are commanded, under pain of the wrath of the Most High, to submit without a murmur to the sword that strikes instead of protecting themselves. It is not, therefore, matter of surprise, that since the establishment of this religion, we see so many nations groaning under devout tyrants, who, although obstinately attached to religion, have been unjust, licentious, and cruel. Whatever were the oppressions and ravages of these religious or hypocritical princes, the priests have not failed to preach submission to their subjects. On the other hand, let us not be surprised to see so many weak and wicked princes, support in their turns the interest of a religion, which their false policy judged necessary to the maintenance of their authority. If kings were enlightened, just and virtuous, and knew and practised their real duties, they would have had no need of the aid of superstition in governing nations. But as it is more easy to conform to rites than to acquire talents or practice virtue, this religion has, in princes, too often found support for itself, and destruction for its enemies.
The ministers of religion have not had the same complaisance for princes, who refused to make a common cause with them, espouse their quarrels, and become subservient to their passions. They have arisen against those who have thwarted their views, punished their excesses, touched their immunities, endeavoured to subject them to reason, or repress their ambitious designs. The priests on such occasions, cry out, Impiety! Sacrilege! Then they pretend that the sovereign puts his hand to the censor, and usurps the rights granted them by God himself. . Then they endeavour to excite nations to rebellion. They arm fanatics against sovereigns, whom they declare tyrants, for having been wanting in submission to the church. Heaven is always ready to revenge any injustice done to its ministers. They are themselves submissive, and preach submission to others, only when they are permitted to share the authority, or are too feeble to resist it. This is the reason why the apostles, in the infancy of Christianity, being destitute of power, preached subordination. No sooner had this religion gained sufficient strength, than it preached resistance and rebellion; dethroning some kings and assassinating others.
In every political body, where this religion is established, there are two rival powers, which, by incessant contention, convulse and wound the state. The citizens divide into opposite parties, each of which fights, or thinks it fights, for God. These contests at different times terminate differently, but the triumphant party is always in the right. By attentive examination of such events, we shall escape the dominion of fanaticism. It is by stimulating mankind to enquiry, that they must be freed from the shackles of superstition. Let mankind think till they have thrown aside their prejudices, and they will think justly. The reign of the priesthood will cease when men cease to be ignorant and credulous. Credulity is the offspring of ignorance, and superstition is the child of credulity.
But most kings dread that mankind should be enlightened. Accomplices with the priesthood, they have formed a league to stifle reason, and persecute all who confide in its guidance. Blind to their own interests, and those of their subjects, they wish only to command slaves, forgetting those slaves are always at the disposal of the priests. Thus we see science neglected, and ignorance triumphant, in those countries where this religion holds the most absolute dominion. Arts and sciences are the children of liberty, and separated from their parent they languish and die. Among Christian nations, the least superstitious are the most free, powerful, and happy. In countries where spiritual and temporal despotism are leagued, the people grovel in the most shameful ignorance and lethargic inactivity. The European nations, who boast of possessing the purest faith, are not surely the most flourishing and powerful. Their kings, enslaved themselves by priests, have not energy and courage enough to make a single struggle for their own welfare or that of their subjects. Priests, in such states are the only order of men who are rich; other citizens languish in the deepest indigence. But of what importance are the power and happiness of nations to the sectaries of a religion who seek not for happiness in this world, who believe riches injurious, preach a God of poverty, and recommend abasement to the soul, and mortification of the flesh? It is without doubt to oblige people to practise these maxims, that the Clergy, in many Christ states, have taken possession of most of the riches, and live in splendour, while their fellow-citizens are set forward in the road to heaven, unencumbered with any burthen of earthly wealth.
Such are the advantages political society derives from the Christian religion. It forms an independent state within a state. It renders the people slaves. When sovereigns are obedient to it, it favours their tyranny. When they are disobedient, it renders their subjects fanatic and rebellious. When it accords with political power, it convulses, debases, and impoverishes nations; when not, it makes citizens unsocial, turbulent, intolerant, and mutinous.
If we examine in detail the precepts of this religion, and the maxims which flow from its principles, we shall find it interdicts every thing that can make a nation flourish. We have already seen the ideas of imperfection that it attaches to marriage, and its esteem of celibacy. These notions are highly unfavourable to population, which is, incontrovertibly, the first source of power in a state.
Commerce is not less contradictory to the spirit of a religion, the founder of which pronounced an anathema against riches, and excluded them from his kingdom. All industry is interdicted to perfect Christians; they live a provisory life on earth, and never concern themselves with the morrow.
Must it not be a great temerity and sin for a Christian to serve in war? Is not the man, who has never the right to believe himself absolutely in a state of grace, extremely rash when he exposes himself to eternal damnation? Is not the Christian, who ought to have charity with all men, and love even his enemies, guilty of an enormous crime, when he kills a man of whose dispositions he is ignorant, and whom he, perhaps, precipitates at once into hell? A Christian soldier is a monster; unless, indeed, he fights in the cause of religion. Then, if he dies, "he dies a blessed martyr."
The Christian religion has always declared war against science and all human knowledge. These have been looked upon at obstacles to salvation. Neither reason nor study are necessary to men, who are to submit their reason to the yoke of faith. From the confession of Christians themselves, the founders of their religion were simple and ignorant men. Their disciples must be as little enlightened as they were, to admit the fables and reveries they have received from them. It has always been remarked, that the most enlightened men seldom make the best Christians. Science is apt to embarrass faith; and it moreover turns the attention from the great work of salvation, which is represented as the only necessary one. If science be serviceable to political society, ignorance is much more so to religion and its ministers. Those ages, destitute of science and industry, were the golden age of the church of Christ. Then were kings dutifully submissive to priests; then the coffers of priests held all the riches of society. The priests of a very numerous sect have kept from the eyes of their followers even the sacred pages which contain the laws of their religion. This conduct is, undoubtedly, very discreet. Reading the Bible is the surest of all means to prevent its being respected.
In one word, if the maxims of the Christian religion were rigorously and universally followed, no political society could subsist. If this assertion be doubted, listen to what was said by the earliest doctors of the church, and it will be acknowledged, that their precepts are wholly incompatible with the power and preservation of states. According to Lactantius, no Christian can become a soldier. According to St. Justin, no Christian can be a magistrate. According to St. Chrysostom, no Christian can meddle with commerce. And, according to a great number, no man ought to study. In fine, join these maxims to those of Christ, apply them in practice, and the result will be a perfect Christian, useless to his family, his country, and mankind; an idle contemplator, unconcerned in the interests of this world, and occupied entirely with the other, whither it is his most important business to go.
Let us look into Eusebius, and see if the Christian be not a real fanatic, from whom society can derive no advantage. "The manner of life," says he, "in the Christian church, surpasses our present nature, and the ordinary life of man. There they seek neither marriages, children, nor riches. In fact, it is wholly foreign to the human manner of living. The church is given up to an immense love of heavenly things. The members, detached from earthly existence, and leaving only their bodies below, transfer their souls to heaven, where they already dwell as pure and celestial intelligences, and despise the life of other men." A man strongly persuaded of the truth of Christianity cannot, in fact, attach himself to any thing below. Every thing here is to him a cause of stumbling, and calls away his attention from the great work of his salvation. If Christians were not, fortunately, inconsistent with themselves, and wandered not incessantly from their fanatical perfections and sublime speculations, no Christian society could subsist, and the nations illuminated by the gospel would return to their pristine barbarity. We should see only wild beings, broken loose from every social tie, and wandering in solitude through this vale of tears, whose only employment would be, to groan, to weep, and pray, and render themselves and others wretched, in order to merit heaven.
In fine, a religion whose maxims tend to render mankind in general intolerant, to make kings persecutors, and their subjects slaves or rebels; a religion, the obscure doctrines of which give birth to eternal disputes; a religion which debases mankind, and turns them aside from their true interests; such a religion, I say, is destructive to every society.
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