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Letters to Eugenia - or, a Preservative Against Religious Prejudices
by Baron d'Holbach
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You are, undoubtedly, surprised at the contradictions to be encountered at the very first step we take in examining this religion; and I take upon myself to predict that your embarrassment will increase as you proceed therein. If you coolly examine the ideas presented to us in the revelation common both to Jews and Christians, and contained in the books which they tell us are sacred, you will find that the Deity who speaks is always in contradiction with himself; that he becomes his own destroyer, and is perpetually occupied in undoing what he has just done, and in repairing his own workmanship, to which, in the first instance, he was incapable of giving that degree of perfection he wished it to possess. He is never satisfied with his own works, and cannot, in spite of his omnipotence, bring the human race to the point of perfection he intended. The books containing the revelation, on which Christianity is founded, every where display to us a God of goodness in the commission of wickedness; an omnipotent God, whose projects unceasingly miscarry; an immutable God, changing his maxims and his conduct; an omniscient God, continually deceived unawares; a resolute God, yet repenting of his most important actions; a God of wisdom, whose arrangements never attain success. He is a great God, who occupies himself with the most puerile trifles; an all-sufficient God, yet subject to jealousy; a powerful God, yet suspicious, vindictive, and cruel; and a just God, yet permitting and prescribing the most atrocious iniquities. In a word, he is a perfect God, yet displaying at the same time such imperfections and vices that the most despicable of men would blush to resemble him.

Behold, Madam, the God whom this religion orders you to adore in spirit and in truth. I reserve for another letter an analysis of the holy books which you are taught to respect as the oracles of heaven. I now perceive for the first time that I have perhaps made too long a dissertation; and I doubt not you have already perceived that a system built on a basis possessing so little solidity as that of the God whom his devotees raise with one hand and destroy with the other, can have no stability attached to it, and can only be regarded as a long tissue of errors and contradictions.

I am, &c.



LETTER III.

An Examination of the Holy Scriptures, of the Nature of the Christian Religion, and of the Proofs upon which Christianity is founded.

You have seen, Madam, in my preceding letter, the incompatible and contradictory ideas which this religion gives us of the Deity. You will have seen that the revelation which is announced to us, instead of being the offspring of his goodness and tenderness for the human race, is really only a proof of injustice and partiality, of which a God who is equally just and good would be entirely incapable. Let us now examine whether the ideas suggested to us by these books, containing the divine oracles, are more rational, more consistent, or more conformable to the divine perfections. Let us see whether the statements related in the Bible, whether the commands prescribed to us in the name of God himself, are really worthy of God, and display to us the characters of infinite wisdom, goodness, power, and justice.

These inspired books go back to the origin of the world. Moses, the confidant, the interpreter, the historian of the Deity, makes us (if we may use such an expression) witnesses of the formation of the universe. He tells us that the Eternal, tired of his inaction, one fine day took it into his head to create a world that was necessary to his glory. To effect this, he forms matter out of nothing; a pure spirit produces a substance which has no affinity to himself; although this God fills all space with his immensity, yet still he found room enough in it to admit the universe, as well as all the material bodies contained therein.

These, at least, are the ideas which divines wish us to form respecting the creation, if such a thing were possible as that of possessing a clear idea of a pure spirit producing matter. But this discussion is throwing us into metaphysical researches, which I wish to avoid. It will be sufficient to you that you may console yourself for not being able to comprehend it, seeing that the most profound thinkers, who talk about the creation or the eduction of the world from nothing, have no ideas on the subject more precise than those which you form to yourself. As soon, Madam, as you take the trouble to reflect thereon, you will find that divines, instead of explaining things, have done nothing but invent words, in order to render them dubious, and to confound all our natural conceptions.

I will not, however, tire you by a fastidious display of the blunders which fill the narrative of Moses, which they announce to us as being dictated by the Deity. If we read it with a little attention, we shall perceive in every page philosophical and astronomical errors, unpardonable in an inspired author, and such as we should consider ridiculous in any man, who, in the most superficial manner, should have studied and contemplated nature.

You will find, for example, light created before the sun, although this star is visibly the source of light which communicates itself to our globe. You will find the evening and the morning established before the formation of this same sun, whose presence alone produces day, whose absence produces night, and whose different aspects constitute morning and evening. You will there find that the moon is spoken of as a body possessing its own light, in a similar manner as the sun possesses it, although this planet is a dark body, and receives its light from the sun. These ignorant blunders are sufficient to show you that the Deity who revealed himself to Moses was quite unacquainted with the nature of those substances which he had created out of nothing, and that you at present possess more information respecting them than was once possessed by the Creator of the world.

I am not ignorant that our divines have an answer always ready to those difficulties which would attack their divine science, and place their knowledge far below that of Galileo, Descartes, Newton, and even below that of young people who have scarcely studied the first elements of natural philosophy. They will tell us that God, in order to render himself intelligible to the savage and ignorant Jews, spoke in conformity to their imperfect notions, in the false and incorrect language of the vulgar. We must not be imposed upon by this solution, which our doctors regard as triumphant, and which they so frequently employ when it becomes necessary to justify the Bible against the ignorance and vulgarities contained therein. We answer them, that a God who knows every thing, and can perform every thing, might by a single word have rectified the false notions of the people he wished to enlighten, and enabled them to know the nature of bodies more perfectly than the most able men who have since appeared. If it be replied that revelation is not intended to render men learned, but to make them pious, I answer that revelation was not sent to establish false notions; that it would be unworthy of God to borrow the language of falsehood and ignorance; that the knowledge of nature, so far from being an injury to piety, is, by the avowal of divines, the most proper study to display the greatness of God. They tell us that religion would be unmovable, were it conformable to true knowledge; that we should have no objections to make to the recital of Moses, nor to the philosophy of the Holy Scriptures, if we found nothing but what was continually confirmed by experience, astronomy, and the demonstrations of geometry.

To maintain a contrary opinion, and to say that God is pleased in confounding the knowledge of men and in rendering it useless, is to pretend that he is pleased with making us ignorant and changeable, and that he condemns the progress of the human mind, although we ought to suppose him the author of it. To pretend that God was obliged in the Scriptures to conform himself to the language of men, is to pretend that he withdrew his assistance from those he wished to enlighten, and that he was unable of rendering them susceptible of comprehending the language of truth. This is an observation not to be lost sight of in the examination of revelation, where we find in each page that God expresses himself in a manner quite unworthy of the Deity. Could not an omnipotent God, instead of degrading himself, instead of condescending to speak the language of ignorance, so far enlighten them as to make them understand a language more true, more noble, and more conformable to the ideas which are given us of the Deity? An experienced master by degrees enables his scholars to understand what he wishes to teach them, and a God ought to be able to communicate to them immediately all the knowledge he intended to give them.

However, according to Genesis, God, after creating the world, produced man from the dust of the earth. In the mean while we are assured that he created him in his own image; but what was the image of God? How could man, who is at least partly material, represent a pure spirit, which excludes all matter?

How could his imperfect mind be formed on the model of a mind possessing all perfection, like that which we suppose in the Creator of the universe? What resemblance, what proportion, what affinity could there be between a finite mind united to a body, and the infinite spirit of the Creator? These, doubtless, are great difficulties; hitherto it has been thought impossible to decide them; and they will probably for a long time employ the minds of those who strive to understand the incomprehensible meaning of a book which God provided for our instruction.

But why did God create man? Because he wished to people the universe with intelligent beings, who would render him homage, who should witness his wonders, who should glorify him, who should meditate and contemplate his works, and merit his favors by their submission to his laws.

Here we behold man becoming necessary to the dignity of his God, who without him would live without being glorified, who would receive no homage, and who would be the melancholy Sovereign of an empire without subjects—a condition not suited to his vanity. I think it useless to remark to you what little conformity we find between those ideas and such as are given us of a self-sufficient being, who, without the assistance of any other, is supremely happy. All the characters in which the Bible portrays the Deity are always borrowed from man, or from a proud monarch; and we every where find that instead of having made man after his own image, it is man that has always made God after the image of himself, that has conferred on him his own way of thinking, his own virtues, and his own vices.

But did this man whom the Deity has created for his glory faithfully fulfil the wishes of his Creator? This subject that he has just acquired—will he be obedient? will he render homage to his power? will he execute his will? He has done nothing of the kind. Scarcely is he created when he becomes rebellious to the orders of his Sovereign; he eats a forbidden fruit which God has placed in his way in order to tempt him, and by this act draws the divine wrath not only on himself, but on all his posterity. Thus it is that he annihilates at one blow the great projects of the Omnipotent, who had no sooner made man for his glory than he becomes offended with that conduct which he ought to have foreseen.

Here he finds himself obliged to change his projects with regard to mankind; he becomes their enemy, and condemns them and the whole of the race (who had not yet the power of sinning) to innumerable penalties, to cruel calamities, and to death! What do I say? To punishments which death itself shall not terminate! Thus God, who wished to be glorified, is not glorified; he seems to have created man only to offend him, that he might afterwards punish the offender.

In this recital, which is founded on the Bible, can you recognize, Madam, an omnipotent God, whose orders are always accomplished, and whose projects are all necessarily executed? In a God who tempts us, or who permits us to be tempted, do you behold a being of beneficence and sincerity? In a God who punishes the being he has tempted, or subjected to temptation, do you perceive any equity? In a God who extends his vengeance even to those who have not sinned, do you behold any shadow of justice? In a God who is irritated at what he knew must necessarily happen, can you imagine any foresight? In the rigorous punishments by which this God is destined to avenge himself of his feeble creatures, both in this world and the next, can you perceive the least appearance of goodness?

It is, however, this history, or rather this fable, on which is founded the whole edifice of the Christian religion.

If the first man had not been disobedient, the human race had not been the object of the divine wrath, and would have had no need of a Redeemer. If this God, who knows all things, foresees all things, and possesses all power, had prevented or foreseen the fault of Adam, it would not have been necessary for God to sacrifice his own innocent Son to appease his fury. Mankind, for whom he created the universe, would then have been always happy; they would not have incurred the displeasure of that Deity who demanded their adoration. In a word, if this apple had not been imprudently eaten by Adam and his spouse, mankind would not have suffered so much misery, man would have enjoyed without interruption the immortal happiness to which God had destined him, and the views of Providence towards his creatures would not have been frustrated.

It would be useless to make reflections on notions so whimsical, so contrary to the wisdom, the power, and the justice of the Deity. It is doing quite enough to compare the different objects which the Bible presents to us, to perceive their inutility, absurdities, and contradictions. We there see, continually, a wise God conducting himself like a madman. He defeats his own projects that he may afterwards repair them, repents of what he has done, acts as if he had foreseen nothing, and is forced to permit proceedings which his omnipotence could not prevent. In the writings revealed by this God, he appears occupied only in blackening his own character, degrading himself, vilifying himself, even in the eyes of men whom he would excite to worship him and pay him homage; overturning and confounding the minds of those whom he had designed to enlighten. What has just been said might suffice to undeceive us with respect to a book which would pass better as being intended to destroy the idea of a Deity, than as one containing the oracles dictated and revealed by him. Nothing but a heap of absurdities could possibly result from principles so false and irrational; nevertheless, let us take another glance at the principal objects which this divine work continually offers to our consideration. Let us pass on to the Deluge. The holy books tell us, that in spite of the will of the Almighty, the whole human race, who had already been punished by infirmities, accidents, and death, continued to give themselves up to the most unaccountable depravity. God becomes irritated, and repents having created them. Doubtless he could not have foreseen this depravity; yet, rather than change the wicked disposition of their hearts, which he holds in his own hands, he performs the most surprising, the most impossible of miracles. He at once drowns all the inhabitants, with the exception of some favorites, whom he destines to re-people the earth with a chosen race, that will render themselves more agreeable to their God. But does the Almighty succeed in this new project? The chosen race, saved from the waters of the deluge, on the wreck of the earth's destruction, begin again to offend the Sovereign of nature, abandon themselves to new crimes, give themselves up to idolatry, and forgetting the recent effects of celestial vengeance, seem intent only on provoking heaven by their wickedness. In order to provide a remedy, God chooses for his favorite the idolater Abraham. To him he discovers himself; he orders him to renounce the worship of his fathers, and embrace a new religion. To guarantee this covenant, the Sovereign of nature prescribes a melancholy, ridiculous, and whimsical ceremony, to the observance of which a God of wisdom attaches his favors. The posterity of this chosen man are consequently to enjoy, for everlasting, the greatest advantages; they will always be the most partial objects of tenderness, with the Almighty; they will be happier than all other nations, whom the Deity will abandon to occupy himself only for them.

These solemn promises, however, have not prevented the race of Abraham from becoming the slaves of a vile nation, that was detested by the Eternal; his dear friends experienced the most cruel treatment on the part of the Egyptians. God could not guarantee them from the misfortune that had befallen them; but in order to free them again, he raised up to them a liberator, a chief, who performed the most astonishing miracles. At the voice of Moses all nature is confounded; God employs him to declare his will; yet he who could create and annihilate the world could not subdue Pharaoh. The obstinacy of this prince defeats, in ten successive trials, the divine omnipotence, of which Moses is the depositary. After having vainly attempted to overcome a monarch whose heart God had been pleased to harden, God has recourse to the most ordinary method of rescuing his people; he tells them to run off, after having first counselled them to rob the Egyptians. The fugitives are pursued; but God, who protects these robbers, orders the sea to swallow up the miserable people who had the temerity to run after their property.

The Deity would, doubtless, have reason to be satisfied with the conduct of a people that he had just delivered by such a great number of miracles. Alas! neither Moses nor the Almighty could succeed in persuading this obstinate people to abandon the false gods of that country where they had been so miserable; they preferred them to the living God who had just saved them. All the miracles which the Eternal was daily performing in favor of Israel could not overcome their stubbornness, which was still more inconceivable and wonderful than the greatest miracles. These wonders, which are now extolled as convincing proofs of the divine mission of Moses, were by the confession of this same Moses, who has himself transmitted us the accounts, incapable of convincing the people who were witnesses of them, and never produced the good effects which the Deity proposed to himself in performing them.

The credulity, the obstinacy, the continual depravity of the Jews, Madam, are the most indubitable proofs of the falsity of the miracles of Moses, as well as those of all his successors, to whom the Scriptures attribute a supernatural power. If, in the face of these facts, it be pretended that these miracles are attested, we shall be compelled, at least, to agree that, according to the Bible account, they have been entirely useless, that the Deity has been constantly baffled in all his projects, and that he could never make of the Hebrews a people submissive to his will.

We find, however, God continues obstinately employed to render his people worthy of him; he does not lose sight of them for a moment; he sacrifices whole nations to them, and sanctions their rapine, violence, treason, murder, and usurpation. In a word, he permits them to do any thing to obtain his ends. He is continually sending them chiefs, prophets, and wonderful men, who try in vain to bring them to their duty. The whole history of the Old Testament displays nothing but the vain efforts of God to vanquish the obstinacy of his people. To succeed in this, he employs kindnesses, miracles, and severity. Sometimes he delivers up to them whole nations, to be hated, pillaged, and exterminated; at other times he permits these same nations to exercise over his favorite people the greatest of cruelties. He delivers them into the hands of their enemies, who are likewise the enemies of God himself. Idolatrous nations become masters of the Jews, who are left to feel the insults, the contempt, and the most unheard-of severities, and are sometimes compelled to sacrifice to idols, and to violate the law of their God. The race of Abraham becomes the prey of impious nations. The Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans make them successively undergo the most cruel treatment and suffer the most bloody outrages, and God even permits his temple to be polluted in order to punish the Jews.

To terminate, at length, the troubles of his cherished people, the pure Spirit that created the universe sends his own Son. It is said that he had already been announced by his prophets, though this was certainly done in a manner admirably adapted to prevent his being known on his arrival. This Son of God becomes a man through his kindness for the Jews, whom he came to liberate, to enlighten, and to render the most happy of mortals. Being clothed with divine omnipotence, he performs the most astonishing miracles, which do not, however, convince the Jews. He can do every thing but convert them. Instead of converting and liberating the Jews, he is himself compelled, notwithstanding all his miracles, to undergo the most infamous of punishments, and to terminate his life like a common malefactor. God is condemned to death by the people he came to save. The Eternal hardened and blinded those among whom he sent his own Son; he did not foresee that this Son would be rejected. What do I say? He managed matters in such a way as not to be recognized, and took such steps that his favorite people derived no benefit from the coming of the Messiah. In a word, the Deity seems to have taken the greatest care that his projects, so favorable to the Jews, should be nullified and rendered unprofitable!

When we expostulate against a conduct so strange and so unworthy of the Deity, we are told it was necessary for every thing to take place in such a manner, for the accomplishment of prophecies which had announced that the Messiah should be disowned, rejected, and put to death. But why did God, who knows all, and who foresaw the fate of his dear Son, form the project of sending him among the Jews, to whom he must have known that his mission would be useless? Would it not have been easier neither to announce him nor send him? Would it not have been more conformable to divine omnipotence to spare himself the trouble of so many miracles, so many prophecies, so much useless labor, so much wrath, and so many sufferings to his own Son, by giving at once to the human race that degree of perfection he intended for them?

We are told it was necessary that the Deity should have a victim; that to repair the fault of the first man, no expedient would be sufficient but the death of another God; that the only God of the universe could not be appeased but by the blood of his own Son. I reply, in the first place, that God had only to prevent the first man from committing a fault; that this would have spared him much chagrin and sorrow, and saved the life of his dear Son. I reply, likewise, that man is incapable of offending God unless God either permitted it or consented to it. I shall not examine how it is possible for God to have a Son, who, being as much a God as himself, can be subject to death. I reply, also, that it is impossible to perceive such a grave fault and sin in taking an apple, and that we can find very little proportion between the crime committed against the Deity by eating an apple and his Son's death.

I know well enough I shall be told that these are all mysteries; but I, in my turn, shall reply, that mysteries are imposing words, imagined by men who know not how to get themselves out of the labyrinth into which their false reasonings and senseless principles have once plunged them.

Be this as it may, we are assured that the Messiah, or the deliverer of the Jews, had been clearly predicted and described by the prophecies contained in the Old Testament. In this case, I demand why the Jews have disowned this wonderful man, this God whom God sent to them. They answer me, that the incredulity of the Jews was likewise predicted, and that divers inspired writers had announced the death of the Son of God. To which I reply, that a sensible God ought not to have sent him under such circumstances, that an omnipotent God ought to have adopted measures more efficacious and certain to bring his people into the way in which he wished them to go. If he wished not to convert and liberate the Jews, it was quite useless to send his Son among them, and thereby expose him to a death that was both certain and foreseen.

They will not fail to tell me, that in the end the divine patience became tired of the excesses of the Jews; that the immutable God, who had sworn an eternal alliance with the race of Abraham, wished at length to break the treaty, which he had, however, assured them should last forever. It is pretended that God had determined to reject the Hebrew nation, in order to adopt the Gentiles, whom he had hated and despised nearly four thousand years. I reply, that this discourse is very little conformable to the ideas we ought to have of a God who changes not, whose mercy is infinite, and whose goodness is inexhaustible. I shall tell them, that in this case the Messiah announced by the Jewish prophets was destined for the Jews, and that he ought to have been their liberator, instead of destroying their worship and their religion. If it be possible to unravel any thing in these obscure, enigmatical, and symbolical oracles of the prophets of Judea, as we find them in the Bible,—if there be any means of guessing the meaning of the obscure riddles, which have been decorated with the pompous name of prophecies, we shall perceive that the inspired writers, when they are in a good humor, always promised the Jews a man that will redress their grievances, restore the kingdom of Judah, and not one that should destroy the religion of Moses. If it were for the Gentiles that the Messiah should come, he is no longer the Messiah promised to the Jews and announced by their prophets. If Jesus be the Messiah of the Jews, he could not be the destroyer of their nation.

Should I be told that Jesus himself declared that he came to fulfil the law of Moses, and not to abolish it, I ask why Christians do not observe the law of the Jews?

Thus, in whatever light we regard Jesus Christ, we perceive that he could not be the man whom the prophets have predicted, since it is evident that he came only to destroy the religion of the Jews, which, though instituted by God himself, had nevertheless become disagreeable to him. If this inconstant God, who was wearied with the worship of the Jews, had at length repented of his injustice towards the Gentiles, it was to them that he ought to have sent his Son. By acting in this way he would at least have saved his old friends from a frightful deicide, which he forced them to commit, because they were not able to recognize the God he sent amongst them. Besides, the Jews were very pardonable in not acknowledging their expected Messiah in an artisan of Galilee, who was destitute of all the characteristics which the prophets had related, and during whose lifetime his fellow-citizens were neither liberated nor happy.

We are told that he performed miracles. He healed the sick, caused the lame to walk, gave sight to the blind, and raised the dead. At length he accomplished his own resurrection. It might be so believed; yet he has visibly failed in that miracle for which alone he came upon earth. He was never able either to persuade or to convert the Jews, who witnessed all the daily wonders that he performed. Notwithstanding those prodigies, they placed him ignominiously on the cross. In spite of his divine power, he was incapable of escaping punishment. He wished to die, to render the Jews culpable, and to have the pleasure of rising again the third day, in order to confound the ingratitude and obstinacy of his fellow-citizens. What is the result? Did his fellow-citizens concede to this great miracle, and have they at length acknowledged him? Far from it; they never saw him. The Son of God, who arose from the dead in secrecy, showed himself only to his adherents. They alone pretend to have conversed with him; they alone have furnished us with the particulars of his life and miracles; and yet by such suspicious testimony they wish to convince us of the divinity of his mission eighteen hundred years after the event, although he could not convince his contemporaries, the Jews.

We are then told that many Jews have been converted to Jesus Christ; that after his death many others were converted; that the witnesses of the life and miracles of the Son of God have sealed their testimony with their blood; that men will not die to attest falsehood; that by a visible effect of the divine power, the people of a great part of the earth have adopted Christianity, and still persist in the belief of this divine religion.

In all this I perceive nothing like a miracle. I see nothing but what is conformable to the ordinary progress of the human mind. An enthusiast, a dexterous impostor, a crafty juggler, can easily find adherents in a stupid, ignorant, and superstitious populace. These followers, captivated by counsels, or seduced by promises, consent to quit a painful and laborious life, to follow a man who gives them to understand that he will make them fishers of men; that is to say, he will enable them to subsist by his cunning tricks, at the expense of the multitude who are always credulous. The juggler, with the assistance of his remedies, can perform cures which seem miraculous to ignorant spectators. These simple creatures immediately regard him as a supernatural being. He adopts this opinion himself, and confirms the high notions which his partisans have formed respecting him. He feels himself interested in maintaining this opinion among his sectaries, and finds out the secret of exciting their enthusiasm. To accomplish this point, our empiric becomes a preacher; he makes use of riddles, obscure sentences, and parables to the multitude, that always admire what they do not understand. To render himself more agreeable to the people, he declaims among poor, ignorant, foolish men, against the rich, the great, the learned; but above all, against the priests, who in all ages have been avaricious, imperious, uncharitable, and burdensome to the people. If these discourses be eagerly received among the vulgar, who are always morose, envious, and jealous, they displease all those who see themselves the objects of the invective and satire of the popular preacher.

They consequently wish to check his progress, they lay snares for him, they seek to surprise him in a fault, in order that they may unmask him and have their revenge. By dint of imposture, he outwits them; yet, in consequence of his miracles and illusions, he at length discovers himself. He is then seized and punished, and none of his adherents abide by him, except a few idiots, that nothing can undeceive; none but partisans, accustomed to lead with him a life of idleness; none but dexterous knaves, who wish to continue their impositions on the public, by deceptions similar to those of their old master, by obscure, unconnected, confused, and fanatical harangues, and by declamations against magistrates and priests. These, who have the power in their own hands, finish by persecuting them, imprisoning them, flogging them, chastising them, and putting them to death. Poor wretches, habituated to poverty, undergo all these sufferings with a fortitude which we frequently meet with in malefactors. In some we find their courage fortified by the zeal of fanaticism. This fortitude surprises, agitates, excites pity, and irritates the spectators against those who torment men whose constancy makes them looked upon as being innocent, who, it is supposed, may possibly be right, and for whom compassion likewise interests itself. It is thus that enthusiasm is propagated, and that persecution always augments the number of the partisans of those who are persecuted.

I shall leave to you, Madam, the trouble of applying the history of our juggler, and his adherents, to that of the founder, the apostles, and the martyrs of the Christian religion.

With whatever art they have written the life of Jesus Christ, which we hold only from his apostles, or their disciples, it furnishes a sufficiency of materials on which to found our conjectures. I shall only observe to you, that the Jewish nation was remarkable for its credulity; that the companions of Jesus were chosen from among the dregs of the people; that Jesus always gave a preference to the populace, with whom he wished, undoubtedly, to form a rampart against the priests; and that, at last, Jesus was seized immediately after the most splendid of his miracles. We see him put to death immediately after the resurrection of Lazarus, which, even according to the gospel account, bears the most evident characters of fraud, which are visible to every one who examines it without prejudice.

I imagine, Madam, that what I have just stated will suffice to show you what opinion you ought to entertain respecting the founder of Christianity and his first sectaries. These have been either dupes or fanatics, who permitted themselves to be seduced by deceptions, and by discourses conformable to their desires, or by dexterous impostors, who knew how to make the best of the tricks of their old master, to whom they have become such able successors. In this way did they establish a religion which enabled them to live at the people's expense, and which still maintains in abundance those we pay, at such a high rate, for transmitting from father to son the fables, visions, and wonders which were born and nursed in Judea. The propagation of the Christian faith, and the constancy of their martyrs, have nothing surprising in them. The people flock after all those that show them wonders, and receive without reasoning on it every thing that is told them. They transmit to their children the tales they have heard related, and by degrees these opinions are adopted by kings, by the great, and even by the learned.

As for the martyrs, their constancy has nothing supernatural in it. The first Christians, as well as all new sectaries, were treated, by the Jews and pagans, as disturbers of the public peace. They were already sufficiently intoxicated with the fanaticism with which their religion inspired them, and were persuaded that God held himself in readiness to crown them, and to receive them into his eternal dwelling. In a word, seeing the heavens opened, and being convinced that the end of the world was approaching, it is not surprising that they had courage to set punishment at defiance, to endure it with constancy, and to despise death. To these motives, founded on their religious opinions, many others were added, which are always of such a nature as to operate strongly upon the minds of men. Those who, as Christians, were imprisoned and ill-treated on account of their faith, were visited, consoled, encouraged, honored, and loaded with kindnesses by their brethren, who took care of and succored them during their detention, and who almost adored them after their death. Those, on the other hand, who displayed weakness, were despised and detested, and when they gave way to repentance, they were compelled to undergo a rigorous penitence, which lasted as long as they lived. Thus were the most powerful motives united to inspire the martyrs with courage; and this courage has nothing more supernatural about it than that which determines us daily to encounter the most perilous dangers, through the fear of dishonoring ourselves in the eyes of our fellow-citizens. Cowardice would expose us to infamy all the rest of our days. There is nothing miraculous in the constancy of a man to whom an offer is made, on the one hand, of eternal happiness and the highest honors, and who, on the other hand, sees himself menaced with hatred, contempt, and the most lasting regret.

You perceive, then, Madam, that nothing can be easier than to overthrow the proofs by which Christian doctors establish the revelation which they pretend is so well authenticated. Miracles, martyrs, and prophecies prove nothing.

Were all the wonders true that are related in the Old and New Testament, they would afford no proof in favor of divine omnipotence, but, on the contrary, would prove the inability under which the Deity has continually labored, of convincing mankind of the truths he wished to announce to them. On the other hand, supposing these miracles to have produced all the effects which the Deity had a right to expect from them, we have no longer any reason to believe them, except on the tradition and recitals of others, which are often suspicious, faulty, and exaggerated. The miracles of Moses are attested only by Moses, or by Jewish writers interested in making them believed by the people they wished to govern. The miracles of Jesus are attested only by his disciples, who sought to obtain adherents, in relating to a credulous people prodigies to which they pretended to have been witnesses, or which some of them, perhaps, believed they had really seen. All those who deceive mankind are not always cheats; they are frequently deceived by those who are knaves in reality. Besides, I believe I have sufficiently proved, that miracles are repugnant to the essence of an immutable God, as well as to his wisdom, which will not permit him to alter the wise laws he has himself established. In short, miracles are useless, since those related in Scripture have not produced the effects which God expected from them.

The proof of the Christian religion taken from prophecy has no better foundation. Whoever will examine without prejudice these oracles pretended to be divine will find only an ambiguous, unintelligible, absurd, and unconnected jargon, entirely unworthy of a God who intended to display his prescience, and to instruct his people with regard to future events. There does not exist in the Holy Scriptures a single prophecy sufficiently precise to be literally applied to Jesus Christ. To convince yourself of this truth, ask the most learned of our doctors which are the formal prophecies wherein they have the happiness to discover the Messiah. You will then perceive that it is only by the aid of forced explanations, figures, parables, and mystical interpretations, by which they are enabled to bring forward any thing sensible and applicable to the god-made-man whom they tell us to adore. It would seem as if the Deity had made predictions only that we might understand nothing about them.

In these equivocal oracles, whose meaning it is impossible to penetrate, we find nothing but the language of intoxication, fanaticism, and delirium. When we fancy we have found something intelligible, it is easy to perceive that the prophets intended to speak of events that took place in their own age, or of personages who had preceded them. It is thus that our doctors apply gratuitously to Christ prophecies or rather narratives of what happened respecting David, Solomon, Cyrus, &c.

We imagine we see the chastisement of the Jewish people announced in recitals where it is evident the only matter in question was the Babylonish captivity. In this event, so long prior to Jesus Christ, they have imagined finding a prediction of the dispersion of the Jews, supposed to be a visible punishment for their deicide, and which they now wish to pass off as an indubitable proof of the truth of Christianity.

It is not, then, astonishing that the ancient and modern Jews do not see in the prophets what our doctors teach us, and what they themselves imagine they have seen. Jesus himself has not been more happy in his predictions than his predecessors. In the gospel he announces to his disciples in the most formal manner the destruction of the world and the last judgment, as events that were at hand, and which must take place before the existing generation had passed away. Yet the world still endures, and appears in no danger of finishing. It is true, our doctors pretend that, in the prediction of Jesus Christ, he spoke of the ruin of Jerusalem by Vespasian and Titus; but none but those who have not read the gospel would submit to such a change, or satisfy themselves with such an evasion. Besides, in adopting it we must confess at least that the Son of God himself was unable to prophesy with greater precision than his obscure predecessors.

Indeed, at every page of these sacred books, which we are assured were inspired by God himself, this God seems to have made a revelation only to conceal himself. He does not speak but to be misunderstood. He announces his oracles in such a way only that we can neither comprehend them nor make any application of them. He performs miracles only to make unbelievers. He manifests himself to mankind only to stupefy their judgment and bewilder the reason he has bestowed on them. The Bible continually represents God to us as a seducer, an enticer, a suspicious tyrant, who knows not what kind of conduct to observe with respect to his subjects; who amuses himself by laying snares for his creatures, and who tries them that he may have the pleasure of inflicting a punishment for yielding to his temptations. This God is occupied only in building to destroy, in demolishing to rebuild. Like a child disgusted with its playthings, he is continually undoing what he has done, and breaking what was the object of his desires. We find no foresight, no constancy, no consistency in his conduct; no connection, no clearness in his discourses. When he performs any thing, he sometimes approves what he has done, and at other times repents of it. He irritates and vexes himself with what he has permitted to be done, and, in spite of his infinite power, he suffers man to offend him, and consents to let Satan, his creature, derange all his projects. In a word, the revelations of the Christians and Jews seem to have been imagined only to render uncertain and to annihilate the qualities attributed to the Deity, and which are declared to constitute his essence. The whole Scripture, the entire system of the Christian religion, appears to be founded only on the incapability of God, who was unable to render the human race as wise, as good, and as happy as he wished them. The death of his innocent Son, who was immolated to his vengeance, is entirely useless for the most numerous portion of the earth's inhabitants; almost the whole human race, in spite of the continual efforts of the Deity, continue to offend him, to frustrate his designs, resist his will, and to persevere in their wickedness.

It is on notions so fatal, so contradictory, and so unworthy of a God who is just, wise, and good, of a God that is rational, independent, immutable, and omnipotent, on whom the Christian religion is founded, and which religion is said to be established forever by God, who, nevertheless, became disgusted with the religion of the Jews, with whom he had made and sworn an eternal covenant.

Time must prove whether God be more constant and faithful in fulfilling his engagements with the Christians than he has been to fulfil those he made with Abraham and his posterity. I confess, Madam, that his past conduct alarms me as to what he may finally perform. If he himself acknowledged by the mouth of Ezekiel that the laws he had given to the Jews were not good, he may very possibly, some day or other, find fault with those which he has given to Christians.

Our priests themselves seem to partake of my suspicions, and to fear that God will be wearied of that protection which he has so long granted to his church. The inquietudes which they evince, the efforts which they make to hinder the civilization of the world, the persecutions which they raise against all those who contradict them, seem to prove that they mistrust the promises of Jesus Christ, and that they are not certainly convinced of the eternal durability of a religion which does not appear to them divine, but because it gives them the right to command like gods over their fellow-citizens. They would undoubtedly consider the destruction of their empire a very grievous thing; but yet if the sovereigns of the earth and their people should once grow weary of the sacerdotal yoke, we may be sure the Sovereign of heaven would not require a longer time to become equally disgusted.

However this may be, Madam, I venture to hope the perusal of this letter will fully undeceive you of a blind veneration for books which are called divine, although they appear as if invented to degrade and destroy the God who is asserted to be their author. My first letter, I feel confident, enabled you to perceive that the dogmas established by these same books, or subsequently fabricated to justify the ideas thus given of God, are not less contrary to all notions of a Deity infinitely perfect. A system which in the outset is based upon false principles can never become any thing else than a mass of falsehoods.

I am, &c.



LETTER IV.

Of the fundamental Dogmas of the Christian Religion.

You are aware, Madam, that our theological doctors pretend these revealed books, which I summarily examined in my preceding letter, do not include a single word that was not inspired by the Spirit of God. What I have already said to you is sufficient to show that in setting out with this supposition, the Divinity has formed a work the most shapeless, imperfect, contradictory, and unintelligible which ever existed; a work, in a word, of which any man of sense would blush with shame to be the author. If any prophecy hath verified itself for the Christians, it is that of Isaiah, which saith, "Hearing ye shall hear, but shall not understand." But in this case we reply that it was sufficiently useless to speak not to be comprehended; to reveal that which cannot be comprehended is to reveal nothing.

We need not, then, be surprised if the Christians, notwithstanding the revelation of which they assure us they have been the favorites, have no precise ideas either of the Divinity, or of his will, or the way in which his oracles are to be interpreted. The book from which they should be able to do so serves only to confound the simplest notions, to throw them into the greatest incertitude, and create eternal disputations. If it was the project of the Divinity, it would, without doubt, be attended with perfect success. The teachers of Christianity never agree on the manner in which they are to understand the truths that God has given himself the trouble to reveal; all the efforts which they have employed to this time have not yet been capable of making any thing clear, and the dogmas which they have successively invented have been insufficient to justify to the understanding of one man of good sense the conduct of an infinitely perfect Being.

Hence, many among them, perceiving the inconveniences which would result from the reading of the holy books, have carefully kept them out of the hands of the vulgar and illiterate; for they plainly foresaw that if they were read by such they would necessarily bring on themselves reproach, since it would never fail that every honest man of good sense would discover in those books only a crowd of absurdities. Thus the oracles of God are not even made for those for whom they are addressed; it is requisite to be initiated in the mysteries of a priesthood, to have the privilege of discerning in the holy writings the light which the Divinity destined to all his dear children. But are the theologians themselves able to make plain the difficulties which the sacred books present in every page? By meditating on the mysteries which they contain, have they given us ideas more plain of the intentions of the Divinity? No; without doubt they explain one mystery by citing another; they scatter new obscurities on previous obscurities; rarely do they agree among themselves; and when by chance their opinions coincide, we are not more enlightened, nor is our judgment more convinced; on the other hand, our reason is the more confounded.

If they do agree on some point, it is only to tell us that human reason, of which God is the author, is depraved; but what is the purport of this coincidence in their opinions, if it be not to tax the Deity with imbecility, injustice, and malignity? For why should God, in creating a reasonable being, not have given him an understanding which nothing could corrupt? They reply to us by saying "that the reason of man is necessarily limited; that perfection could not be the portion of a creature; that the designs of God are not like those of man." But, in this case, why should the Divinity be offended by the necessary imperfections which he discovers in his creatures? How can a just God require that our mind must admit what it was not made to comprehend? Can he who is above our reason be understood by us, whose reason is so limited? If God be infinite, how can a finite creature reason respecting him? If the mysteries and hidden designs of the Divinity are of such a nature as not to be comprehended by man, what good can we derive from their investigation? Had God designed that we should occupy our thoughts with his purposes, would he not have given us an understanding proportionate to the things he wished us to penetrate?

You see, then, Madam, that in depressing our reason, in supposing it corrupted, our priests, at the same time, annihilate even the necessity of religion, which cannot be either useful or important to us, if above our comprehension. They do more in supposing human reason depraved; they accuse God of injustice, in requiring that our reason should conceive what cannot be conceived. They accuse him of imbecility in not rendering this reason more perfect. In a word, in degrading man they degrade God, and rob him of those attributes which compose his essence. Would you call him a just and good parent, who, wishing that his children should walk by an obscure route, filled with difficulties, would only give them for their conduct a light too weak to find their way, and to avoid the continual dangers by which they are surrounded? Should you consider that the father had adequately provided for their security by giving them in writing unintelligible instructions, which they could not decipher by the weak light he had given them?

Our spiritual directors will not fail to tell us that the corruption of reason and the weakness of the human understanding are the consequences of sin. But why has man become sinful? How has the good God permitted his dear children, for whom he created the universe, and of whom he exacts obedience, to offend him, and thereby extinguish, or, at least, weaken the light he had given them? On the other hand, the reason of Adam ought to be, without doubt, completely perfect before his fall. In this case, why did it not prevent that fall and its consequences? Was the reason of Adam corrupted even beforehand by incurring the wrath of his God? Was it depraved before he had done any thing to deprave it?

To justify this strange conduct of Providence, to clear him from passing as the author of sin, to save him the ridicule of being the cause or the accomplice of offences which he did against himself, the theologians have imagined a being subordinate to the divine power. It is the secondary being they make the author of all the evil which is committed in the universe. In the impossibility of reconciling the continual disorders of which the world is the theatre with the purposes of a Deity replete with goodness, the Creator and Preserver of the universe, who delights in order, and who seeks only the happiness of his creatures, they have trumped up a destructive genius, imbued with wickedness, who conspires to render men miserable, and to overthrow the beneficent views of the Eternal. This bad and perverse being they call Satan, the Devil, the Evil One; and we see him play a great game in all the religions of the world, the founders of which have found in the impotence of Deity the sources of both good and evil. By the aid of this imaginary being they have been enabled to resolve all their difficulties; yet they could not foresee that this invention, which went to annihilate or abridge the power of Deity, was a system filled with palpable contradictions, and that if the Devil were really the author of sin, it would be he, in all justice, who ought to undergo all its punishment.

If God is the author of all, it is he who created the Devil; if the Devil is wicked, if he strives to counteract the projects of the Divinity, it is the Divinity who has allowed the overthrow of his projects, or who has not had sufficient authority to prevent the Devil from exercising his power. If God had wished that the Devil should not have existed, the Devil would not have existed. God could annihilate him at one word, or, at least, God could change his disposition if injurious to us, and contrary to the projects of a beneficent Providence. Since, then, the Devil does exist, and does such marvellous things as are attributed to him, we are compelled to conclude that the Divinity has found it good that he should exist and agitate, as he does, all his works by a perpetual interruption and perversion of his designs.

Thus, Madam, the invention of the Devil does not remedy the evil; on the contrary, it but entangles the priests more and more. By placing to Satan's account all the evil which he commits in the world, they exculpate the Deity of nothing; all the power with which they have supposed the Devil invested is taken from that assigned to the Divinity; and you know very well that according to the notions of the Christian religion, the Devil has more adherents than God himself; they are always stirring their fellow-creatures up to revolt against God; without ceasing, in despite of God, Satan leads them into perdition, except one man only, who refused to follow him, and who found grace in the eyes of the Lord. You are not ignorant that the millions that follow the standard of Beelzebub are to be plunged with him into eternal misery.

But then has Satan himself incurred the disgrace of the All-powerful? By what forfeit has he merited becoming the eternal object of the anger of that God who created him? The Christian religion will explain all. It informs us that the Devil was in his origin an angel; that is to say, a pure spirit, full of perfections, created by the Divinity to occupy a distinguishing situation in the celestial court, destined, like the other ministers of the Eternal, to receive his orders, and to enjoy perpetual blessedness. But he lost himself through ambition; his pride blinded him, and he dared to revolt against his Creator; he engaged other spirits, as pure as himself, in the same senseless enterprise; in consequence of his rashness, he was hurled headlong out of heaven, his miserable adherents were involved in his fall, and, having been hardened by the divine pleasure in their foolish dispositions, they have no other occupation assigned them in the universe than to tempt mankind, and endeavor to augment the number of the enemies of God, and the victims of his wrath.

It is by the assistance of this fable that the Christian doctors perceive the fall of Adam, prepared by the Almighty himself anterior to the creation of the world. Was it necessary that the Divinity should entertain a great desire that man might sin, since he would thereby have an opportunity of providing the means of making him sinful? In effect, it was the Devil who, in process of time, covered with the skin of a serpent, solicited the mother of the human race to disobey God, and involve her husband in her rebellion. But the difficulty is not removed by these inventions. If Satan, in the time he was an angel, lived in innocence, and merited the good will of his Maker, how came God to suffer him to entertain ideas of pride, ambition, and rebellion? How came this angel of light so blind as not to see the folly of such an enterprise? Did he not know that his Creator was all-powerful? Who was it that tempted Satan? What reason had the Divinity for selecting him to be the object of his fury, the destroyer of his projects, the enemy of his power? If pride be a sin, if the idea itself of rebellion is the greatest of crimes, sin was, then, anterior to sin, and Lucifer offended God, even in his state of purity; for, in fine, a being pure, innocent, agreeable to his God, who had all the perfections of which a creature could be susceptible, ought to be exempt from ambition, pride, and folly. We ought, also, to say as much for our first parent, who, notwithstanding his wisdom, his innocence, and the knowledge infused into him by God himself, could not prevent himself from falling into the temptation of a demon.

Hence, in every shift, the priests invariably make God the author of sin. It was God who tempted Lucifer before the creation of the world; Lucifer, in his turn, became the tempter of man and the cause of all the evil our race suffers. It appears, therefore, that God created both angels and men to give them an opportunity of sinning.

It is easy to perceive the absurdity of this system, to save which the theologians have invented another still more absurd, that it might become the foundation of all their religious revelations, and by means of which they idly imagine they can fully justify the divine providence. The system of truth supposes the free will of man—that he is his own master, capable of doing good or ill, and of directing his own plans. At the words free will, I already perceive, Madam, that you tremble, and doubtless anticipate a metaphysical dissertation. Rest assured of the contrary; for I flatter myself that the question will be simplified and rendered clear, I shall not merely say for you, but for all your sex who are not resolved to be wilfully blind.

To say that man is a free agent is to detract from the power of the Supreme Being; it is to pretend that God is not the master of his own will; it is to advance that a weak creature can, when it pleases him, revolt against his Creator, derange his projects, disturb the order which he loves, render his labors useless, afflict him with chagrin, cause him sorrow, act with effect against him, and arouse his anger and his passions. Thus, at the first glance, you perceive that this principle gives rise to a crowd of absurdities. If God is the friend of order, every thing performed by his creatures would necessarily conduce to the maintenance of this order, because otherwise the divine will would fail to have its effect. If God has plans, they must of necessity be always executed; if man can afflict his God, man is the master of this God's happiness, and the league he has formed with the Devil is potent enough to thwart the plans of the Divinity. In a word, if man is free to sin, God is no longer Omnipotent.

In reply, we are told that God, without detriment to his Omnipotence, might make man a free agent, and that this liberty is a benefit by which God places man in a situation where he may merit the heavenly bounty; but, on the other hand, this liberty likewise exposes him to encounter God's hatred, to offend him, and to be overwhelmed by infinite sufferings. From this I conclude that this liberty is not a benefit, and that it evidently is inconsistent with divine goodness. This goodness would be more real if men had always sufficient resolution to do what is pleasing to God, conformably to order, and conducive to the happiness of their fellow-creatures. If men, in virtue of their liberty, do things contrary to the will of God, God, who is supposed to have the prescience of foreseeing all, ought to have taken measures to prevent men from abusing their liberty; if he foresaw they would sin, he ought to have given them the means of avoiding it; if he could not prevent them from doing ill, he has consented to the ill they have done; if he has consented, he should not be offended; if he is offended, or if he punish them for the evil they have done with his permission, he is unjust and cruel; if he suffer them to rush on to their destruction, he is bound afterwards to take them to himself; and he cannot with reason find fault with them for the abuse of their liberty, in being deceived or seduced by the objects which he himself had placed in their way to seduce them, to tempt them, and to determine their wills to do evil.[4]

[4] See what Bayle says, Dict. Crit., art. Origene, Rem. E., art. Pauliciens, Rem. E., F., M., and tom. iij. of the Reponses aux Questions d'un Provincial.

What would you say of a father who should give to his children, in the infancy of age, and when they were without experience, the liberty of satisfying their disordered appetites, till they should convince themselves of their evil tendency? Would not such a parent be in the right to feel uneasy at the abuse which they should make of their liberty which he had given them? Would it not be accounted malice in this parent, who should have foreseen what was to happen, not to have furnished his children with the capacity of directing their own conduct so as to avoid the evils they might be assailed with? Would it not show in him the height of madness were he to punish them for the evil which he had done, and the chagrin which they occasioned him? Would it not be to himself that we should ascribe the sottishness and wickedness of his children?

You see, then, the points of view under which this system of men's free will shows us the Deity. This free will becomes a present the most dangerous, since it puts man in the condition of doing evil that is truly frightful. We may thence conclude that this system, far from justifying God, makes him capable of malice, imprudence, and injustice. But this is to overturn all our ideas of a being perfectly, nay, infinitely wise and good, consenting to punish his creatures for sins which he gave them the power of committing, or, which is the same, suffering the Devil to inspire them with evil. All the subtilties of theology have really only a tendency to destroy the very notions itself inculcates concerning the Divinity. This theology is evidently the tub of the Danaides.

It is a fact, however, that our theologians have imagined expedients to support their ruinous suppositions. You have often heard mention made of predestination and grace—terrible words, which constantly excite disputes among us, for which reason would be forced to blush if Christians did not make it a duty to renounce reason, and which contests are attended with consequences very dangerous to society. But let not this surprise you; these false and obscure principles have even among the theologians produced dissensions; and their quarrels would be indifferent if they did not attach more importance to them than they really deserve.

But to proceed. The system of predestination supposes that God, in his eternal secrets, has resolved that some men should be elected, and, being thus his favorites, receive special grace. By this grace they are supposed to be made agreeable to God, and meet for eternal happiness. But then an infinite number of others are destined to perdition, and receive not the grace necessary to eternal salvation. These contradictory and opposite propositions make it pretty evident that the system is absurd. It makes God, a being infinitely perfect and good, a partial tyrant, who has created a vast number of human beings to be the sport of his caprice and the victims of his vengeance. It supposes that God will punish his creatures for not having received that grace which he did not deign to give them; it presents this God to us under traits so revolting that the theologians are forced to avow that the whole is a profound mystery, into which the human mind cannot penetrate. But if man is not made to lift his inquisitive eye on this frightful mystery, that is to say, on this astonishing absurdity, which our teachers have idly endeavored to square to their views of Deity, or to reconcile the atrocious injustice of their God with his infinite goodness, by what right do they wish us to adore this mystery which they would compel us to believe, and to subscribe to an opinion that saps the divine goodness to its very foundation? How do they reason upon a dogma, and quarrel with acrimony about a system of which even themselves can comprehend nothing?

The more you examine religion, the more occasion you will have to be convinced that those things which our divines call mysteries are nothing else but the difficulties with which they are themselves embarrassed, when they are unable to avoid the absurdities into which their own false principles necessarily involve them. Nevertheless, this word is not enough to impose upon us; the reverend doctors do not themselves understand the things about which they incessantly speak. They invent words from an inability to explain things, and they give the name of mysteries to what they comprehend no better than ourselves.

All the religions in the world are founded upon predestination, and all the pretended revelations among men, as has been already pointed out to you, inculcate this odious dogma, which makes Providence an unjust mother-in-law, who shows a blind preference for some of her children to the prejudice of all the others. They make God a tyrant, who punishes the inevitable faults to which he has impelled them, or into which he has allowed them to be seduced. This dogma, which served as the foundation of Paganism, is now the grand pivot of the Christian religion, whose God should excite no less hatred than the most wicked divinities of idolatrous people. With such notions, is it not astonishing that this God should appear, to those who meditate on his attributes, an object sufficiently terrible to agitate the imagination, and to lead some to indulge in dangerous follies?

The dogma of another life serves also to exculpate the Deity from these apparent injustices or aberrations, with which he might naturally be accused. It is pretended that it has pleased him to distinguish his friends on earth, seeing he has amply provided for their future happiness in an abode prepared for their souls. But, as I believe I have already hinted, these proofs that God makes some good, and leaves others wicked, either evince injustice on his part, at least temporary, or they contradict his omnipotence. If God can do all things, if he is privy to all the thoughts and actions of men, what need has he of any proofs? If he has resolved to give them grace necessary to save them, has he not assured them they will not perish? If he is unjust and cruel, this God is not immutable, and belies his character; at least for a time he derogates from the perfections which we should expect to find in him. What would you think of a king, who, during a particular time, would discover to his favorites traits the most frightful, in order that they might incur his disgrace, and who should afterwards insist on their believing him a very good and amiable man, to obtain his favor again? Would not such a prince be pronounced wicked, fanciful, and tyrannical? Nevertheless, this supposed prince might be pardoned by some, if for his own interest, and the better to assure himself of the attachment of his friends, he might give them some smiles of his favor. It is not so God, who knows all, who can do all, who has nothing to fear from the dispositions of his creatures. From all these reasonings, we may see that the Deity, whom the priests have conjured up, plays a great game, very ridiculous, very unjust, on the supposition that he tries his servants, and that he allows them to suffer in this world, to prepare them for another. The theologians have not failed to discover motives in this conduct of God which they can as readily justify; but these pretended motives are borrowed from the omnipotence of this being, by his absolute power over his creatures, to whom he is not obliged to render an account of his actions; but especially in this theology, which professes to justify God, do we not see it make him a despot and tyrant more hateful than any of his creatures?

I am, &c.



LETTER V.

Of the Immortality of the Soul, and of the Dogma of another Life.

We, have now, Madam, come to the examination of the dogma of a future life, in which it is supposed that the Divinity, after causing men to pass through the temptations, the trials, and the difficulties of this life, for the purpose of satisfying himself whether they are worthy of his love or his hatred, will bestow the recompenses or inflict the chastisements which they deserved. This dogma, which is one of the capital points of the Christian religion, is founded on a great many hypotheses or suppositions, which we have already glanced at, and which we have shown to be absurd and incompatible with the notions which the same religion gives us of the Deity. In effect, it supposes us capable of offending or pleasing the Author of Nature, of influencing his humor, or exciting his passions; afflicting, tormenting, resisting, and thwarting the plans of Deity. It supposes, moreover, the free-will of man—a system which we have seen incompatible with the goodness, justice, and omnipotence of the Deity. It supposes, further, that God has occasion of proving his creatures, and making them, if I may so speak, pass a novitiate to know what they are worth when he shall square accounts with them. It supposes in God, who has created men for happiness only, the inability to put, by one grand effort, all men in the road, whence they may infallibly arrive at permanent felicity. It supposes that man will survive himself, or that the same being, after death, will continue to think, to feel, and act as he did in this life. In a word, it supposes the immortality of the soul—an opinion unknown to the Jewish lawgiver, who is totally silent on this topic to the people to whom God had manifested himself; an opinion which even in the time of Jesus Christ one sect at Jerusalem admitted, while another sect rejected; an opinion about which the Messiah, who came to instruct them, deigned to fix the ideas of those who might deceive themselves in this respect; an opinion which appears to have been engendered in Egypt, or in India, anterior to the Jewish religion, but which was unknown among the Hebrews till they took occasion to instruct themselves in the Pagan philosophy of the Greeks, and doctrines of Plato.

Whatever might be the origin of this doctrine, it was eagerly adopted by the Christians, who judged it very convenient to their system of religion, all the parts of which are founded on the marvellous, and which made it a crime to admit any truths agreeable to reason and common sense. Thus, without going back to the inventors of this inconceivable dogma, let us examine dispassionately what this opinion really is; let us endeavor to penetrate to the principles on which it is supported; let us adopt it, if we shall find it an idea conformable to reason; let us reject it, if it shall appear destitute of proof, and at variance with common sense, even though it had been received as an established truth in all antiquity, though it may have been adopted by many millions of mankind.

Those who maintain the opinion of the soul's immortality, regard it—that is, the soul—as a being distinct from the body, as a substance, or essence, totally different from the corporeal frame, and they designate it by the name of spirit. If we ask them what a spirit is, they tell us it is not matter; and if we ask them what they understand by that which is not matter, which is the only thing of which we cannot form an idea, they tell us it is a spirit. In general, it is easy to see that men the most savage, as well as the most subtle thinkers, make use of the word spirit to designate all the causes of which they cannot form clear notions; hence the word spirit hath been used to designate a being of which none can form any idea.

Notwithstanding, the divines pretend that this unknown being, entirely different from the body, of a substance which has nothing conformable with itself, is, nevertheless, capable of setting the body in motion; and this, doubtless, is a mystery very inconceivable. We have noticed the alliance between this spiritual substance and the material body, whose functions it regulates. As the divines have supposed that matter could neither think, nor will, nor perceive, they have believed that it might conceive much better those operations attributed to a being of which they had ideas less clear than they can form of matter. In consequence, they have imagined many gratuitous suppositions to explain the union of the soul with the body. In fine, in the impossibility of overcoming the insurmountable barriers which oppose them, the priests have made man twofold, by supposing that he contains something distinct from himself; they have cut through all difficulties by saying that this union is a great mystery, which man cannot understand; and they have everlasting recourse to the omnipotence of God, to his supreme will, to the miracles which he has always wrought; and those last are never-failing, final resources, which the theologians reserve for every case wherein they can find no other mode of escaping gracefully from the argument of their adversaries.

You see, then, to what we reduce all the jargon of the metaphysicians, all the profound reveries which for so many ages have been so industriously hawked about in defence of the soul of man; an immaterial substance, of which no living being can form an idea; a spirit, that is to say, a being totally different from any thing we know. All the theological verbiage ends here, by telling us, in a round of pompous terms,—fooleries that impose on the ignorant,—that we do not know what essence the soul is of; but we call it a spirit because of its nature, and because we feel ourselves agitated by some unknown agent; we cannot comprehend the mechanism of the soul; yet can we feel ourselves moved, as it were, by an effect of the power of God, whose essence is far removed from ours, and more concealed from us than the human soul itself. By the aid of this language, from which you cannot possibly learn any thing, you will be as wise, Madam, as all the theologians in the world.

If you would desire to form ideas the most precise of yourself, banish from you the prejudices of a vain theology, which only consists in repeating words without attaching any new ideas to them, and which are insufficient to distinguish the soul from the body, which appear only capable of multiplying beings without reason, of rendering more incomprehensible and more obscure, notions less distinct than we already have of ourselves. These notions should be at least the most simple and the most exact, if we consult our nature, experience, and reason. They prove that man knows nothing but by his material sensible organs, that he sees only by his eyes, that he feels by his touch, that he hears by his ears; and that when either of these organs is actually deranged, or has been previously wanting, or imperfect, man can have none of the ideas that organ is capable of furnishing him with,—neither thoughts, memory, reflection, judgment, desire, nor will. Experience shows us that corporeal and material beings are alone capable of being moved and acted upon, and that without those organs we have enumerated the soul thinks not, feels not, wills not, nor is moved. Every thing shows us that the soul undergoes always the same vicissitudes as the body; it grows to maturity, gains strength, becomes weak, and puts on old age, like the body; in fine, every thing we can understand of it goes to prove that it perishes with the body. It is indeed folly to pretend that man will feel when he has no organs appropriate for that sentiment; that he will see and hear without eyes or ears; that he will have ideas without having senses to receive impressions from physical objects, or to give rise to perceptions in his understanding; in fine, that he will enjoy or suffer when he has no longer either nerves or sensibility.

Thus every thing conspires to prove that the soul is the same thing as the body, viewed relatively to some of its functions, which are more obscure than others. Every thing serves to convince us that without the body the soul is nothing, and that all the operations which are attributed to the soul cannot be exercised any longer when the body is destroyed. Our body is a machine, which, so long as we live, is susceptible of producing the effects which have been designated under different names, one from another; sentiment is one of these effects, thought is another, reflection a third. This last passes sometimes by other names, and our brain appears to be the seat of all our organs; it is that which is the most susceptible. This organic machine once destroyed or deranged, is no longer capable of producing the same effects, or of exercising the same functions. It is with our body as it is with a watch which indicates the hours, and which goes not if the spring or a pinion be broken.

Cease, Eugenia, cease to torment yourself about the fate which shall attend you when death will have separated you from all that is dear on earth. After the dissolution of this life, the soul shall cease to exist; those devouring flames with which you have been threatened by the priests will have no effect upon the soul, which can neither be susceptible then of pleasures nor pains, of agreeable or sorrowful ideas, of lively or doleful reflections.

It is only by means of the bodily organs that we feel, think, and are merry or sad, happy or miserable; this body once reduced to dust, we will have neither perceptions nor sensations, and, by consequence, neither memory nor ideas; the dispersed particles will no longer have the same qualities they possessed when united; nor will they any longer conspire to produce the same effects. In a word, the body being destroyed, the soul, which is merely a result of all the parts of the body in action, will cease to be what it is; it will be reduced to nothing with the life's breath.

Our teachers pretend to understand the soul well; they profess to be able to distinguish it from the body; in short, they can do nothing without it; and therefore, to keep up the farce, they have been compelled to admit the ridiculous dogma of the Persians, known by the name of the resurrection. This system supposes that the particles of the body which have been scattered at death will be collected at the last day, to be replaced in their primitive condition. But that this strange phenomenon may take place, it is necessary that the particles of our destroyed bodies, of which some, have been converted into earth, others have passed into plants, others into animals, some of one species, others of another, even of our own; it is requisite, I say, that these particles, of which some have been mixed with the waters of the deep, others have been carried on the wings of the wind, and which have successively belonged to many different men, should be reunited to reproduce the individual to whom they formerly belonged. If you cannot get over this impossibility, the theologians will explain it to you by saying, very briefly, "Ah! it is a profound mystery, which we cannot comprehend." They will inform you that the resurrection is a miracle, a supernatural effect, which is to result from the divine power. It is thus they overcome all the difficulties which the good sense of a few opposes to their rhapsodies.

If, perchance, Madam, you do not wish to remain content with these sublime reasons, against which your good sense will naturally revolt, the clergy will endeavor to seduce your imagination by vague pictures of the ineffable delights which will be enjoyed in Paradise by the souls and bodies of those who have adopted their reveries; they will aver that you cannot refuse to believe them upon their mere word without encountering the eternal indignation of a God of pity; and they will attempt to alarm your fancy by frightful delineations of the cruel torments which a God of goodness has prepared for the greater number of his creatures.

But if you consider the thing coolly, you will perceive the futility of their flattering promises and of their puny threatenings, which are uttered merely to catch the unwary. You may easily discover that if it could be true that man shall survive himself, God, in recompensing him, would only recompense himself for the grace which he had granted; and when he punished him, he punished him for not receiving the grace which he had hardened him against receiving. This line of conduct, so cruel and barbarous, appears equally unworthy of a wise God as it is of a being perfectly good.

If your mind, proof against the terrors with which the Christian religion penetrates its sectaries, is capable of contemplating these frightful circumstances, which it is imagined will accompany the carefully-invented punishments which God has destined for the victims of his vengeance, you will find that they are impossible, and totally incompatible with the ideas which they themselves have put forth of the Divinity. In a word, you will perceive that the chastisements of another life are but a crowd of chimeras, invented to disturb human reason, to subjugate it beneath the feet of imposture, to annihilate forever the repose of slaves whom the priesthood would inthrall and retain under its yoke.

In short, Eugenia, the priests would make you believe that these torments will be horrible,—a thing which accords not with our ideas of God's goodness; they tell you they will be eternal,—a thing which accords not with our ideas of the justice of God, who, one would very naturally suppose, will proportion chastisements to faults, and who, by consequence, will not punish without end the beings whose actions are bounded by time. They tell us that the offences against God are infinite, and, by consequence, that the Divinity, without doing violence to his justice, may avenge himself as God, that is to say, avenge himself to infinity. In this case I shall say that this God is not good; that he is vindictive, a character which always announces fear and weakness. In fine, I shall say that among the imperfect beings who compose the human species, there is not, perhaps, a single one who, without some advantage to himself, without personal fear, in a word, without folly, would consent to punish everlastingly the wretch who might have the misfortune to offend him, but who no longer had either the ability or the inclination to commit another offence. Caligula found, at least, some little amusement to forsake for a time the cares of government, and enjoy the spectacle of punishment which he inflicted on those unfortunate men whom he had an interest in destroying. But what advantage can it be to God to heap on the damned everlasting torments? Will this amuse him? Will their frightful punishments correct their faults? Can these examples of the divine severity be of any service to those on earth, who witness not their friends in hell? Will it not be the most astonishing of all the miracles of Deity to make the bodies of the damned invulnerable, to resist, through the ceaseless ages of eternity, the frightful torments destined for them?

You see, then, Madam, that the ideas which the priests give us of hell make of God a being infinitely more insensible, more wicked and cruel than the most barbarous of men. They add to all this that it will be the Devil and the apostate angels, that is to say, the enemies of God, whom he will employ as the ministers of his implacable vengeance. These wicked spirits, then, will execute the commands which this severe judge will pronounce against men at the last judgment. For you must know, Madam, that a God who knows all will at some future time take an account of what he already knows. So, then, not content with judging men at death, he will assemble the whole human race with great pomp at the last or general judgment, in which he will confirm his sentence in the view of the whole human race, assembled to receive their doom. Thus on the wreck of the world will he pronounce a definitive judgment, from which there will be no appeal. But, in attending this memorable judgment, what will become of the souls of men, separated from their bodies, which have not yet been resuscitated? The souls of the just will go directly to enjoy the blessings of Paradise; but what is to become of the immense crowd of souls imbued with faults or crimes, and on whom the infallible parsons, who are so well instructed in what is passing in another world, cannot speak with certainty as to their fate? According to some of these wiseacres, God will place the souls of such as are not wholly displeasing to him in a place of punishment, where, by rigorous torments, they shall have the merit of expiating the faults with which they may stand chargeable at death. According to this fine system, so profitable to our spiritual guides, God has found it the most simple method to build a fiery furnace for the special purpose of tormenting a certain proportion of souls who have not been sufficiently purified at death to enter Paradise, but who, after leaving them some years united with the body, and giving them time necessary to arrive at that amendment of life by which they may become partakers of the supreme felicity of heaven, ordains that they shall expiate their offences in torment. It is on this ridiculous notion that our priests have bottomed the doctrine of purgatory, which every good Catholic is obliged to believe for the benefit of the priests, who reserve to themselves, as is very reasonable, the power of compelling by their prayers a just and immutable God to relax in his sternness, and liberate the captive souls, which he had only condemned to undergo this purgation in order that they might be made meet for the joys of Paradise.

With respect to the Protestants, who are, as every one knows, heretics and impious, you will observe that they pretend not to those lucrative views of the Roman doctors. On the contrary, they think that, at the instant of death, every man is irrevocably judged; that he goes directly to glory or into a place of punishment, to suffer the award of evil by the enduring of punishments for which God had eternally prepared both the sufferer and his torments! Even before the reunion of soul and body at the final judgment, they fancy that the soul of the wicked (which, on the principle of all souls being spirits, must be the same in essence as the soul of the elect,) will, though deprived of those organs by which it felt, and thought, and acted, be capable of undergoing the agency or action of a fire! It is true that some Protestant theologians tell us that the fire of hell is a spiritual fire, and, by consequence, very different from the material fire vomited out of Vesuvius, and AEtna, and Hecla. Nor ought we to doubt that these informed doctors of the Protestant faith know very well what they say, and that they have as precise and clear ideas of a spiritual fire as they have of the ineffable joys of Paradise, which may be as spiritual as the punishment of the damned in hell.

Such are, Madam, in a few words, the absurdities, not less revolting than ridiculous, which the dogmas of a future life and of the immortality of the soul have engendered in the minds of men. Such are the phantoms which have been invented and propagated, to seduce and alarm mortals, to excite their hopes and their fears; such the illusions that so powerfully operate on weak and feeling beings. But as melancholy ideas have more effect upon the imagination than those which are agreeable, the priests have always insisted more forcibly on what men have to fear on the part of a terrible God than on what they have to hope from the mercy of a forgiving Deity, full of goodness. Princes the most wicked are infinitely more respected than those who are famed for indulgence and humanity. The priests have had the art to throw us into uncertainty and mistrust by the twofold character which they have given the Divinity. If they promise us salvation, they tell us that we must work it out for ourselves, "with fear and trembling." It is thus that they have contrived to inspire the minds of the most honest men with dismay and doubt, repeating without ceasing that time only must disclose who are worthy of the divine love, or who are to be the objects of the divine wrath. Terror has been and always will be the most certain means of corrupting and enslaving the mind of man.

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