It could have been but the most cruel barbarity, the most notorious imposition, but the blindest ambition which could have created the dogma of eternal damnation. If there exists a God who could be offended or blasphemed, there would not be upon earth any greater blasphemers than those who dare to say that this God is perverse enough to take pleasure in dooming His feeble creatures to useless torments for all eternity.
LXVII.—THEOLOGY IS BUT A SERIES OF PALPABLE CONTRADICTIONS.
To pretend that God can be offended with the actions of men, is to annihilate all the ideas that are given to us of this being. To say that man can disturb the order of the universe, that he can grasp the lightning from God's hand, that he can upset His projects, is to claim that man is stronger than his God, that he is the arbiter of His will, that it depends on him to change His goodness into cruelty. Theology does nothing but destroy with one hand that which it builds with the other. If all religion is founded upon a God who becomes angry, and who is appeased, all religion is founded upon a palpable contradiction.
All religions agree in exalting the wisdom and the infinite power of the Divinity; but as soon as they expose His conduct, we discover but imprudence, want of foresight, weakness, and folly. God, it is said, created the world for Himself; and so far He has not succeeded in making Himself properly respected! God has created men in order to have in His dominion subjects who would render Him homage; and we continually see men revolt against Him!
LXVIII.—THE PRETENDED WORKS OF GOD DO NOT PROVE AT ALL WHAT WE CALL DIVINE PERFECTION.
We are continually told of the Divine perfections; and as soon as we ask the proofs of them, we are shown the works in which we are assured that these perfections are written in ineffaceable characters. All these works, however, are imperfect and perishable; man, who is regarded as the masterpiece, as the most marvelous work of Divinity, is full of imperfections which render him disagreeable in the eyes of the Almighty workman who has formed him; this surprising work becomes often so revolting and so odious to its Author, that He feels Himself compelled to cast him into the fire. But if the choicest work of Divinity is imperfect, by what are we to judge of the Divine perfections? Can a work with which the author himself is so little satisfied, cause us to admire his skill? Physical man is subject to a thousand infirmities, to countless evils, to death; the moral man is full of defects; and yet they exhaust themselves by telling us that he is the most beautiful work of the most perfect of beings.
LXIX.—THE PERFECTION OF GOD DOES NOT SHOW TO ANY MORE ADVANTAGE IN THE PRETENDED CREATION OF ANGELS AND PURE SPIRITS.
It appears that God, in creating more perfect beings than men, did not succeed any better, or give stronger proofs of His perfection. Do we not see in many religions that angels and pure spirits revolted against their Master, and even attempted to expel Him from His throne? God intended the happiness of angels and of men, and He has never succeeded in rendering happy either angels or men; pride, malice, sins, the imperfections of His creatures, have always been opposed to the wishes of the perfect Creator.
LXX.—THEOLOGY PREACHES THE OMNIPOTENCE OF ITS GOD, AND CONTINUALLY SHOWS HIM IMPOTENT.
All religion is visibly founded upon the principle that "God proposes and man disposes." All the theologies of the world show us an unequal combat between Divinity on the one side, and His creatures on the other. God never relies on His honor; in spite of His almighty power, He could not succeed in making the works of His hands as He would like them to be. To complete the absurdity, there is a religion which pretends that God Himself died to redeem the human race; and, in spite of His death, men are not in the least as this God would desire them to be!
LXXI.—ACCORDING TO ALL THE RELIGIOUS SYSTEMS OF THE EARTH, GOD WOULD BE THE MOST CAPRICIOUS AND THE MOST INSENSATE OF BEINGS.
Nothing could be more extravagant than the role which in every country theology makes Divinity play. If the thing was real, we would be obliged to see in it the most capricious and the most insane of beings; one would be obliged to believe that God made the world to be the theater of dishonoring wars with His creatures; that He created angels, men, demons, wicked spirits, but as adversaries, against whom He could exercise His power. He gives them liberty to offend Him, makes them wicked enough to upset His projects, obstinate enough to never give up: all for the pleasure of getting angry, and being appeased, of reconciling Himself, and of repairing the confusion they have made. Had Divinity formed at once His creatures such as they ought to be in order to please Him, what trouble He might have spared Himself! or, at least, how much embarrassment He might have saved to His theologians! According to all the religious systems of the earth, God seems to be occupied but in doing Himself injury; He does it as those charlatans do who wound themselves, in order to have occasion to show the public the value of their ointments. We do not see, however, that so far Divinity has been able to radically cure itself of the evil which is caused by men.
LXXII.—IT IS ABSURD TO SAY THAT EVIL DOES NOT COME FROM GOD.
God is the author of all; still we are assured that evil does not come from God. Whence, then, does it come? From men? But who has made men? It is God: then that evil comes from God. If He had not made men as they are, moral evil or sin would not exist in the world. We must blame God, then, that man is so perverse. If man has the power to do wrong or to offend God, we must conclude that God wishes to be offended; that God, who has created man, resolved that evil should be done by him: without this, man would be an effect contrary to the cause from which he derives his being.
LXXIII.—THE FORESIGHT ATTRIBUTED TO GOD, WOULD GIVE TO GUILTY MEN WHOM HE PUNISHES, THE RIGHT TO COMPLAIN OF HIS CRUELTY.
The faculty of foresight, or the ability to know in advance all which is to happen in the world, is attributed to God. But this foresight can scarcely belong to His glory, nor spare Him the reproaches which men could legitimately heap upon Him. If God had the foresight of the future, did He not foresee the fall of His creatures whom He had destined to happiness? If He resolved in His decrees to allow this fall, there is no doubt that He desired it to take place: otherwise it would not have happened. If the Divine foresight of the sin of His creatures had been necessary or forced, it might be supposed that God was compelled by His justice to punish the guilty; but God, enjoying the faculty of foresight and the power to predestinate everything, would it not depend upon Himself not to impose upon men these cruel laws? Or, at least, could He not have dispensed with creating beings whom He might be compelled to punish and to render unhappy by a subsequent decree? What does it matter whether God destined men to happiness or to misery by a previous decree, the effect of His foresight, or by a subsequent decree, the effect of His justice. Does the arrangement of these decrees change the fate of the miserable? Would they not have the right to complain of a God who, having the power of leaving them in oblivion, brought them forth, although He foresaw very well that His justice would force Him sooner or later to punish them?
LXXIV.—ABSURDITY OF THE THEOLOGICAL FABLES UPON ORIGINAL SIN AND UPON SATAN.
Man, say you, issuing from the hands of God, was pure, innocent, and good; but his nature became corrupted in consequence of sin. If man could sin, when just leaving the hands of God, his nature was then not perfect! Why did God permit him to sin, and his nature to become corrupt? Why did God allow him to be seduced, knowing well that he would be too weak to resist the tempter? Why did God create a Satan, a malicious spirit, a tempter? Why did not God, who was so desirous of doing good to mankind, why did He not annihilate, once for all, so many evil genii whose nature rendered them enemies of our happiness? Or rather, why did God create evil spirits, whose victories and terrible influences upon the human race He must have foreseen? Finally, by what fatality, in all the religions of the world, has the evil principle such a marked advantage over the good principle or over Divinity?
LXXV.—THE DEVIL, LIKE RELIGION, WAS INVENTED TO ENRICH THE PRIESTS.
We are told a story of the simple-heartedness of an Italian monk, which does him honor. This good man preaching one day felt obliged to announce to his auditory that, thanks to Heaven, he had at last discovered a sure means of rendering all men happy. "The devil," said he, "tempts men but to have them as comrades of his misery in hell. Let us address ourselves, then, to the Pope, who possesses the keys of paradise and of hell; let us ask him to beseech God, at the head of the whole Church, to reconcile Himself with the devil; to take him back into His favor; to re-establish him in His first rank. This can not fail to put an end to his sinister projects against mankind." The good monk did not see, perhaps, that the devil is at least fully as useful as God to the ministers of religion. These reap too many benefits from their differences to lend themselves willingly to a reconciliation between the two enemies ties, upon whose contests their existence and their revenues depend. If men would cease to be tempted and to sin, the ministry of priests would become useless to them. Manicheism is evidently the support of all religions; but unfortunately the devil, being invented to remove all suspicion of malice from Divinity, proves to us at every moment the powerlessness or the awkwardness of his celestial Adversary.
LXXVI.—IF GOD COULD NOT RENDER HUMAN NATURE SINLESS, HE HAS NO RIGHT TO PUNISH MAN.
Man's nature, it is said, must necessarily become corrupt. God could not endow him with sinlessness, which is an inalienable portion of Divine perfection. But if God could not render him sinless, why did He take the trouble of creating man, whose nature was to become corrupt, and which, consequently, had to offend God? On the other side, if God Himself was not able to render human nature sinless, what right had He to punish men for not being sinless? It is but by the right of might. But the right of the strongest is violence; and violence is not suited to the most Just of Beings. God would be supremely unjust if He punished men for not having a portion of the Divine perfections, or for not being able to be Gods like Himself.
Could not God have at least endowed men with that sort of perfection of which their nature is susceptible? If some men are good or render themselves agreeable to their God, why did not this God bestow the same favor or give the same dispositions to all beings of our kind? Why does the number of wicked exceed so greatly the number of good people? Why, for every friend, does God find ten thousand enemies in a world which depended upon Him alone to people with honest men? If it is true that God intends to form in heaven a court of saints, of chosen ones, or of men who have lived in this world according to His views, would He not have had a court more numerous, more brilliant, and more honorable to Him, if it were composed of all the men to whom, in creating them, He could have granted the degree of goodness necessary to obtain eternal happiness? Finally, were it not easier not to take man from nothingness than to create him full of defects, rebellious to his Creator, perpetually exposed to lose himself by a fatal abuse of his liberty? Instead of creating men, a perfect God ought to have created only docile and submissive angels. The angels, it is said, are free; a few among them have sinned; but all of them have not sinned; all have not abused their liberty by revolting against their Master. Could not God have created only angels of the good kind? If God could create angels who have not sinned, could He not create men sinless, or those who would never abuse their liberty by doing evil. If the chosen ones are incapable of sinning in heaven, could not God have made sinless men upon the earth?
LXXVII.—IT IS ABSURD TO SAY THAT GOD'S CONDUCT MUST BE A MYSTERY TO MAN, AND THAT HE HAS NO RIGHT TO EXAMINE AND JUDGE IT.
We are told that the enormous distance which separates God from men, makes God's conduct necessarily a mystery for us, and that we have no right to interrogate our Master. Is this statement satisfactory? But according to you, when my eternal happiness is involved, have I not the right to examine God's own conduct? It is but with the hope of happiness that men submit to the empire of a God. A despot to whom men are subjected but through fear, a master whom they can not interrogate, a totally inaccessible sovereign, can not merit the homage of intelligent beings. If God's conduct is a mystery to me, it is not made for me. Man can not adore, admire, respect, or imitate a conduct of which everything is impossible to conceive, or of which he can not form any but revolting ideas; unless it is pretended that he should worship all the things of which he is forced to be ignorant, and then all that he does not understand becomes admirable.
Priests! you teach us that the designs of God are impenetrable; that His ways are not our ways; that His thoughts are not our thoughts; that it is folly to complain of His administration, whose motives and secret ways are entirely unknown to us; that there is temerity in accusing Him of unjust judgments, because they are incomprehensible to us. But do you not see that by speaking in this manner, you destroy with your own hands all your profound systems which have no design but to explain the ways of Divinity that you call impenetrable? These judgments, these ways, and these designs, have you penetrated them? You dare not say so; and, although you season incessantly, you do not understand them more than we do. If by chance you know the plan of God, which you tell us to admire, while there are many people who find it so little worthy of a just, good, intelligent, and rational being; do not say that this plan is impenetrable. If you are as ignorant as we, have some indulgence for those who ingenuously confess that they comprehend nothing of it, or that they see nothing in it Divine. Cease to persecute for opinions which you do not understand yourselves; cease to slander each other for dreams and conjectures which are altogether contradictory; speak to us of intelligible and truly useful things; and no longer tell us of the impenetrable ways of a God, about which you do nothing but stammer and contradict yourselves.
In speaking to us incessantly of the immense depths of Divine wisdom, in forbidding us to fathom these depths by telling us that it is insolence to call God to the tribunal of our humble reason, in making it a crime to judge our Master, the theologians only confess the embarrassment in which they find themselves as soon as they have to render account of the conduct of a God, which they tell us is marvelous, only because it is totally impossible for them to understand it themselves.
LXXVIII.—IT IS ABSURD TO CALL HIM A GOD OF JUSTICE AND GOODNESS, WHO INFLICTS EVIL INDISCRIMINATELY ON THE GOOD AND THE WICKED, UPON THE INNOCENT AND THE GUILTY; IT IS IDLE TO DEMAND THAT THE UNFORTUNATE SHOULD CONSOLE THEMSELVES FOR THEIR MISFORTUNES, IN THE VERY ARMS OF THE ONE WHO ALONE IS THE AUTHOR OF THEM.
Physical evil commonly passes as the punishment of sin. Calamities, diseases, famines, wars, earthquakes, are the means which God employs to chastise perverse men. Therefore, they have no difficulty in attributing these evils to the severity of a just and good God. However, do we not see these plagues fall indiscriminately upon the good and the wicked, upon the impious and the pious, upon the innocent and the guilty? How can we be made to admire, in this proceeding, the justice and the goodness of a being, the idea of whom appears so consoling to the unfortunate? Doubtless the brain of these unfortunate ones has been disturbed by their misfortunes, since they forget that God is the arbiter of things, the sole dispenser of the events of this world. In this case ought they not to blame Him for the evils for which they would find consolation in His arms? Unfortunate father! you console yourself in the bosom of Providence for the loss of a cherished child or of a wife, who made your happiness! Alas! do you not see that your God has killed them? Your God has rendered you miserable; and you want Him to console you for the fearful blows He has inflicted upon you.
The fantastic and supernatural notions of theology have succeeded so thoroughly in overcoming the simplest, the clearest, the most natural ideas of the human spirit, that the pious, incapable of accusing God of malice, accustom themselves to look upon these sad afflictions as indubitable proofs of celestial goodness. Are they in affliction, they are told to believe that God loves them, that God visits them, that God wishes to try them. Thus it is that religion changes evil into good! Some one has said profanely, but with reason: "If the good God treats thus those whom He loves, I beseech Him very earnestly not to think of me." Men must have formed very sinister and very cruel ideas of their God whom they call so good, in order to persuade themselves that the most frightful calamities and the most painful afflictions are signs of His favor! Would a wicked Genii or a Devil be more ingenious in tormenting his enemies, than sometimes is this God of goodness, who is so often occupied with inflicting His chastisements upon His dearest friends?
LXXIX.—A GOD WHO PUNISHES THE FAULTS WHICH HE COULD HAVE PREVENTED, IS A FOOL, WHO ADDS INJUSTICE TO FOOLISHNESS.
What would we say or a father who, we are assured, watches without relaxation over the welfare of his feeble and unforeseeing children, and who, however, would leave them at liberty to go astray in the midst of rocks, precipices, and waters; who would prevent them but rarely from following their disordered appetites; who would permit them to handle, without precaution, deadly arms, at the risk of wounding themselves severely? What would we think of this same father, if, instead of blaming himself for the harm which would have happened to his poor children, he should punish them for their faults in the most cruel way? We would say, with reason, that this father is a fool, who joins injustice to foolishness. A God who punishes the faults which He could have prevented, is a being who lacks wisdom, goodness, and equity. A God of foresight would prevent evil, and in this way would be saved the trouble of punishing it. A good God would not punish weaknesses which He knows to be inherent in human nature. A just God, if He has made man, would not punish him for not being strong enough to resist his desires. To punish weakness, is the most unjust tyranny. Is it not calumniating a just God, to say that He punishes men for their faults, even in the present life? How would He punish beings whom He alone could correct, and who, as long as they had not received grace, can not act otherwise than they do?
According to the principles of theologians themselves, man, in his actual state of corruption, can do nothing but evil, for without Divine grace he has not the strength to do good. Moreover, if man's nature, abandoned to itself, of destitute of Divine help, inclines him necessarily to evil, or renders him incapable of doing good, what becomes of his free will? According to such principles, man can merit neither reward nor punishment; in rewarding man for the good he does, God would but recompense Himself; in punishing man for the evil he does, God punishes him for not having been given the grace, without which it was impossible for him to do better.
LXXX.—FREE WILL IS AN IDLE FANCY.
Theologians tell and repeat to us that man is free, while all their teachings conspire to destroy his liberty. Trying to justify Divinity, they accuse him really of the blackest injustice. They suppose that, without grace, man is compelled to do evil: and they maintain that God will punish him for not having been given the grace to do good! With a little reflection, we will be obliged to see that man in all things acts by compulsion, and that his free will is a chimera, even according to the theological system. Does it depend upon man whether or not he shall be born of such or such parents? Does it depend upon man to accept or not to accept the opinions of his parents and of his teachers? If I were born of idolatrous or Mohammedan parents, would it have depended upon me to become a Christian? However, grave Doctors of Divinity assure us that a just God will damn without mercy all those to whom He has not given the grace to know the religion of the Christians.
Man's birth does not depend upon his choice; he was not asked if he would or would not come into the world; nature did not consult him upon the country and the parents that she gave him; the ideas he acquired, his opinions, his true or false notions are the necessary fruits of the education which he has received, and of which he has not been the master; his passions and his desires are the necessary results of the temperament which nature has given him, and of the ideas with which he has been inspired; during the whole course of his life, his wishes and his actions are determined by his surroundings, his habits, his occupations, his pleasures, his conversations, and by the thoughts which present themselves involuntarily to him; in short, by a multitude of events and accidents which are beyond his control. Incapable of foreseeing the future, he knows neither what he will wish, nor what he will do in the time which must immediately follow the present. Man passes his life, from the moment of his birth to that of his death, without having been free one instant. Man, you say, wishes, deliberates, chooses, determines; hence you conclude that his actions are free. It is true that man intends, but he is not master of his will or of his desires. He can desire and wish only what he judges advantageous for himself; he can not love pain nor detest pleasure. Man, it will be said, sometimes prefers pain to pleasure; but then, he prefers a passing pain in the hope of procuring a greater and more durable pleasure. In this case, the idea of a greater good determines him to deprive himself of one less desirable.
It is not the lover who gives to his mistress the features by which he is enchanted; he is not then the master to love or not to love the object of his tenderness; he is not the master of the imagination or the temperament which dominates him; from which it follows, evidently, that man is not the master of the wishes and desires which rise in his soul, independently of him. But man, say you, can resist his desires; then he is free. Man resists his desires when the motives which turn him from an object are stronger than those which draw him toward it; but then, his resistance is necessary. A man who fears dishonor and punishment more than he loves money, resists necessarily the desire to take possession of another's money. Are we not free when we deliberate?—but has one the power to know or not to know, to be uncertain or to be assured? Deliberation is the necessary effect of the uncertainty in which we find ourselves with reference to the results of our actions. As soon as we believe ourselves certain of these results, we necessarily decide; and then we act necessarily according as we shall have judged right or wrong. Our judgments, true or false, are not free; they are necessarily determined by ideas which we have received, or which our mind has formed. Man is not free in his choice; he is evidently compelled to choose what he judges the most useful or the most agreeable for himself. When he suspends his choice, he is not more free; he is forced to suspend it till he knows or believes he knows the qualities of the objects presented to him, or until he has weighed the consequence of his actions. Man, you will say, decides every moment on actions which he knows will endanger him; man kills himself sometimes, then he is free. I deny it! Has man the ability to reason correctly or incorrectly? Do not his reason and his wisdom depend either upon opinions that he has formed, or upon his mental constitution? As neither the one nor the other depends upon his will, they can not in any wise prove his liberty.
If I make the wager to do or not to do a thing, am I not free? Does it not depend upon me to do or not to do it? No; I will answer you, the desire to win the wager will necessarily determine you to do or not to do the thing in question. "But if I consent to lose the wager?" Then the desire to prove to me that you are free will have become to you a stronger motive than the desire to win the wager; and this motive will necessarily have determined you to do or not to do what was understood between us. But you will say, "I feel myself free." It is an illusion which may be compared to that of the fly in the fable, which, lighting on the shaft of a heavy wagon, applauded itself as driver of the vehicle which carried it. Man who believes himself free, is a fly who believes himself the master-motor in the machine of the universe, while he himself, without his own volition, is carried on by it. The feeling which makes us believe that we are free to do or not to do a thing, is but a pure illusion. When we come to the veritable principle of our actions, we will find that they are nothing but the necessary results of our wills and of our desires, which are never within our power. You believe yourselves free because you do as you choose; but are you really free to will or not to will, to desire or not to desire? Your wills and your desires, are they not necessarily excited by objects or by qualities which do not depend upon you at all?
LXXXI.—WE SHOULD NOT CONCLUDE FROM THIS THAT SOCIETY HAS NOT THE RIGHT TO CHASTISE THE WICKED.
If the actions of men are necessary, if men are not free, what right has society to punish the wicked who infest it? Is it not very unjust to chastise beings who could not act otherwise than they did? If the wicked act from the impulse of their corrupt nature, society in punishing them acts necessarily on its side from the desire to preserve itself. Certain objects produce in us the feeling of pain; therefore our nature compels us to hate them, and incites us to remove them. A tiger pressed by hunger, attacks the man whom he wishes to devour; but the man is not the master of his fear of the tiger, and seeks necessarily the means of exterminating it.
LXXXII.—REFUTATION OF THE ARGUMENTS IN FAVOR OF FREE WILL.
If everything is necessary, if errors, opinions, and ideas of men are fated, how or why can we pretend to reform them? The errors of men are the necessary results of their ignorance; their ignorance, their obstinacy, their credulity, are the necessary results of their inexperience, of their indifference, of their lack of reflection; the same as congestion of the brain or lethargy are the natural effects of some diseases. Truth, experience, reflection, reason, are the proper remedies to cure ignorance, fanaticism, and follies; the same as bleeding is good to soothe congestion of the brain. But you will say, why does not truth produce this effect upon many of the sick heads? There are some diseases which resist all remedies; it is impossible to cure obstinate patients who refuse to take the remedies which are given them; the interest of some men and the folly of others naturally oppose them to the admission of truth. A cause produces its effect only when it is not interrupted in its action by other causes which are stronger, or which weaken the action of the first cause or render it useless. It is entirely impossible to have the best arguments accepted by men who are strongly interested in error; who are prejudiced in its favor; who refuse to reflect; but it must necessarily be that truth undeceives the honest souls who seek it in good faith. Truth is a cause; it produces necessarily its effect when its impulse is not interrupted by causes which suspend its effects.
To take away from man his free will, is, we are told, to make of him a pure machine, an automaton without liberty; there would exist in him neither merit nor virtue What is merit in man?
It is a certain manner of acting which renders him estimable in the eyes of his fellow beings. What is virtue? It is the disposition that causes us to do good to others. What can there be contemptible in automatic machines capable of producing such desirable effects? Marcus Aurelius was a very useful spring to the vast machine of the Roman Empire. By what right will a machine despise another machine, whose springs would facilitate its own play? Good people are springs which assist society in its tendency to happiness; wicked men are badly-formed springs, which disturb the order, the progress, and harmony of society. If for its own interests society loves and rewards the good, she hates, despises, and removes the wicked, as useless or dangerous motors.
LXXXIV.—GOD HIMSELF, IF THERE WAS A GOD, WOULD NOT BE FREE; HENCE THE USELESSNESS OF ALL RELIGION.
The world is a necessary agent; all the beings which compose it are united to each other, and can not do otherwise than they do, so long as they are moved by the same causes and possessed of the same qualities. If they lose these qualities, they will act necessarily in a different way. God Himself (admitting His existence a moment) can not be regarded as a free agent; if there existed a God, His manner of acting would necessarily be determined by the qualities inherent in His nature; nothing would be able to alter or to oppose His wishes. This considered, neither our actions nor our prayers nor our sacrifices could suspend or change His invariable progress and His immutable designs, from which we are compelled to conclude that all religion would be entirely useless.
LXXXV.—EVEN ACCORDING TO THEOLOGICAL PRINCIPLES, MAN IS NOT FREE ONE INSTANT.
If theologians were not constantly contradicting each other, they would know, from their own hypotheses, that man can not be called free for an instant. Is not man supposed to be in a continual dependence upon God? Is one free, when one could not have existed or can not live without God, and when one ceases to exist at the pleasure of His supreme will? If God created man of nothing, if the preservation of man is a continual creation, if God can not lose sight of His creature for an instant, if all that happens to him is a result of the Divine will, if man is nothing of himself, if all the events which he experiences are the effects of Divine decrees, if he can not do any good without assistance from above, how can it be pretended that man enjoys liberty during one moment of his life? If God did not save him in the moment when he sins, how could man sin? If God preserves him, God, therefore, forces him to live in order to sin.
LXXXVI.—ALL EVIL, ALL DISORDER, ALL SIN, CAN BE ATTRIBUTED BUT TO GOD; AND CONSEQUENTLY, HE HAS NO RIGHT TO PUNISH OR REWARD.
Divinity is continually compared to a king, the majority of whose subjects revolt against Him and it is pretended that He has the right to reward His faithful subjects, and to punish those who revolt against Him. This comparison is not just in any of its parts. God presides over a machine, of which He has made all the springs; these springs act according to the way in which God has formed them; it is the fault of His inaptitude if these springs do not contribute to the harmony of the machine in which the workman desired to place them. God is a creating King, who created all kinds of subjects for Himself; who formed them according to His pleasure, and whose wishes can never find any resistance. If God in His empire has rebellious subjects, it is God who resolved to have rebellious subjects. If the sins of men disturb the order of the world, it is God who desired this order to be disturbed. Nobody dares to doubt Divine justice; however, under the empire of a just God, we find nothing but injustice and violence. Power decides the fate of nations. Equity seems to be banished from the earth; a small number of men enjoy with impunity the repose, the fortunes, the liberty, and the life of all the others. Everything is in disorder in a world governed by a God of whom it is said that disorder displeases Him exceedingly.
LXXXVII.—MEN'S PRAYERS TO GOD PROVE SUFFICIENTLY THAT THEY ARE NOT SATISFIED WITH THE DIVINE ECONOMY.
Although men incessantly admire the wisdom the goodness, the justice, the beautiful order of Providence, they are, in fact, never contented with it. The prayers which they continually offer to Heaven, prove to us that they are not at all satisfied with God's administration. Praying to God, asking a favor of Him, is to mistrust His vigilant care; to pray God to avert or to suppress an evil, is to endeavor to put obstacles in the way of His justice; to implore the assistance of God in our calamities, means to appeal to the very author of these calamities in order to represent to Him our welfare; that He ought to rectify in our favor His plan, which is not beneficial to our interests. The optimist, or the one who thinks that everything is good in the world, and who repeats to us incessantly that we live in the best world possible, if he were consistent, ought never to pray; still less should he expect another world where men will be happier. Can there be a better world than the best possible of all worlds? Some of the theologians have treated the optimists as impious for having claimed that God could not have made a better world than the one in which we live; according to these doctors it is limiting the Divine power and insulting it. But do not theologians see that it is less offensive for God, to pretend that He did His best in creating the world, than to say that He, having the power to produce a better one, had the malice to make a very bad one? If the optimist, by his system, does wrong to the Divine power, the theologian, who treats him as impious, is himself a reprobate, who wounds the Divine goodness under pretext of taking interest in God.
LXXXVIII.—THE REPARATION OF THE INIQUITIES AND THE MISERIES OF THIS WORLD IN ANOTHER WORLD, IS AN IDLE CONJECTURE AND AN ABSURD SUPPOSITION.
When we complain of the evils of which this world is the theater, we are referred to another world; we are told that there God will repair all the iniquities and the miseries which He permits for a time here below. However, if leaving His eternal justice to sleep for a time, God could consent to evil during the period of the existence of our globe, what assurance have we that during the existence of another globe, Divine justice will not likewise sleep during the misfortunes of its inhabitants? They console us in our troubles by saying, that God is patient, and that His justice, although often very slow, is not the less certain. But do you not see, that patience can not be suited to a being just, immutable, and omnipotent? Can God tolerate injustice for an instant? To temporize with an evil that one knows of, evinces either uncertainty, weakness, or collusion; to tolerate evil which one has the power to prevent, is to consent that evil should be committed.
LXXXIX.—THEOLOGY JUSTIFIES THE EVIL AND INJUSTICE PERMITTED BY ITS GOD, ONLY BY CONCEDING TO THIS GOD THE RIGHT OF THE STRONGEST, THAT IS TO SAY, THE VIOLATION OF ALL RIGHTS, OR IN COMMANDING FROM MEN A STUPID DEVOTION.
I hear a multitude of theologians tell me on all sides, that God is infinitely just, but that His justice is not that of men! Of what kind, or of what nature is this Divine justice then? What idea can I form of a justice which so often resembles human injustice? Is it not confounding all our ideas of justice and of injustice, to tell us that what is equitable in God is iniquitous in His creatures? How can we take as a model a being whose Divine perfections are precisely contrary to human perfections? God, you say, is the sovereign arbiter of our destinies; His supreme power, that nothing can limit, authorizes Him to do as He pleases with His works; a worm, such as man, has not the right to murmur against Him. This arrogant tone is literally borrowed from the language which the ministers of tyrants hold, when they silence those who suffer by their violences; it can not, then, be the language of the ministers of a God of whose equity they boast. It can not impose upon a being who reasons. Ministers of a just God! I tell you then, that the greatest power is not able to confer even upon your God Himself the right to be unjust to the vilest of His creatures. A despot is not a God. A God who arrogates to Himself the right to do evil, is a tyrant; a tyrant is not a model for men. He ought to be an execrable object in their eyes. Is it not strange that, in order to justify Divinity, they made of Him the most unjust of beings? As soon as we complain of His conduct, they think to silence us by claiming that God is the Master; which signifies that God, being the strongest, He is not subjected to ordinary rules. But the right of the strongest is the violation of all rights; it can pass as a right but in the eyes of a savage conqueror, who, in the intoxication of his fury, imagines he has the right to do as he pleases with the unfortunate ones whom he has conquered; this barbarous right can appear legitimate only to slaves, who are blind enough to think that everything is allowed to tyrants, who are too strong for them to resist.
By a foolish simplicity, or rather by a plain contradiction of terms, do we not see devotees exclaim, amidst the greatest calamities, that the good Lord is the Master? Well, illogical reasoners, you believe in good faith that the good Lord sends you the pestilence; that your good Lord gives war; that the good Lord is the cause of famine; in a word, that the good Lord, without ceasing to be good, has the will and the right to do you the greatest evils you can endure! Cease to call your Lord good when He does you harm; do not say that He is just; say that He is the strongest, and that it is impossible for you to avert the blows which His caprice inflicts upon you. God, you say, punishes us for our highest good; but what real benefit can result to a nation in being exterminated by contagion, murdered by wars, corrupted by the examples of perverse masters, continually pressed by the iron scepter of merciless tyrants, subjected to the scourge of a bad government, which often for centuries causes nations to suffer its destructive effects? The eyes of faith must be strange eyes, if we see by their means any advantage in the most dreadful miseries and in the most durable evils, in the vices and follies by which our kind is so cruelly afflicted!
XC.—REDEMPTION, AND THE CONTINUAL EXTERMINATIONS ATTRIBUTED TO JEHOVAH IN THE BIBLE, ARE SO MANY ABSURD AND RIDICULOUS INVENTIONS WHICH PRESUPPOSE AN UNJUST AND BARBAROUS GOD.
What strange ideas of the Divine justice must the Christians have who believe that their God, with the view of reconciling Himself with mankind, guilty without knowledge of the fault of their parents, sacrificed His own innocent and sinless Son! What would we say of a king, whose subjects having revolted against him, in order to appease himself could find no other expedient than to put to death the heir to his crown, who had taken no part in the general rebellion? It is, the Christian will say, through kindness for His subjects, incapable of satisfying themselves of His Divine justice, that God consented to the cruel death of His Son. But the kindness of a father to strangers does not give him the right to be unjust and cruel to his son. All the qualities that theology gives to its God annul each other. The exercise of one of His perfections is always at the expense of another.
Has the Jew any more rational ideas than the Christian of Divine justice? A king, by his pride, kindles the wrath of Heaven. Jehovah sends pestilence upon His innocent people; seventy thousand subjects are exterminated to expiate the fault of a monarch that the kindness of God resolved to spare.
XCI.—HOW CAN WE DISCOVER A TENDER, GENEROUS, AND EQUITABLE FATHER IN A BEING WHO HAS CREATED HIS CHILDREN BUT TO MAKE THEM UNHAPPY?
In spite of the injustice with which all religions are pleased to blacken the Divinity, men can not consent to accuse Him of iniquity; they fear that He, like the tyrants of this world, will be offended by the truth, and redouble the weight of His malice and tyranny upon them. They listen, then, to their priests, who tell them that their God is a tender Father; that this God is an equitable Monarch, whose object in this world is to assure Himself of the love, obedience, and respect of His subjects; who gives them the liberty to act, in order to give them occasion to deserve His favors and to acquire eternal happiness, which He does not owe them in any way. In what way can we recognize the tenderness of a Father who created the majority of His children but for the purpose of dragging out a life of pain, anxiety, and bitterness upon this earth? Is there any more fatal boon than this pretended liberty which, it is said, men can abuse, and thereby expose themselves to the risk of eternal misery?
XCII.—THE LIFE OF MORTALS, ALL WHICH TAKES PLACE HERE BELOW, TESTIFIES AGAINST MAN'S LIBERTY AND AGAINST THE JUSTICE AND GOODNESS OF A PRETENDED GOD.
In calling mortals into life, what a cruel and dangerous game does the Divinity force them to play! Thrust into the world without their wish, provided with a temperament of which they are not the masters, animated by passions and desires inherent in their nature, exposed to snares which they have not the skill to avoid, led away by events which they could neither foresee nor prevent, the unfortunate beings are obliged to follow a career which conducts them to horrible tortures.
Travelers assert that in some part of Asia reigns a sultan full of phantasies, and very absolute in his will. By a strange mania this prince spends his time sitting before a table, on which are placed six dice and a dice-box. One end of the table is covered with a pile of gold, for the purpose of exciting the cupidity of the courtiers and of the people by whom the sultan is surrounded. He, knowing the weak point of his subjects, speaks to them in this way: "Slaves! I wish you well; my aim is to enrich you and render you all happy. Do you see these treasures? Well, they are for you! try to win them; let each one in turn take this box and these dice; whoever shall have the good luck to raffle six, will be master of this treasure; but I warn you that he who has not the luck to throw the required number, will be precipitated forever into an obscure cell, where my justice exacts that he shall be burned by a slow fire." Upon this threat of the monarch, they regarded each other in consternation; no one willing to take a risk so dangerous. "What!" said the angry sultan, "no one wants to play? Oh, this does not suit me! My glory demands that you play. You will raffle then; I wish it; obey without replying!" It is well to observe that the despot's dice are prepared in such a way, that upon a hundred thousand throws there is but one that wins; thus the generous monarch has the pleasure to see his prison well filled, and his treasures seldom carried away. Mortals! this Sultan is your God; His treasures are heaven; His cell is hell; and you hold the dice!
XCIII.—IT IS NOT TRUE THAT WE OWE ANY GRATITUDE TO WHAT WE CALL PROVIDENCE.
We are constantly told that we owe an infinite gratitude to Providence for the countless blessings It is pleased to lavish upon us. They boast above all that our existence is a blessing. But, alas! how many mortals are really satisfied with their mode of existence? If life has its sweets, how much of bitterness is mingled with it? Is not one bitter trouble sufficient to blight all of a sudden the most peaceful and happy life? Is there a great number of men who, if it depended upon them, would wish to begin, at the same sacrifice, the painful career into which, without their consent, destiny has thrown them? You say that existence itself is a great blessing. But is not this existence continually troubled by griefs, fears, and often cruel and undeserved maladies. This existence, menaced on so many sides, can we not be deprived of it at any moment? Who is there, after having lived for some time, who has not been deprived of a beloved wife, a beloved child, a consoling friend, whose loss fills his mind constantly? There are very few mortals who have not been compelled to drink from the cup of bitterness; there are but few who have not often wished to die. Finally, it did not depend upon us to exist or not to exist. Would the bird be under such great obligations to the bird-catcher for having caught it in his net and for having put it into his cage, in order to eat it after being amused with it?
XCIV.—TO PRETEND THAT MAN IS THE BELOVED CHILD OF PROVIDENCE, GOD'S FAVORITE, THE ONLY OBJECT OF HIS LABORS, THE KING OF NATURE, IS FOLLY.
In spite of the infirmities, the troubles, the miseries to which man is compelled to submit in this world; in spite of the danger which his alarmed imagination creates in regard to another, he is still foolish enough to believe himself to be God's favorite, the only aim of all His works. He imagines that the entire universe was made for him; he calls himself arrogantly the king of nature, and ranks himself far above other animals. Poor mortal! upon what can you establish your high pretensions? It is, you say, upon your soul, upon your reason, upon your sublime faculties, which place you in a condition to exercise an absolute authority over the beings which surround you. But weak sovereign of this world, art thou sure one instant of the duration of thy reign? The least atoms of matter which you despise, are they not sufficient to deprive you of your throne and life? Finally, does not the king of animals terminate always by becoming food for the worms?
You speak of your soul. But do you know what your soul is? Do you not see that this soul is but the assemblage of your organs, from which life results? Would you refuse a soul to other animals who live, who think, who judge, who compare, who seek pleasure, and avoid pain even as you do, and who often possess organs which are better than your own? You boast of your intellectual faculties, but these faculties which render you so proud, do they make you any happier than other creatures? Do you often make use of this reason which you glory in, and which religion commands you not to listen to? Those animals which you disdain because they are weaker or less cunning than yourself, are they subject to troubles, to mental anxieties, to a thousand frivolous passions, to a thousand imaginary needs, of which your heart is continually the prey? Are they, like you, tormented by the past, alarmed for the future?
Limited solely to the present, what you call their instinct, and what I call their intelligence, is it not sufficient to preserve and to defend them and to provide for their needs? This instinct, of which you speak with disdain, does it not often serve them much better than your wonderful faculties? Their peaceable ignorance, is it not more advantageous than these extravagant meditations and these futile investigations which render you miserable, and for which you are driven to murdering beings of your own noble kind? Finally, these animals, have they, like mortals, a troubled imagination which makes them fear not only death, but even eternal torments? Augustus, having heard that Herod, king of Judea, had murdered his sons, cried out: "It would be better to be Herod's pig than his son!" We can say as much of men; this beloved child of Providence runs much greater risks than all other animals. After having suffered a great deal in this world, do we not believe ourselves in danger of suffering for eternity in another?
XCV.—COMPARISON BETWEEN MAN AND ANIMALS.
What is the exact line of demarcation between man and the other animals which he calls brutes? In what way does he essentially differ from the beasts? It is, we are told, by his intelligence, by the faculties of his mind, by his reason, that man is superior to all the other animals, which in all they do, act but by physical impulsions, reason taking no part. But the beasts, having more limited needs than men, do very well without these intellectual faculties, which would be perfectly useless in their way of living. Their instinct is sufficient for them, while all the faculties of man are hardly sufficient to render his existence endurable, and to satisfy the needs which his imagination, his prejudices, and his institutions multiply to his torment.
The brute is not affected by the same objects as man; it has neither the same needs, nor the same desires, nor the same whims; it early reaches maturity, while nothing is more rare than to see the human being enjoying all of his faculties, exercising them freely, and making a proper use of them for his own happiness.
XCVI.—THERE ARE NO MORE DETESTABLE ANIMALS IN THIS WORLD THAN TYRANTS.
We are assured that the human soul is a simple substance; but if the soul is such a simple substance, it ought to be the same in all the individuals of the human race, who all ought to have the same intellectual faculties; however, this is not the case; men differ as much in qualities of mind as in the features of the face. There are in the human race, beings as different from one another as man is from a horse or a dog. What conformity or resemblance do we find between some men? What an infinite distance between the genius of a Locke, of a Newton, and that of a peasant, of a Hottentot, or of a Laplander!
Man differs from other animals but by the difference of his organization, which causes him to produce effects of which they are not capable. The variety which we notice in the organs of individuals of the human race, suffices to explain to us the difference which is often found between them in regard to the intellectual faculties. More or less of delicacy in these organs, of heat in the blood, of promptitude in the fluids, more or less of suppleness or of rigidity in the fibers and the nerves, must necessarily produce the infinite diversities which are noticeable in the minds of men. It is by exercise, by habitude, by education, that the human mind is developed and succeeds in rising above the beings which surround it; man, without culture and without experience, is a being as devoid of reason and of industry as the brute. A stupid individual is a man whose organs are acted upon with difficulty, whose brain is hard to move, whose blood circulates slowly; a man of mind is he whose organs are supple, who feels very quickly, whose brain moves promptly; a learned man is one whose organs and whose brain have been exercised a long while upon objects which occupy him.
The man without culture, experience, or reason, is he not more despicable and more abominable than the vilest insects, or the most ferocious beasts? Is there a more detestable being in nature than a Tiberius, a Nero, a Caligula? These destroyers of the human race, known by the name of conquerors, have they better souls than those of bears, lions, and panthers? Are there more detestable animals in this world than tyrants?
XCVII.—REFUTATION OF MAN'S EXCELLENCE.
Human extravagances soon dispel, in the eyes of reason, the superiority which man arrogantly claims over other animals. Do we not see many animals show more gentleness, more reflection and reason than the animal which calls itself reasonable par excellence? Are there amongst men, who are so often enslaved and oppressed, societies as well organized as those of ants, bees, or beavers? Do we ever see ferocious beasts of the same kind meet upon the plains to devour each other without profit? Do we see among them religious wars? The cruelty of beasts against other species is caused by hunger, the need of nourishment; the cruelty of man against man has no other motive than the vanity of his masters and the folly of his impertinent prejudices. Theorists who try to make us believe that everything in the universe was made for man, are very much embarrassed when we ask them in what way can so many mischievous animals which continually infest our life here, contribute to the welfare of men. What known advantage results for God's friend to be bitten by a viper, stung by a gnat, devoured by vermin, torn into pieces by a tiger? Would not all these animals reason as wisely as our theologians, if they should pretend that man was made for them?
XCVIII.—AN ORIENTAL LEGEND.
At a short distance from Bagdad a dervis, celebrated for his holiness, passed his days tranquilly in agreeable solitude. The surrounding inhabitants, in order to have an interest in his prayers, eagerly brought to him every day provisions and presents. The holy man thanked God incessantly for the blessings Providence heaped upon him. "O Allah," said he, "how ineffable is Thy tenderness toward Thy servants. What have I done to deserve the benefactions which Thy liberality loads me with! Oh, Monarch of the skies! oh, Father of nature! what praises could be worthy to celebrate Thy munificence and Thy paternal cares! O Allah, how great are Thy gifts to the children of men!" Filled with gratitude, our hermit made a vow to undertake for the seventh time the pilgrimage to Mecca. The war, which then existed between the Persians and the Turks, could not make him defer the execution of his pious enterprise. Full of confidence in God, he began his journey; under the inviolable safeguard of a respected garb, he passed through without obstacle the enemies' detachments; far from being molested, he receives at every step marks of veneration from the soldiers of both sides. At last, overcome by fatigue, he finds himself obliged to seek a shelter from the rays of the burning sun; he finds it beneath a fresh group of palm-trees, whose roots were watered by a limpid rivulet. In this solitary place, where the silence was broken only by the murmuring of the waters and the singing of the birds, the man of God found not only an enchanting retreat, but also a delicious repast; he had but to extend the hand to gather dates and other agreeable fruits; the rivulet can appease his thirst; very soon a green plot invites him to take sweet repose. As he awakens he performs the holy cleansing; and in a transport of ecstasy, he exclaimed: "O Allah! HOW GREAT IS THY GOODNESS TO THE CHILDREN OF MEN!" Well rested, refreshed, full of life and gayety, our holy man continues on his road; it conducts him for some time through a delightful country, which offers to his sight but blooming shores and trees filled with fruit. Softened by this spectacle, he worships incessantly the rich and liberal hand of Providence, which is everywhere seen occupied with the welfare of the human race. Going a little farther, he comes across a few mountains, which were quite hard to ascend; but having arrived at their summit, a hideous sight suddenly meets his eyes; his soul is all consternation. He discovers a vast plain entirely devastated by the sword and fire; he looks at it and finds it covered with more than a hundred thousand corpses, deplorable remains of a bloody battle which had taken place a few days previous. Eagles, vultures, ravens, and wolves were devouring the dead bodies with which the earth was covered. This sight plunges our pilgrim into a sad reverie. Heaven, by a special favor, had made him understand the language of beasts. He heard a wolf, gorged with human flesh, exclaim in his excessive joy: "O Allah! how great is Thy kindness for the children of wolves! Thy foreseeing wisdom takes care to send infatuation upon these detestable men who are so dangerous to us. Through an effect of Thy Providence which watches over Thy creatures, these, our destroyers, murder each other, and thus furnish us with sumptuous repasts. O Allah! HOW GREAT IS THY GOODNESS TO THE CHILDREN OF WOLVES!"
XCIX.—IT IS FOOLISH TO SEE IN THE UNIVERSE ONLY THE BENEFACTIONS OF HEAVEN, AND TO BELIEVE THAT THIS UNIVERSE WAS MADE BUT FOR MAN.
An exalted imagination sees in the universe but the benefactions of Heaven; a calm mind finds good and evil in it. I exist, you will say; but is this existence always a benefit? You will say, look at this sun, which shines for you; this earth, which is covered with fruits and verdure; these flowers, which bloom Tor our sight and smell; these trees, which bend beneath the weight of fruits; these pure streams, which flow but to quench your thirst; these seas, which embrace the universe to facilitate your commerce; these animals, which a foreseeing nature produces for your use! Yes, I see all these things, and I enjoy them when I can. But in some climates this beautiful sun is most always obscured from me; in others, its excessive heat torments me, produces storm, gives rise to dreadful diseases, dries up the fields; the meadows have no grass, the trees are fruitless, the harvests are scorched, the springs are dried up; I can scarcely exist, and I sigh under the cruelty of a nature which you find so benevolent. If these seas bring me spices, riches, and useless things, do they not destroy a multitude of mortals who are dupes enough to go after them?
Man's vanity persuades him that he is the sole center of the universe; he creates for himself a world and a God; he thinks himself of sufficient consequence to derange nature at his will, but he reasons as an atheist when the question of other animals is involved. Does he not imagine that the individuals different from his species are automatons unworthy of the cares of universal Providence, and that the beasts can not be the objects of its justice and kindness? Mortals consider fortunate or unfortunate events, health or sickness, life and death, abundance or famine, as rewards or punishments for the use or misuse of the liberty which they arrogate to themselves. Do they reason on this principle when animals are taken into consideration? No; although they see them under a just God enjoy and suffer, be healthy and sick, live and die, like themselves, it does not enter their mind to ask what crimes these beasts have committed in order to cause the displeasure of the Arbiter of nature. Philosophers, blinded by their theological prejudices, in order to disembarrass themselves, have gone so far as to pretend that beasts have no feelings!
Will men never renounce their foolish pretensions? Will they not recognize that nature was not made for them? Will they not see that this nature has placed on equal footing all the beings which she produced? Will they not see that all organized beings are equally made to be born and to die, to enjoy and to suffer? Finally, instead of priding themselves preposterously on their mental faculties, are they not compelled to admit that they often render them more unhappy than the beasts, in which we find neither opinions, prejudices, vanities, nor the weaknesses which decide at every moment the well-being of men?
C.—WHAT IS THE SOUL? WE KNOW NOTHING ABOUT IT. IF THIS PRETENDED SOUL WAS OF ANOTHER ESSENCE FROM THAT OF THE BODY, THEIR UNION WOULD BE IMPOSSIBLE.
The superiority which men arrogate to themselves over other animals, is principally founded upon the opinion of possessing exclusively an immortal soul. But as soon as we ask what this soul is, they begin to stammer. It is an unknown substance; it is a secret force distinguished from their bodies; it is a spirit of which they can form no idea. Ask them how this spirit, which they suppose like their God, totally deprived of a physical substance, could combine itself with their material bodies? They will tell you that they know nothing about it; that it is a mystery to them; that this combination is the effect of the Almighty power. These are the clear ideas which men form of the hidden, or, rather, imaginary substance which they consider the motor of all their actions! If the soul is a substance essentially different from the body, and which can have no affinity with it, their union would be, not a mystery, but a thing impossible. Besides, this soul, being of an essence different from that of the body, ought to act necessarily in a different way from it. However, we see that the movements of the body are felt by this pretended soul, and that these two substances, so different in essence, always act in harmony. You will tell us that this harmony is a mystery; and I will tell you that I do not see my soul, that I know and feel but my body; that it is my body which feels, which reflects, which judges, which suffers, and which enjoys, and that all of its faculties are the necessary results of its own mechanism or of its organization.
CI.—THE EXISTENCE OF A SOUL IS AN ABSURD SUPPOSITION, AND THE EXISTENCE OF AN IMMORTAL SOUL IS A STILL MORE ABSURD SUPPOSITION.
Although it is impossible for men to have the least idea of the soul, or of this pretended spirit which animates them, they persuade themselves, however, that this unknown soul is exempt from death; everything proves to them that they feel, think, acquire ideas, enjoy or suffer, but by the means of the senses or of the material organs of the body. Even admitting the existence of this soul, one can not refuse to recognize that it depends wholly on the body, and suffers conjointly with it all the vicissitudes which it experiences itself; and however it is imagined that it has by its nature nothing analogous with it; it is pretended that it can act and feel without the assistance of this body; that deprived of this body and robbed of its senses, this soul will be able to live, to enjoy, to suffer, be sensitive of enjoyment or of rigorous torments. Upon such a tissue of conjectural absurdities the wonderful opinion of the immortality of the soul is built.
If I ask what ground we have for supposing that the soul is immortal: they reply, it is because man by his nature desires to be immortal, or to live forever. But I rejoin, if you desire anything very much, is it sufficient to conclude that this desire will be fulfilled? By what strange logic do they decide that a thing can not fail to happen because they ardently desire it to happen? Man's childish desires of the imagination, are they the measure of reality? Impious people, you say, deprived of the flattering hopes of another life, desire to be annihilated. Well, have they not just as much right to conclude by this desire that they will be annihilated, as you to conclude that you will exist forever because you desire it?
CII.—IT IS EVIDENT THAT THE WHOLE OF MAN DIES.
Man dies entirely. Nothing is more evident to him who is not delirious. The human body, after death, is but a mass, incapable of producing any movements the union of which constitutes life. We no longer see circulation, respiration, digestion, speech, or reflection. It is claimed then that the soul has separated itself from the body. But to say that this soul, which is unknown, is the principle of life, is saying nothing, unless that an unknown force is the invisible principle of imperceptible movements. Nothing is more natural and more simple than to believe that the dead man lives no more, nothing more absurd than to believe that the dead man is still living.
We ridicule the simplicity of some nations whose fashion is to bury provisions with the dead—under the idea that this food might be useful and necessary to them in another life. Is it more ridiculous or more absurd to believe that men will eat after death than to imagine that they will think; that they will have agreeable or disagreeable ideas; that they will enjoy; that they will suffer; that they will be conscious of sorrow or joy when the organs which produce sensations or ideas are dissolved and reduced to dust? To claim that the souls of men will be happy or unhappy after the death of the body, is to pretend that man will be able to see without eyes, to hear without ears, to taste without a palate, to smell without a nose, and to feel without hands and without skin. Nations who believe themselves very rational, adopt, nevertheless, such ideas.
CIII.—INCONTESTABLE PROOFS AGAINST THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE SOUL.
The dogma of the immortality of the soul assumes that the soul is a simple substance, a spirit; but I will always ask, what is a spirit? It is, you say, a substance deprived of expansion, incorruptible, and which has nothing in common with matter. But if this is true, how came your soul into existence? how did it grow? how did it strengthen? how weaken itself, get out of order, and grow old with your body? In reply to all these questions, you say that they are mysteries; but if they are mysteries, you understand nothing about them. If you do not understand anything about them, how can you positively affirm anything about them? In order to believe or to affirm anything, it is necessary at least to know what that consists of which we believe and which we affirm. To believe in the existence of your immaterial soul, is to say that you are persuaded of the existence of a thing of which it is impossible for you to form any true idea; it is to believe in words without attaching any sense to them; to affirm that the thing is as you claim, is the highest folly or assumption.
CIV.—THE ABSURDITY OF SUPERNATURAL CAUSES, WHICH THEOLOGIANS CONSTANTLY
CALL TO THEIR AID.
Are not theologians strange reasoners? As soon as they can not guess the natural causes of things, they invent causes, which they call supernatural; they imagine them spirits, occult causes, inexplicable agents, or rather words much more obscure than the things which they attempt to explain. Let us remain in nature when we desire to understand its phenomena; let us ignore the causes which are too delicate to be seized by our organs; and let us be assured that by seeking outside of nature we can never find the solution of nature's problems. Even upon the theological hypothesis—that is to say, supposing an Almighty motor in matter—what right have theologians to refuse their God the power to endow this matter with thought? Would it be more difficult for Him to create combinations of matter from which results thought, than spirits which think? At least, in supposing a substance endowed with thought, we could form some idea of the object of our thoughts, or of what thinks in us; while attributing thought to an immaterial being, it is impossible for us to form the least idea of it.
CV.—IT IS FALSE THAT MATERIALISM CAN BE DEBASING TO THE HUMAN RACE.
Materialism, it is objected, makes of man a mere machine, which is considered very debasing to the human race. But will the human race be more honored when it can be said that man acts by the secret impulsions of a spirit, or a certain something which animates him without his knowing how? It is easy to perceive that the superiority which is given to mind over matter, or to the soul over the body, is based upon the ignorance of the nature of this soul; while we are more familiarized with matter or the body, which we imagine we know, and of which we believe we have understood the springs; but the most simple movements of our bodies are, for every thinking man, enigmas as difficult to divine as thought.
The esteem which so many people have for the spiritual substance, appears to result from the impossibility they find in defining it in an intelligible way. The contempt which our metaphysicians show for matter, comes from the fact that "familiarity breeds contempt." When they tell us that the soul is more excellent and noble than the body, they tell us nothing, except that what they know nothing about must be more beautiful than that of which they have some faint ideas.
CVII.—THE DOGMA OF ANOTHER LIFE IS USEFUL BUT FOR THOSE WHO PROFIT BY IT AT THE EXPENSE OF THE CREDULOUS PUBLIC.
We are constantly told of the usefulness of the dogma of life hereafter. It is pretended that even if it should be a fiction, it is advantageous, because it imposes upon men and leads them to virtue. But is it true that this dogma renders men wiser and more virtuous? The nations where this fiction is established, are they remarkable for the morality of their conduct? Is not the visible world always preferred to the invisible world? If those who are charged to instruct and to govern men had themselves enlightenment and virtue, they would govern them far better by realities than by vain chimeras; but deceitful, ambitious, and corrupt, the legislators found it everywhere easier to put the nations to sleep by fables than to teach them truths; than to develop their reason; than to excite them to virtue by sensible and real motives; than to govern them in a reasonable way.
Theologians, no doubt, have had reasons for making the soul immaterial. They needed souls and chimeras to populate the imaginary regions which they have discovered in the other life. Material souls would have been subjected, like all bodies, to dissolution. Moreover, if men believe that everything is to perish with the body, the geographers of the other world would evidently lose the chance of guiding their souls to this unknown abode. They would draw no profits from the hopes with which they feast them, and from the terrors with which they take care to overwhelm them. If the future is of no real utility to the human race, it is at least of the greatest advantage to those who take upon themselves the responsibility of conducting mankind thither.
CVIII.—IT IS FALSE THAT THE DOGMA OF ANOTHER LIFE CAN BE CONSOLING; AND IF IT WERE, IT WOULD BE NO PROOF THAT THIS ASSERTION IS TRUE.
But, it will be said, is not the dogma of the immortality of the soul consoling for beings who often find themselves very unhappy here below? If this should be an illusion, is it not a sweet and agreeable one? Is it not a benefit for man to believe that he can live again and enjoy, sometime, the happiness which is refused to him on earth? Thus, poor mortals! you make your wishes the measure of the truth! Because you desire to live forever, and to be happier, you conclude from thence that you will live forever, and that you will be more fortunate in an unknown world than in the known world, in which you so often suffer! Consent, then, to leave without regret this world, which causes more trouble than pleasure to the majority of you. Resign yourselves to the order of destiny, which decrees that you, like all other beings, should not endure forever. But what will become of me? you ask! What you were several millions of years ago. You were then, I do not know what; resign yourselves, then, to become again in an instant, I do not know what; what you were then; return peaceably to the universal home from which you came without your knowledge into your material form, and pass by without murmuring, like all the beings which surround you!
We are repeatedly told that religious ideas offer infinite consolation to the unfortunate; it is pretended that the idea of the immortality of the soul and of a happier life has a tendency to lift up the heart of man and to sustain him in the midst of the adversities with which he is assailed in this life. Materialism, on the contrary, is, we are told, an afflicting system, tending to degrade man, which ranks him among brutes; which destroys his courage, whose only hope is complete annihilation, tending to lead him to despair, and inducing him to commit suicide as soon as he suffers in this world. The grand policy of theologians is to blow hot and to blow cold, to afflict and to console, to frighten and to reassure.
According to the fictions of theology, the regions of the other life are happy and unhappy. Nothing more difficult than to render one worthy of the abode of felicity; nothing easier than to obtain a place in the abode of torments that Divinity prepares for the unfortunate victims of His eternal fury. Those who find the idea of another life so flattering and so sweet, have they then forgotten that this other life, according to them, is to be accompanied by torments for the majority of mortals? Is not the idea of total annihilation infinitely preferable to the idea of an eternal existence accompanied with suffering and gnashing of teeth? The fear of ceasing to exist, is it more afflicting than the thought of having not always been? The fear of ceasing to be is but an evil for the imagination, which alone brought forth the dogma of another life.
You say, O Christian philosophers, that the idea of a happier life is delightful; we agree; there is no one who would not desire a more agreeable and a more durable existence than the one we enjoy here below. But, if Paradise is tempting, you will admit, also, that hell is frightful. It is very difficult to merit heaven, and very easy to gain hell. Do you not say that one straight and narrow path leads to the happy regions, and that a broad road leads to the regions of the unhappy? Do you not constantly tell us that the number of the chosen ones is very small, and that of the damned is very large? Do we not need, in order to be saved, such grace as your God grants to but few? Well! I tell you that these ideas are by no means consoling; I prefer to be annihilated at once rather than to burn forever; I will tell you that the fate of beasts appears to me more desirable than the fate of the damned; I will tell you that the belief which delivers me from overwhelming fears in this world, appears to me more desirable than the uncertainty in which I am left through belief in a God who, master of His favors, gives them but to His favorites, and who permits all the others to render themselves worthy of eternal punishments. It can be but blind enthusiasm or folly that can prefer a system which evidently encourages improbable conjectures, accompanied by uncertainty and desolating fear.
CIX.—ALL RELIGIOUS PRINCIPLES ARE IMAGINARY. INNATE SENSE IS BUT THE EFFECT OF A ROOTED HABIT. GOD IS AN IDLE FANCY, AND THE QUALITIES WHICH ARE LAVISHED UPON HIM DESTROY EACH OTHER.
All religious principles are a thing of imagination, in which experience and reason have nothing to do. We find much difficulty in conquering them, because imagination, when once occupied in creating chimeras which astonish or excite it, is incapable of reasoning. He who combats religion and its phantasies by the arms of reason, is like a man who uses a sword to kill flies: as soon as the blow is struck, the flies and the fancies return to the minds from which we thought to have banished them.
As soon as we refuse the proofs which theology pretends to give of the existence of a God, they oppose to the arguments which destroy them, an innate conviction, a profound persuasion, an invincible inclination inherent in every man, which brings to him, in spite of himself, the idea of an Almighty being which he can not altogether expel from his mind, and which he is compelled to recognize in spite of the strongest reasons that we can give him. But if we wish to analyze this innate conviction, upon which so much weight is placed, we will find that it is but the effect of a rooted habit, which, making them close their eyes against the most demonstrative proofs, leads the majority of men, and often the most enlightened ones, back to the prejudices of childhood. What can this innate sense or this ill-founded persuasion prove against the evidence which shows us that what implies contradiction can not exist?
We are told, very gravely, that it is not demonstrated that God does not exist. However, nothing is better demonstrated, notwithstanding all that men have told us so far, than that this God is an idle fancy, whose existence is totally impossible, as nothing is more evident or more clearly demonstrated than that a being can not combine qualities so dissimilar, so contradictory, so irreconcilable as those which all the religions of the earth ascribe to Divinity. The theologian's God, as well as the God of the theist, is He not evidently a cause incompatible with the effects attributed to Him? In whatever light we may look upon it, we must either invent another God, or conclude that the one which, for so many centuries, has been revealed to mortals, is at the same time very good and very wicked, very powerful and very weak, immutable and changeable, perfectly intelligent and perfectly destitute of reason, of plan, and of means; the friend of order and permitting disorder; very just and very unjust; very skillful and very awkward. Finally, are we not obliged to admit that it is impossible to reconcile the discordant attributes which are heaped upon a being of whom we can not say a single word without falling into the most palpable contradictions? Let us attempt to attribute but a single quality to Divinity, and what is said of it will be contradicted immediately by the effects we assign to this cause.
CX.—EVERY RELIGION IS BUT A SYSTEM IMAGINED FOR THE PURPOSE OF RECONCILING CONTRADICTIONS BY THE AID OF MYSTERIES.
Theology could very properly be defined as the science of contradictions. Every religion is but a system imagined for the purpose of reconciling irreconcilable ideas. By the aid of habitude and terror, we come to persist in the greatest absurdities, even when they are the most clearly exposed. All religions are easy to combat, but very difficult to eradicate. Reason can do nothing against habit, which becomes, as is said, a second nature. There are many persons otherwise sensible, who, even after having examined the ruinous foundations of their belief, return to it in spite of the most striking arguments.
As soon as we complain of not understanding religion, finding in it at every step absurdities which are repulsive, seeing in it but impossibilities, we are told that we are not made to conceive the truths of the religion which is proposed to us; that wandering reason is but an unfaithful guide, only capable of conducting us to perdition; and what is more, we are assured that what is folly in the eyes of man, is wisdom in the eyes of God, to whom nothing is impossible. Finally, in order to decide by a single word the most insurmountable difficulties which theology presents to us on all sides, they simply cry out: "Mysteries!"
CXI.—ABSURDITY AND INUTILITY OF THE MYSTERIES FORGED IN THE SOLE INTEREST OF THE PRIESTS.
What is a mystery? If I examine the thing closely, I discover very soon that a mystery is nothing but a contradiction, a palpable absurdity, a notorious impossibility, on which theologians wish to compel men to humbly close the eyes; in a word, a mystery is whatever our spiritual guides can not explain to us.
It is advantageous for the ministers of religion that the people should not comprehend what they are taught. It is impossible for us to examine what we do not comprehend. Every time that we can not see clearly, we are obliged to be guided. If religion was comprehensible, priests would not have so many charges here below.
No religion is without mysteries; mystery is its essence; a religion destitute of mysteries would be a contradiction of terms. The God which serves as a foundation to natural religion, to theism or to deism, is Himself the greatest mystery to a mind wishing to dwell upon Him.
All the revealed religions which we see in the world are filled with mysterious dogmas, unintelligible principles, of incredible miracles, of astonishing tales which seem imagined but to confound reason. Every religion announces a concealed God, whose essence is a mystery; consequently, it is just as difficult to conceive of His conduct as of the essence of this God Himself. Divinity has never spoken to us but in an enigmatical and mysterious way in the various religions which have been founded in the different regions of our globe. It has revealed itself everywhere but to announce mysteries, that is to say, to warn mortals that it designs that they should believe in contradictions, in impossibilities, or in things of which they were incapable of forming any positive idea.
The more mysteries a religion has, the more incredible objects it presents to the mind, the better fitted it is to please the imagination of men, who find in it a continual pasturage to feed upon. The more obscure a religion is, the more it appears divine, that is to say, in conformity to the nature of an invisible being, of whom we have no idea.
It is the peculiarity of ignorance to prefer the unknown, the concealed, the fabulous, the wonderful, the incredible, even the terrible, to that which is clear, simple, and true. Truth does not give to the imagination such lively play as fiction, which each one may arrange as he pleases. The vulgar ask nothing better than to listen to fables; priests and legislators, by inventing religions and forging mysteries from them, have served them to their taste. In this way they have attracted enthusiasts, women, and the illiterate generally. Beings of this kind resign easily to reasons which they are incapable of examining; the love of the simple and the true is found but in the small number of those whose imagination is regulated by study and by reflection. The inhabitants of a village are never more pleased with their pastor than when he mixes a good deal of Latin in his sermon. Ignorant men always imagine that he who speaks to them of things which they do not understand, is a very wise and learned man. This is the true principle of the credulity of nations, and of the authority of those who pretend to guide them.
To speak to men to announce to them mysteries, is to give and retain, it is to speak not to be understood. He who talks but by enigmas, either seeks to amuse himself by the embarrassment which he causes, or finds it to his advantage not to explain himself too clearly. Every secret betrays suspicion, weakness, and fear. Princes and their ministers make a mystery of their projects for fear that their enemies in penetrating them would cause them to fail. Can a good God amuse Himself by the embarrassment of His creatures? A God who enjoys a power which nothing in the world can resist, can He apprehend that His intentions could be thwarted? What interest would He have in putting upon us enigmas and mysteries? We are told that man, by the weakness of his nature, is not capable of comprehending the Divine economy which can be to him but a tissue of mysteries; that God can not unveil secrets to him which are beyond his reach. In this case, I reply, that man is not made to trouble himself with Divine economy, that this economy can not interest him in the least, that he has no need of mysteries which he can not understand; finally, that a mysterious religion is not made for him, any more than an eloquent discourse is made for a flock of sheep.