Superstition In All Ages (1732) - Common Sense
by Jean Meslier
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Divinity has revealed itself in the different parts of our globe in a manner of such little uniformity, that in matters of religion men look upon each other with hatred and disdain. The partisans of the different sects see each other very ridiculous and foolish. The most respected mysteries in one religion are laughable for another. God, having revealed Himself to men, ought at least to speak in the same language to all, and relieve their weak minds of the embarrassment of seeking what can be the religion which truly emanated from Him, or what is the most agreeable form of worship in His eyes.

A universal God ought to have revealed a universal religion. By what fatality are so many different religions found on the earth? Which is the true one amongst the great number of those of which each one pretends to be the right one, to the exclusion of all the others? We have every reason to believe that not one of them enjoys this advantage. The divisions and the disputes about opinions are indubitable signs of the uncertainty and of the obscurity of the principles which they profess.


If religion was necessary to all men, it ought to be intelligible to all men. If this religion was the most important thing for them, the goodness of God, it seems, ought to make it for them the clearest, the most evident, and the best demonstrated of all things. Is it not astonishing to see that this matter, so essential to the salvation of mortals, is precisely the one which they understand the least, and about which, during so many centuries, their doctors have disputed the most? Never have priests, of even the same sect, come to an agreement among themselves about the manner of understanding the wishes of a God who has truly revealed Himself to them. The world which we inhabit can be compared to a public place, in whose different parts several charlatans are placed, each one straining himself to attract customers by depreciating the remedies offered by his competitors. Each stand has its purchasers, who are persuaded that their empiric alone possesses the good remedies; notwithstanding the continual use which they make of them, they do not perceive that they are no better, or that they are just as sick as those who run after the charlatans of another stand. Devotion is a disease of the imagination, contracted in infancy; the devotee is a hypochondriac, who increases his disease by the use of remedies. The wise man takes none of it; he follows a good regimen and leaves the rest to nature.


Nothing appears more ridiculous in the eyes of a sensible man than for one denomination to criticize another whose creed is equally foolish. A Christian thinks that the Koran, the Divine revelation announced by Mohammed, is but a tissue of impertinent dreams and impostures injurious to Divinity. The Mohammedan, on his side, treats the Christian as an idolater and a dog; he sees but absurdities in his religion; he imagines he has the right to conquer his country and force him, sword in hand, to accept the faith of his Divine prophet; he believes especially that nothing is more impious or more unreasonable than to worship a man or to believe in the Trinity. The Protestant Christian, who without scruple worships a man, and who believes firmly in the inconceivable mystery of the Trinity, ridicules the Catholic Christian because the latter believes in the mystery of the transubstantiation. He treats him as a fool, as ungodly and idolatrous, because he kneels to worship the bread in which he believes he sees the God of the universe. All the Christian denominations agree in considering as folly the incarnation of the God of the Indies, Vishnu. They contend that the only true incarnation is that of Jesus, Son of the God of the universe and of the wife of a carpenter. The theist, who calls himself a votary of natural religion, is satisfied to acknowledge a God of whom he has no conception; indulges himself in jesting upon other mysteries taught by all the religions of the world.


Did not a famous theologian recognize the absurdity of admitting the existence of a God and arresting His course? "To us," he said, "who believe through faith in a true God, an individual substance, there ought to be no trouble in believing everything else. This first mystery, which is no small matter of itself, once admitted, our reason can not suffer violence in admitting all the rest. As for myself, it is no more trouble to accept a million of things that I do not understand, than to believe the first one."

Is there anything more contradictory, more impossible, or more mysterious, than the creation of matter by an immaterial Being, who Himself immutable, causes the continual changes that we see in the world? Is there anything more incompatible with all the ideas of common sense than to believe that a good, wise, equitable, and powerful Being presides over nature and directs Himself the movements of a world which is filled with follies, miseries, crimes, and disorders, which He could have foreseen, and by a single word could have prevented or made to disappear? Finally, as soon as we admit a Being so contradictory as the theological God, what right have we to refuse to accept the most improbable fables, the most astonishing miracles, the most profound mysteries?


The theist exclaims, "Be careful not to worship the ferocious and strange God of theology; mine is much wiser and better; He is the Father of men; He is the mildest of Sovereigns; it is He who fills the universe with His benefactions!" But I will tell him, do you not see that everything in this world contradicts the good qualities which you attribute to your God? In the numerous family of this mild Father I see but unfortunate ones. Under the empire of this just Sovereign I see crime victorious and virtue in distress. Among these benefactions, which you boast of, and which your enthusiasm alone sees, I see a multitude of evils of all kinds, upon which you obstinately close your eyes.

Compelled to acknowledge that your good God, in contradiction with Himself, distributes with the same hand good and evil, you will find yourself obliged, in order to justify Him, to send me, as the priests would, to the other life. Invent, then, another God than the one of theology, because your God is as contradictory as its God is. A good God who does evil or who permits it to be done, a God full of equity and in an empire where innocence is so often oppressed; a perfect God who produces but imperfect and wretched works; such a God and His conduct, are they not as great mysteries as that of the incarnation? You blush, you say, for your fellow beings who are persuaded that the God of the universe could change Himself into a man and die upon a cross in a corner of Asia. You consider the ineffable mystery of the Trinity very absurd Nothing appears more ridiculous to you than a God who changes Himself into bread and who is eaten every day in a thousand different places.

Well! are all these mysteries any more shocking to reason than a God who punishes and rewards men's actions? Man, according to your views, is he free or not? In either case your God, if He has the shadow of justice, can neither punish him nor reward him. If man is free, it is God who made him free to act or not to act; it is God, then, who is the primitive cause of all his actions; in punishing man for his faults, He would punish him for having done that which He gave him the liberty to do. If man is not free to act otherwise than he does, would not God be the most unjust of beings to punish him for the faults which he could not help committing? Many persons are struck with the detail of absurdities with which all religions of the world are filled; but they have not the courage to seek for the source whence these absurdities necessarily sprung. They do not see that a God full of contradictions, of oddities, of incompatible qualities, either inflaming or nursing the imagination of men, could create but a long line of idle fancies.


They believe, to silence those who deny the existence of a God, by telling them that all men, in all ages and in all centuries, have believed in some kind of a God; that there is no people on the earth who have not believed in an invisible and powerful being, whom they made the object of their worship and of their veneration; finally, that there is no nation, no matter how benighted we may suppose it to be, that is not persuaded of the existence of some intelligence superior to human nature. But can the belief of all men change an error into truth? A celebrated philosopher has said with all reason: "Neither general tradition nor the unanimous consent of all men could place any injunction upon truth." [Bayle.] Another wise man said before him, that "an army of philosophers would not be sufficient to change the nature of error and to make it truth." [Averroes]

There was a time when all men believed that the sun revolved around the earth, while the latter remained motionless in the center of the whole system of the universe; it is scarcely more than two hundred years since this error was refuted. There was a time when nobody would believe in the existence of antipodes, and when they persecuted those who had the courage to sustain it; to-day no learned man dares to doubt it. All nations of the world, except some men less credulous than others, still believe in sorcerers, ghosts, apparitions, spirits; no sensible man imagines himself obliged to adopt these follies; but the most sensible people feel obliged to believe in a universal Spirit!


All the Gods worshiped by men have a barbarous origin; they were visibly imagined by stupid nations, or were presented by ambitious and cunning legislators to simple and benighted people, who had neither the capacity nor the courage to examine properly the object which, by means of terrors, they were made to worship. In examining closely the God which we see adored still in our days by the most civilized nations, we are compelled to acknowledge that He has evidently barbarous features. To be barbarous is to recognize no right but force; it is being cruel to excess; it is but following one's own caprice; it is a lack of foresight, of prudence, and reason. Nations, who believe yourselves civilized! do you not perceive this frightful character of the God to whom you offer your incense? The pictures which are drawn of Divinity, are they not visibly borrowed from the implacable, jealous, vindictive, blood-thirsty, capricious, inconsiderate humor of man, who has not yet cultivated his reason? Oh, men! you worship but a great savage, whom you consider as a model to follow, as an amiable master, as a perfect sovereign.

The religious opinions of men in every country are antique and durable monuments of ignorance credulity, of the terrors and the ferocity of their ancestors. Every barbarian is a child thirsting for the wonderful, which he imbibes with pleasure, and who never reasons upon that which he finds proper to excite his imagination; his ignorance of the ways of nature makes him attribute to spirits, to enchantments, to magic, all that appears to him extraordinary; in his eyes his priests are sorcerers, in whom he supposes an Almighty power; before whom his confused reason humiliates itself, whose oracles are for him infallible decrees, to contradict which would be dangerous. In matters of religion the majority of men have remained in their primitive barbarity. Modern religions are but follies of old times rejuvenated or presented in some new form. If the ancient barbarians have worshiped mountains, rivers, serpents, trees, fetishes of every kind; if the wise Egyptians worshiped crocodiles, rats, onions, do we not see nations who believe themselves wiser than they, worship with reverence a bread, into which they imagine that the enchantments of their priests cause the Divinity to descend? Is not the God-bread the fetish of many Christian nations, as little rational in this point as that of the most barbarous nations?


In all times the ferocity, the stupidity, the folly of savage men were shown in religious customs which were often cruel and extravagant. A spirit of barbarity has come down to our days; it intrudes itself into the religions which are followed by the most civilized nations. Do we not still see human victims offered to Divinity? In order to appease the wrath of a God whom we suppose as ferocious, as jealous, as vindictive, as a savage, do not sanguinary laws cause the destruction of those who are believed to have displeased Him by their way of thinking?

Modern nations, at the instigation of their priests, have even excelled the atrocious folly of the most barbarous nations; at least do we not find that it never entered into a savage's mind to torment for the sake of opinions, to meddle in thought, to trouble men for the invisible actions of their brains? When we see polished and wise nations, such as the English, French, German, etc., notwithstanding all their enlightenment, continue to kneel before the barbarous God of the Jews, that is to say, of the most stupid, the most credulous, the most savage, the most unsocial nation which ever was on the earth; when we see these enlightened nations divide themselves into sects, tear one another, hate and despise each other for opinions, equally ridiculous, upon the conduct and the intentions of this irrational God; when we see intelligent persons occupy themselves foolishly in meditating on the wishes of this capricious and foolish God; we are tempted to exclaim, "Oh, men! you are still savages! Oh, men! you are but children in the matter of religion!"


Whoever has formed true ideas of the ignorance, credulity, negligence, and sottishness of common people, will always regard their religious opinions with the greater suspicion for their being generally established. The majority of men examine nothing; they allow themselves to be blindly led by custom and authority; their religious opinions are specially those which they have the least courage and capacity to examine; as they do not understand anything about them, they are compelled to be silent or put an end to their reasoning. Ask the common man if he believes in God. He will be surprised that you could doubt it. Then ask him what he understands by the word God. You will confuse him; you will perceive at once that he is incapable of forming any real idea of this word which he so often repeats; he will tell you that God is God, and you will find that he knows neither what he thinks of Him, nor the motives which he has for believing in Him.

All nations speak of a God; but do they agree upon this God? No! Well, difference of opinion does not serve as evidence, but is a sign of uncertainty and obscurity. Does the same man always agree with himself in his ideas of God? No! This idea varies with the vicissitudes of his life. This is another sign of uncertainty. Men always agree with other men and with themselves upon demonstrated truths, regardless of the position in which they find themselves; except the insane, all agree that two and two make four, that the sun shines, that the whole is greater than any one of its parts, that Justice is a benefaction, that we must be benevolent to deserve the love of men, that injustice and cruelty are incompatible with goodness. Do they agree in the same way if they speak of God? All that they think or say of Him is immediately contradicted by the effects which they wish to attribute to Him. Tell several artists to paint a chimera, each of them will form different ideas of it, and will paint it differently; you will find no resemblance in the features each of them will have given to a portrait whose model exists nowhere. In painting God, do any of the theologians of the world represent Him otherwise than as a great chimera, upon whose features they never agree, each one arranging it according to his style, which has its origin but in his own brain? There are no two individuals in the world who have or can have the same ideas of their God.


Perhaps it would be more truthful to say, that all men are either skeptics or atheists, than to pretend that they are firmly convinced of the existence of a God. How can we be assured of the existence of a being whom we never have been able to examine, of whom it is impossible to form any permanent idea, whose different effects upon ourselves prevent us from forming an invariable judgment, of whom no idea can be uniform in two different brains? How can we claim to be completely persuaded of the existence of a being to whom we are constantly obliged to attribute a conduct opposed co the ideas which we had tried to form of it? Is it possible firmly to believe what we can not conceive? In believing thus, are we not adhering to the opinions of others without having one of our own? The priests regulate the belief of the vulgar; but do not these priests themselves acknowledge that God is incomprehensible to them? Let us conclude, then, that the conviction of the existence of a God is not as general as it is affirmed to be.

To be a skeptic, is to lack the motives necessary to establish a judgment. In view of the proofs which seem to establish, and of the arguments which combat the existence of a God, some persons prefer to doubt and to suspend their judgment; but at the bottom, this uncertainty is the result of an insufficient examination. Is it, then, possible to doubt evidence? Sensible people deride, and with reason, an absolute pyrrhonism, and even consider it impossible. A man who could doubt his own existence, or that of the sun, would appear very ridiculous, or would be suspected of reasoning in bad faith. Is it less extravagant to have uncertainties about the non-existence of an evidently impossible being? Is it more absurd to doubt of one's own existence, than to hesitate upon the impossibility of a being whose qualities destroy each other? Do we find more probabilities for believing in a spiritual being than for believing in the existence of a stick without two ends? Is the notion of an infinitely good and powerful being who permits an infinity of evils, less absurd or less impossible than that of a square triangle?

Let us conclude, then, that religious skepticism can be but the effect of a superficial examination of theological principles, which are in a perpetual contradiction of the clearest and best demonstrated principles! To doubt is to deliberate upon the judgment which we should pass. Skepticism is but a state of indecision which results from a superficial examination of subjects. Is it possible to be skeptical in the matter of religion when we design to return to its principles, and look closely into the idea of the God who serves as its foundation? Doubt arises ordinarily from laziness, weakness, indifference, or incapacity. To doubt, for many people, is to dread the trouble of examining things to which one attaches but little interest. Although religion is presented to men as the most important thing for them in this world as well as in the other, skepticism and doubt on this subject can be for the mind but a disagreeable state, and offers but a comfortable cushion. No man who has not the courage to contemplate without prejudice the God upon whom every religion is founded, can know what religion to accept; he does not know what to believe and what not to believe, to accept or to reject, what to hope or fear; finally, he is incompetent to judge for himself.

Indifference upon religion can not be confounded with skepticism; this indifference itself is founded upon the assurance or upon the probability which we find in believing that religion is not made to interest us. The persuasion which we have that a thing which is presented to us as very important, is not so, or is but indifferent, supposes a sufficient examination of the thing, without which it would be impossible to have this persuasion. Those who call themselves skeptics in regard to the fundamental points of religion, are generally but idle and lazy men, who are incapable of examining them.


In all parts of the world, we are assured that God revealed Himself. What did He teach men? Does He prove to them evidently that He exists? Does He tell them where He resides? Does He teach them what He is, or of what His essence consists? Does He explain to them clearly His intentions and His plan? What He says of this plan, does it agree with the effects which we see? No! He informs us only that "He is the One that is," [I am that I am, saith the Lord] that He is an invincible God, that His ways are ineffable, that He becomes furious as soon as one has the temerity to penetrate His decrees, or to consult reason in order to judge of Him or His works. Does the revealed conduct of God correspond with the magnificent ideas which are given to us of His wisdom, goodness, justice, of His omnipotence? Not at all; in every revelation this conduct shows a partial, capricious being, at least, good to His favorite people, an enemy to all others. If He condescends to show Himself to some men, He takes care to keep all the others in invincible ignorance of His divine intentions. Does not every special revelation announce an unjust, partial, and malicious God?

Are the revealed wishes of a God capable of striking us by the sublime reason or the wisdom which they contain? Do they tend to the happiness of the people to whom Divinity has declared them? Examining the Divine wishes, I find in them, in all countries, but whimsical ordinances, ridiculous precepts, ceremonies of which we do not understand the aim, puerile practices, principles of conduct unworthy of the Monarch of Nature, offerings, sacrifices, expiations, useful, in fact, to the ministers of God, but very onerous to the rest of mankind. I find also, that they often have a tendency to render men unsocial, disdainful, intolerant, quarrelsome, unjust, inhuman toward all those who have not received either the same revelations as they, or the same ordinances, or the same favors from Heaven.


Are the precepts of morality as announced by Divinity truly Divine, or superior to those which every rational man could imagine? They are Divine only because it is impossible for the human mind to see their utility. Their virtue consists in a total renunciation of human nature, in a voluntary oblivion of one's reason, in a holy hatred of self; finally, these sublime precepts show us perfection in a conduct cruel to ourselves and perfectly useless to others.

How did God show Himself? Did He Himself promulgate His laws? Did He speak to men with His own mouth? I am told that God did not show Himself to a whole nation, but that He employed always the organism of a few favored persons, who took the care to teach and to explain His intentions to the unlearned. It was never permitted to the people to go to the sanctuary; the ministers of the Gods always alone had the right to report to them what transpired.


If, in the economy of all Divine revelations, I am unable to recognize either the wisdom, the goodness, or the equity of a God; if I suspect deceit, ambition, selfish designs in the great personages who have interposed between Heaven and us, I am assured that God has confirmed, by splendid miracles, the mission of those who have spoken for Him. But was it not much easier to show Himself, and to explain for Himself? On the other hand, if I have the curiosity to examine these miracles, I find that they are tales void of probability, related by suspicious people, who had the greatest interest in making others believe that they were sent from the Most High.

What witnesses are referred to in order to make us believe incredible miracles? They call as witnesses stupid people, who have ceased to exist for thousands of years, and who, even if they could attest the miracles in question, would be suspected of having been deceived by their own imagination, and of permitting themselves to be seduced by the illusions which skillful impostors performed before their eyes. But, you will say, these miracles are recorded in books which through constant tradition have been handed down to us. By whom were these books written? Who are the men who have transmitted and perpetuated them? They are either the same people who established these religions, or those who have become their adherents and their assistants. Thus, in the matter of religion, the testimony of interested parties is irrefragable and can not be contested!


God has spoken differently to each nation of the globe which we inhabit. The Indian does not believe one word of what He said to the Chinaman; the Mohammedan considers what He has told to the Christian as fables; the Jew considers the Mohammedan and the Christian as sacrilegious corruptors of the Holy Law, which his God has given to his fathers. The Christian, proud of his more modern revelation, equally damns the Indian and the Chinaman, the Mohammedan, and even the Jew, whose holy books he holds. Who is wrong or right? Each one exclaims: "It is I!" Every one claims the same proofs; each one speaks of his miracles, his saints, his prophets, his martyrs. Sensible men answer, that they are all delirious; that God has not spoken, if it is true that He is a Spirit who has neither mouth nor tongue; that the God of the Universe could, without borrowing mortal organism, inspire His creatures with what He desired them to learn, and that, as they are all equally ignorant of what they ought to think about God, it is evident that God did not want to instruct them. The adherents of the different forms of worship which we see established in this world, accuse each other of superstition and of ungodliness. The Christians abhor the superstition of the heathen, of the Chinese, of the Mohammedans. The Roman Catholics treat the Protestant Christians as impious; the latter incessantly declaim against Roman superstition. They are all right. To be impious, is to have unjust opinions about the God who is adored; to be superstitious, is to have false ideas of Him. In accusing each other of superstition, the different religionists resemble humpbacks who taunt each other with their malformation.


The oracles which the Deity has revealed to the nations through His different mediums, are they clear? Alas! there are not two men who understand them alike. Those who explain them to others do not agree among themselves; in order to make them clear, they have recourse to interpretations, to commentaries, to allegories, to parables, in which is found a mystical sense very different from the literal one. Men are needed everywhere to explain the wishes of God, who could not or would not explain Himself clearly to those whom He desired to enlighten. God always prefers to use as mediums men who can be suspected of having been deceived themselves, or having reasons to deceive others.


The founders of all religions have usually proved their mission by miracles. But what is a miracle? It is an operation directly opposed to the laws of nature. But, according to you, who has made these laws? It is God. Thus your God, who, according to you, has foreseen everything, counteracts the laws which His wisdom had imposed upon nature! These laws were then defective, or at least in certain circumstances they were but in accordance with the views of this same God, for you tell us that He thought He ought to suspend or counteract them.

An attempt is made to persuade us that men who have been favored by the Most High have received from Him the power to perform miracles; but in order to perform a miracle, it is necessary to have the faculty of creating new causes capable of producing effects opposed to those which ordinary causes can produce. Can we realize how God can give to men the inconceivable power of creating causes out of nothing? Can it be believed that an unchangeable God can communicate to man the power to change or rectify His plan, a power which, according to His essence, an immutable being can not have himself? Miracles, far from doing much honor to God, far from proving the Divinity of religion, destroy evidently the idea which is given to us of God, of His immutability, of His incommunicable attributes, and even of His omnipotence. How can a theologian tell us that a God who embraced at once the whole of His plan, who could make but perfect laws, who can change nothing in them, should be obliged to employ miracles to make His projects successful, or grant to His creatures the faculty of performing prodigies, in order to execute His Divine will? Is it probable that a God needs the support of men? An Omnipotent Being, whose wishes are always gratified, a Being who holds in His hands the hearts and the minds of His creatures, needs but to wish, in order to make them believe all He desires.


What should we say of religions that based their Divinity upon miracles which they themselves cause to appear suspicious? How can we place any faith in the miracles related in the Holy Books of the Christians, where God Himself boasts of hardening hearts, of blinding those whom He wishes to ruin; where this God permits wicked spirits and magicians to perform as wonderful miracles as those of His servants; where it is prophesied that the Anti-Christ will have the power to perform miracles capable of destroying the faith even of the elect? This granted, how can we know whether God wants to instruct us or to lay a snare for us? How can we distinguish whether the wonders which we see, proceed from God or the Devil? Pascal, in order to disembarrass us, says very gravely, that we must judge the doctrine by miracles, and the miracles by the doctrine; that doctrine judges the miracles, and the miracles judge the doctrine. If there exists a defective and ridiculous circle, it is no doubt in this fine reasoning of one of the greatest defenders of the Christian religion. Which of all the religions in the world does not claim to possess the most admirable doctrine, and which does not bring to its aid a great number of miracles?

Is a miracle capable of destroying a demonstrated truth? Although a man should have the secret of curing all diseases, of making the lame to walk, of raising all the dead of a city, of floating in the air, of arresting the course of the sun and of the moon, will he be able to convince me by all this that two and two do not make four; that one makes three and that three makes but one; that a God who fills the universe with His immensity, could have transformed Himself into the body of a Jew; that the eternal can perish like man; that an immutable, foreseeing, and sensible God could have changed His opinion upon His religion, and reform His own work by a new revelation?


According to the principles of theology itself, whether natural or revealed, every new revelation ought to be considered false; every change in a religion which had emanated from the Deity ought to be refuted as ungodly and blasphemous. Does not every reform suppose that God did not know how at the start to give His religion the required solidity and perfection? To say that God in giving a first law accommodated Himself to the gross ideas of a people whom He wished to enlighten, is to pretend that God neither could nor would make the people whom He enlightened at that time, as reasonable as they ought to be to please Him.

Christianity is an impiety, if it is true that Judaism as a religion really emanated from a Holy, Immutable, Almighty, grid Foreseeing God.

Christ's religion implies either defects in the law that God Himself gave by Moses, or impotence or malice in this God who could not, or would not make the Jews as they ought to be to please Him. All religions, whether new, or ancient ones reformed, are evidently founded on the weakness, the inconstancy, the imprudence, and the malice of the Deity.


If history informs me that the first apostles, founders or reformers of religions, performed great miracles, history teaches me also that these reforming apostles and their adherents have been usually despised, persecuted, and put to death as disturbers of the peace of nations. I am then tempted to believe that they have not performed the miracles attributed to them. Finally, these miracles should have procured to them a great number of disciples among those who witnessed them, who ought to have prevented the performers from being maltreated. My incredulity increases if I am told that the performers of miracles have been cruelly tormented or slain. How can we believe that missionaries, protected by a God, invested with His Divine Power, and enjoying the gift of miracles, could not perform the simple miracle of escaping from the cruelty of their persecutors?

Persecutions themselves are considered as a convincing proof in favor of the religion of those who have suffered them; but a religion which boasts of having caused the death of many martyrs, and which informs us that its founders have suffered for its extension unheard-of torments, can not be the religion of a benevolent, equitable, and Almighty God. A good God would not permit that men charged with revealing His will should be misused. An omnipotent God desiring to found a religion, would have employed simpler and less fatal means for His most faithful servants. To say that God desired that His religion should be sealed by blood, is to say that this God is weak, unjust, ungrateful, and sanguinary, and that He sacrifices unworthily His missionaries to the interests of His ambition.


To die for a religion does not prove it true or Divine; this proves at most that we suppose it to be so. An enthusiast in dying proves nothing but that religious fanaticism is often stronger than the love of life. An impostor can sometimes die with courage; he makes then, as is said, "a virtue of necessity." We are often surprised and affected at the sight of the generous courage and the disinterested zeal which have led missionaries to preach their doctrine at the risk even of suffering the most rigorous torments. We draw from this love, which is exhibited for the salvation of men, deductions favorable to the religion which they have proclaimed; but in truth this disinterestedness is only apparent. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained!" A missionary seeks fortune by the aid of his doctrine; he knows that if he has the good fortune to retail his commodity, he will become the absolute master of those who accept him as their guide; he is sure to become the object of their care, of their respect, of their veneration; he has every reason to believe that he will be abundantly provided for. These are the true motives which kindle the zeal and the charity of so many preachers and missionaries who travel all over the world.

To die for an opinion, proves no more the truth or the soundness of this opinion than to die in a battle proves the right of the prince, for whose benefit so many people are foolish enough to sacrifice themselves. The courage of a martyr, animated by the idea of Paradise, is not any more supernatural than the courage of a warrior, inspired with the idea of glory or held to duty by the fear of disgrace. What difference do we find between an Iroquois who sings while he is burned by a slow fire, and the martyr St. Lawrence, who while upon the gridiron insults his tyrant?

The preachers of a new doctrine succumb because they are not the strongest; the apostles usually practice a perilous business, whose consequences they can foresee; their courageous death does not prove any more the truth of their principles or their own sincerity, than the violent death of an ambitious man or a brigand proves that they had the right to trouble society, or that they believed themselves authorized to do it. A missionary's profession has been always flattering to his ambition, and has enabled him to subsist at the expense of the common people; these advantages have been sufficient to make him forget the dangers which are connected with it.


You tell us, O theologians! that "what is folly in the eyes of men, is wisdom before God, who is pleased to confound the wisdom of the wise." But do you not pretend that human wisdom is a gift from Heaven? In telling us that this wisdom displeases God, is but folly in His eyes, and that He wishes to confound it, you proclaim that your God is but the friend of unenlightened people, and that He makes to sensible people a fatal gift, for which this perfidious Tyrant promises to punish them cruelly some day. Is it not very strange that we can not be the friend of your God but by declaring ourselves the enemy of reason and common sense?


Faith, according to theologians, is consent without evidence. From this it follows that religion exacts that we should firmly believe, without evidence, in propositions which are often improbable or opposed to reason. But to challenge reason as a judge of faith, is it not acknowledging that reason can not agree with faith? As the ministers of religion have determined to banish reason, they must have felt the impossibility of reconciling reason with faith, which is visibly but a blind submission to those priests whose authority, in many minds, appears to be of a greater importance than evidence itself, and preferable to the testimony of the senses. "Sacrifice your reason; give up experience; distrust the testimony of your senses; submit without examination to all that is given to you as coming from Heaven." This is the usual language of all the priests of the world; they do not agree upon any point, except in the necessity of never reasoning when they present principles to us which they claim as the most important to our happiness.

I will not sacrifice my reason, because this reason alone enables me to distinguish good from evil, the true from the false. If, as you pretend, my reason comes from God, I will never believe that a God whom you call so good, had ever given me reason but as a snare, in order to lead me to perdition. Priests! in crying down reason, do you not see that you slander your God, who, as you assure us, has given us this reason?

I will not give up experience, because it is a much better guide than imagination, or than the authority of the guides whom they wish to give me. This experience teaches me that enthusiasm and interest can blind and mislead them, and that the authority of experience ought to have more weight upon my mind than the suspicious testimony of many men whom I know to be capable of deceiving themselves, or very much interested in deceiving others.

I will not distrust my senses. I do not ignore the fact that they can sometimes lead me into error; but on the other hand, I know that they do not deceive me always. I know very well that the eye shows the sun much smaller than it really is; but experience, which is only the repeated application of the senses, teaches me that objects continually diminish by reason of their distance; it is by these means that I reach the conclusion that the sun is much larger than the earth; it is thus that my senses suffice to rectify the hasty judgments which they induced me to form. In warning me to doubt the testimony of my senses, you destroy for me the proofs of all religion. If men can be dupes of their imagination, if their senses are deceivers, why would you have me believe in the miracles which made an impression upon the deceiving senses of our ancestors? If my senses are faithless guides, I learn that I should not have faith even in the miracles which I might see performed under my own eyes.


You tell me continually that the "truths of religion are beyond reason." Do you not admit, then, that these truths are not made for reasonable beings? To pretend that reason can deceive us, is to say that truth can be false, that usefulness can be injurious. Is reason anything else but the knowledge of the useful and the true? Besides, as we have but our reason, which is more or less exercised, and our senses, such as they are, to lead us in this life, to claim that reason is an unsafe guide, and that our senses are deceivers, is to tell us that our errors are necessary, that our ignorance is invincible, and that, without extreme injustice, God can not punish us for having followed the only guides which He desired to give us. To pretend that we are obliged to believe in things which are beyond our reason, is an assertion as ridiculous as to say that God would compel us to fly without wings. To claim that there are objects on which reason should not be consulted, is to say that in the most important affairs, we must consult but imagination, or act by chance.

Our Doctors of Divinity tell us that we ought to sacrifice our reason to God; but what motives can we have for sacrificing our reason to a being who gives us but useless gifts, which He does not intend that we should make use of? What confidence can we place in a God who, according to our Doctors themselves, is wicked enough to harden hearts, to strike us with blindness, to place snares in our way, to lead us into temptation? Finally, how can we place confidence in the ministers of this God, who, in order to guide us more conveniently, command us to close our eyes?


Men persuade themselves that religion is the most serious affair in the world for them, while it is the very thing which they least examine for themselves. If the question arises in the purchase of land, of a house, of the investment of money, of a transaction, or of some kind of an agreement, you will see each one examine everything with care, take the greatest precautions, weigh all the words of a document, to beware of any surprise or imposition. It is not the same with religion; each one accepts it at hazard, and believes it upon verbal testimony, without taking the trouble to examine it. Two causes seem to concur in sustaining men in the negligence and the thoughtlessness which they exhibit when the question comes up of examining their religious opinions. The first one is, the hopelessness of penetrating the obscurity by which every religion is surrounded; even in its first principles, it has only a tendency to repel indolent minds, who see in it but chaos, to penetrate which, they judge impossible. The second is, that each one is afraid to incommode himself by the severe precepts which everybody admires in the theory, and which few persons take the trouble of practicing. Many people preserve their religion like old family titles which they have never taken the trouble to examine minutely, but which they place in their archives in case they need them.


The disciples of Pythagoras had an implicit faith in their Master's doctrine: "HE HAS SAID IT!" was for them the solution of all problems. The majority of men act with as little reason. A curate, a priest, an ignorant monk, will become in the matter of religion the master of one's thoughts. Faith relieves the weakness of the human mind, for whom application is commonly a very painful work; it is much easier to rely upon others than to examine for one's self; examination being slow and difficult, it is usually unpleasant to ignorant and stupid minds as well as to very ardent ones; this is, no doubt, why faith finds so many partisans.

The less enlightenment and reason men possess, the more zeal they exhibit for their religion. In all the religious factions, women, aroused by their directors, exhibit very great zeal in opinions of which it is evident they have not the least idea. In theological quarrels people rush like a ferocious beast upon all those against whom their priest wishes to excite them. Profound ignorance, unlimited credulity, a very weak head, an irritated imagination, these are the materials of which devotees, zealots, fanatics, and saints are made. How can we make those people understand reason who allow themselves to be guided without examining anything? The devotees and common people are, in the hands of their guides, only automatons which they move at their fancy.


Religion is a thing of custom and fashion; we must do as others do. But, among the many religions in the world, which one ought we to choose? This examination would be too long and too painful; we must then hold to the faith of our fathers, to that of our country, or to that of the prince, who, possessing power, must be the best. Chance alone decides the religion of a man and of a people. The French would be to-day as good Mussulmen as they are Christians, if their ancestors had not repulsed the efforts of the Saracens. If we judge of the intentions of Providence by the events and the revolutions of this world, we are compelled to believe that it is quite indifferent about the different religions which exist on earth. During thousands of years Paganism, Polytheism, and Idolatry have been the religions of the world; we are assured today, that during this period the most flourishing nations had not the least idea of the Deity, an idea which is claimed, however, to be so important to all men. The Christians pretend that, with the exception of the Jewish people, that is to say, a handful of unfortunate beings, the whole human race lived in utter ignorance of its duties toward God, and had but imperfect ideas of Divine majesty. Christianity, offshoot of Judaism, which was very humble in its obscure origin, became powerful and cruel under the Christian emperors, who, driven by a holy zeal, spread it marvelously in their empire by sword and fire, and founded it upon the ruins of overthrown Paganism. Mohammed and his successors, aided by Providence, or by their victorious arms, succeeded in a short time in expelling the Christian religion from a part of Asia, Africa, and even of Europe itself; the Gospel was compelled to surrender to the Koran. In all the factions or sects which during a great number of centuries have lacerated the Christians, "THE REASON OF THE STRONGEST WAS ALWAYS THE BEST;" the arms and the will of the princes alone decided upon the most useful doctrine for the salvation of the nations. Could we not conclude by this, either that the Deity takes but little interest in the religion of men, or that He declares Himself always in favor of opinions which best suit the Authorities of the earth, in order that He can change His systems as soon as they take a notion to change?

A king of Macassar, tired of the idolatry of his fathers, took a notion one day to leave it. The monarch's council deliberated for a long time to know whether they should consult Christian or Mohammedan Doctors. In the impossibility of finding out which was the better of the two religions, it was resolved to send at the same time for the missionaries of both, and to accept the doctrine of those who would have the advantage of arriving first. They did not doubt that God, who disposes of events, would thus Himself explain His will. Mohammed's missionaries having been more diligent, the king with his people submitted to the law which he had imposed upon himself; the missionaries of Christ were dismissed by default of their God, who did not permit them to arrive early enough. God evidently consents that chance should decide the religion of nations.

Those who govern, always decide the religion of the people. The true religion is but the religion of the prince; the true God is the God whom the prince wishes them to worship; the will of the priests who govern the prince, always becomes the will of God. A jester once said, with reason, that "the true faith is always the one which has on its side 'the prince and the executioner.'"

Emperors and executioners for a long time sustained the Gods of Rome against the God of the Christians; the latter having won over to their side the emperors, their soldiers and their executioners succeeded in suppressing the worship of the Roman Gods. Mohammed's God succeeded in expelling the Christian's God from a large part of the countries which He formerly occupied. In the eastern part of Asia, there is a large country which is very flourishing, very productive, thickly populated, and governed by such wise laws, that the most savage conquerors adopted them with respect. It is China! With the exception of Christianity, which was banished as dangerous, they followed their own superstitious ideas; while the mandarins or magistrates, undeceived long ago about the popular religion, do not trouble themselves in regard to it, except to watch over it, that the bonzes or priests do not use this religion to disturb the peace of the State. However, we do not see that Providence withholds its benefactions from a nation whose chiefs take so little interest in the worship which is offered to it. The Chinese enjoy, on the contrary, blessings and a peace worthy of being envied by many nations which religion divides, ravages, and often destroys. We can not reasonably expect to deprive a people of its follies; but we can hope to cure of their follies those who govern the people; these will then prevent the follies of the people from becoming dangerous. Superstition is never to be feared except when it has the support of princes and soldiers; it is only then that it becomes cruel and sanguinary. Every sovereign who assumes the protection of a sect or of a religious faction, usually becomes the tyrant of other sects, and makes himself the must cruel perturbator in his kingdom.


We are constantly told, and a good many sensible persons come to believe it, that religion is necessary to restrain men; that without it there would be no check upon the people; that morality and virtue are intimately connected with it: "The fear of the Lord is," we are told, "the beginning of wisdom." The terrors of another life are salutary terrors, and calculated to subdue men's passions. To disabuse us in regard to the utility of religious notions, it is sufficient to open the eyes and to consider what are the morals of the most religious people. We see haughty tyrants, oppressive ministers, perfidious courtiers, countless extortioners, unscrupulous magistrates, impostors, adulterers, libertines, prostitutes, thieves, and rogues of all kinds, who have never doubted the existence of a vindictive God, or the punishments of hell, or the joys of Paradise.

Although very useless for the majority of men, the ministers of religion have tried to make death appear terrible to the eyes of their votaries. If the most devoted Christians could be consistent, they would pass their whole lives in tears, and would finally die in the most terrible alarms. What is more frightful than death to those unfortunate ones who are constantly reminded that "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God;" that they should "seek salvation with fear and trembling!" However, we are assured that the Christian's death has great consolations, of which the unbeliever is deprived. The good Christian, we are told, dies with the firm hope of enjoying eternal happiness, which he has tried to deserve. But this firm assurance, is it not a punishable presumption in the eyes of a severe God? The greatest saints, are they not to be in doubt whether they are worthy of the love or of the hatred of God Priests who console us with the hope of the joys of Paradise, and close your eyes to the torments of hell, have you then had the advantage of seeing your names and ours inscribed in the book of life?


To oppose to the passions and present interests of men the obscure notions about a metaphysical God whom no one can conceive of; the incredible punishments of another life; the pleasures of Heaven, of which we can not form an idea, is it not combating realities with chimeras? Men have always but confused ideas of their God; they see Him only in the clouds; they never think of Him when they wish to do wrong. Whenever ambition, fortune, or pleasure entices them or leads them away, God, and His menaces, and His promises weigh nothing in the balance. The things of this life have for men a degree of certainty, which the most lively faith can never give to the objects of another life.

Every religion, in its origin, was a restraint invented by legislators who wished to subjugate the minds of the common people. Like nurses who frighten children in order to put them to sleep, ambitious men use the name of the gods to inspire fear in savages; terror seems well suited to compel them to submit quietly to the yoke which is to be imposed upon them. Are the ghost stories of childhood fit for mature age? Man in his maturity no longer believes in them, or if he does, he is troubled but little by it, and he keeps on his road.


There is scarcely a man who does not fear more what he sees than what he does not see; the judgments of men, of which he experiences the effects, than the judgments of God, of whom he has but floating ideas. The desire to please the world, the current of custom, the fear of being ridiculed, and of "WHAT WILL THEY SAY?" have more power than all religious opinions. A warrior with the fear of dishonor, does he not hazard his life in battles every day, even at the risk of incurring eternal damnation?

The most religious persons sometimes show more respect for a servant than for God. A man that firmly believes that God sees everything, knows everything, is everywhere, will, when he is alone, commit actions which he never would do in the presence of the meanest of mortals. Those even who claim to be the most firmly convinced of the existence of a God, act every instant as if they did not believe anything about it.


"Let us tolerate at least," we are told, "the idea of a God, which alone can be a restraint upon the passions of kings." But, in good faith, can we admire the marvelous effects which the fear of this God produces generally upon the mind of the princes who claim to be His images? What idea can we form of the original, if we judge it by its duplicates? Sovereigns, it is true, call, themselves the representatives of God, His lieutenants upon earth. But does the fear of a more powerful master than themselves make them attend to the welfare of the peoples that Providence has confided to their care? The idea of an invisible Judge, to whom alone they pretend to be accountable for their actions, should inspire them with terror! But does this terror render them more equitable, more humane, less avaricious of the blood and the goods of their subjects, more moderate in their pleasures, more attentive to their duties? Finally, does this God, by whom we are assured that kings reign, prevent them from vexing in a thousand ways the peoples of whom they ought to be the leaders, the protectors, and fathers? Let us open our eyes, let us turn our regards upon all the earth, and we shall see, almost everywhere, men governed by tyrants, who make use of religion but to brutalize their slaves, whom they oppress by the weight of their vices, or whom they sacrifice without mercy to their fatal extravagances. Far from being a restraint to the passions of kings, religion, by its very principles, gives them a loose rein. It transforms them into Divinities, whose caprices the nations never dare to resist. At the same time that it unchains princes and breaks for them the ties of the social pact, it enchains the minds and the hands of their oppressed subjects. Is it surprising, then, that the gods of the earth believe that all is permitted to them, and consider their subjects as vile instruments of their caprices or of their ambition?

Religion, in every country, has made of the Monarch of Nature a cruel, fantastic, partial tyrant, whose caprice is the rule. The God-monarch is but too well imitated by His representatives upon the earth. Everywhere religion seems invented but to lull to sleep the people in fetters, in order to furnish their masters the facility of devouring them, or to render them miserable with impunity.


In order to guard themselves against the enterprises of a haughty Pontiff who desired to reign over kings, and in order to protect their persons from the attacks of the credulous people excited by their priests, several princes of Europe pretended to have received their crowns and their rights from God alone, and that they should account to Him only for their actions. Civil power in its battles against spiritual power, having at length gained the advantage, and the priests being compelled to yield, recognized the Divine right of kings and preached it to the people, reserving to themselves the right to change opinions and to preach revolution, every time that the divine rights of kings did not agree with the divine rights of the clergy. It was always at the expense of the people that peace was restored between the kings and the priests, but the latter maintained their pretensions notwithstanding all treaties.

Many tyrants and wicked princes, whose conscience reproaches them for their negligence or their perversity, far from fearing their God, rather like to bargain with this invisible Judge, who never refuses anything, or with His priests, who are accommodating to the masters of the earth rather than to their subjects. The people, when reduced to despair, consider the divine rights of their chiefs as an abuse. When men become exasperated, the divine rights of tyrants are compelled to yield to the natural rights of their subjects; they have better market with the gods than with men. Kings are responsible for their actions but to God, the priests but to themselves; there is reason to believe that both of them have more faith in the indulgence of Heaven than in that of earth. It is much easier to escape the judgments of the gods, who can be appeased at little expense, than the judgments of men whose patience is exhausted. If you take away from the sovereigns the fear of an invisible power, what restraint will you oppose to their misconduct? Let them learn how to govern, how to be just, how to respect the rights of the people, to recognize the benefactions of the nations from whom they obtain their grandeur and power; let them learn to fear men, to submit to the laws of equity, that no one can violate without danger; let these laws restrain equally the powerful and the weak, the great and the small, the sovereign and the subjects.

The fear of the Gods, religion, the terrors of another life—these are the metaphysical and supernatural barriers which are opposed to the furious passions of princes! Are these barriers sufficient? We leave it to experience to solve the question! To oppose religion to the wickedness of tyrants, is to wish that vague speculations should be more powerful than inclinations which conspire to fortify them in it from day to day.


We are told constantly of the immense advantages which religion secures to politics; but if we reflect a moment, we will see without trouble that religious opinions blind and lead astray equally the rulers and the people, and never enlighten them either in regard to their true duties or their real interests. Religion but too often forms licentious, immoral tyrants, obeyed by slaves who are obliged to conform to their views. From lack of the knowledge of the true principles of administration, the aim and the rights of social life, the real interests of men, and the duties which unite them, the princes are become, in almost every land, licentious, absolute, and perverse; and their subjects abject unhappy, and wicked. It was to avoid the trouble of studying these important subjects, that they felt themselves obliged to have recourse to chimeras, which so far, instead of being a remedy, have but increased the evils of the human race and withdrawn their attention from the most interesting things. Does not the unjust and cruel manner in which so many nations are governed here below, furnish the most visible proofs, not only of the non-effect produced by the fear of another life, but of the non-existence of a Providence interested in the fate of the human race? If there existed a good God, would we not be forced to admit that He strangely neglects the majority of men in this life? It would appear that this God created the nations but to be toys for the passions and follies of His representatives upon earth.


If we read history with some attention, we shall see that Christianity, fawning at first, insinuated itself among the savage and free nations of Europe but by showing their chiefs that its principles would favor despotism and place absolute power in their hands. We see, consequently, barbarous kings converting themselves with a miraculous promptitude; that is to say, adopting without examination a system so favorable to their ambition, and exerting themselves to have it adopted by their subjects. If the ministers of this religion have since often moderated their servile principles, it is because the theory has no influence upon the conduct of the Lord's ministers, except when it suits their temporal interests.

Christianity boasts of having brought to men a happiness unknown to preceding centuries. It is true that the Grecians have not known the Divine right of tyrants or usurpers over their native country. Under the reign of Paganism it never entered the brain of anybody that Heaven did not want a nation to defend itself against a ferocious beast which insolently ravaged it. The Christian religion, devised for the benefit of tyrants, was established on the principle that the nations should renounce the legitimate defense of themselves. Thus Christian nations are deprived of the first law of nature, which decrees that man should resist evil and disarm all who attempt to destroy him. If the ministers of the Church have often permitted nations to revolt for Heaven's cause, they never allowed them to revolt against real evils or known violences.

It is from Heaven that the chains have come to fetter the minds of mortals. Why is the Mohammedan everywhere a slave? It is because his Prophet subdued him in the name of the Deity, just as Moses before him subjugated the Jews. In all parts of the world we see that priests were the first law-givers and the first sovereigns of the savages whom they governed. Religion seems to have been invented but to exalt princes above their nations, and to deliver the people to their discretion. As soon as the latter find themselves unhappy here below, they are silenced by menacing them with God's wrath; their eyes are fixed on Heaven, in order to prevent them from perceiving the real causes of their sufferings and from applying the remedies which nature offers them.


By incessantly repeating to men that the earth is not their true country; that the present life is but a passage; that they were not made to be happy in this world; that their sovereigns hold their authority but from God, and are responsible to Him alone for the misuse of it; that it is never permitted to them to resist, the priesthood succeeded in perpetuating the misconduct of the kings and the misfortunes of the people; the interests of the nations have been cowardly sacrificed to their chiefs. The more we consider the dogmas and the principles of religion, the more we shall be convinced that their only aim is to give advantage to tyrants and priests; not having the least regard for the good of society. In order to mask the powerlessness of these deaf Gods, religion has succeeded in making mortals believe that it is always iniquity which excites the wrath of Heaven. The people blame themselves for the disasters and the adversities which they endure continually. If disturbed nature sometimes causes the people to feel its blows, their bad governments are but too often the immediate and permanent causes from which spring the continual calamities that they are obliged to endure. Is it not the ambition of kings and of the great, their negligence, their vices, their oppression, to which are generally due sterility, mendacity, wars, contagions, bad morals, and all the multiplied scourges which desolate the earth?

In continually directing the eyes of men toward Heaven, making them believe that all their evils are due to Divine wrath, in furnishing them but inefficient and futile means of lessening their troubles, it would appear that the only object of the priests is to prevent the nations from dreaming of the true sources of their miseries, and to perpetuate them. The ministers of religion act like those indigent mothers, who, in need of bread, put their hungry children to sleep by songs, or who present them toys to make them forget the want which torments them.

Blinded from childhood by error, held by the invincible ties of opinion, crushed by panic terrors, stupefied at the bosom of ignorance, how could the people understand the true causes of their troubles? They think to remedy them by invoking the gods. Alas! do they not see that it is it the name of these gods that they are ordered to present their throat to the sword of their pitiless tyrants, in whom they would find the most visible cause of the evils under which they groan, and for which they uselessly implore the assistance of Heaven? Credulous people! in your adversities redouble your prayers, your offerings, your sacrifices; besiege your temples, strangle countless victims, fast in sackcloth and in ashes, drink your own tears; finally, exhaust yourselves to enrich your gods: you will do nothing but enrich their priests; the gods of Heaven will not be propitious to you, except when the gods of the earth will recognize that they are men like yourselves, and will give to your welfare the care which is your due.


Negligent, ambitious, and perverse princes are the real causes of public adversities, of useless and unjust wars continually depopulating the earth, of greedy and despotic governments, destroying the benefactions of nature for men. The rapacity of the courts discourages agriculture, blots out industry, causes famine, contagion, misery; Heaven is neither cruel nor favorable to the wishes of the people; it is their haughty chiefs, who always have a heart of brass.

It is a notion destructive to wholesome politics and to the morals of princes, to persuade them that God alone is to be feared by them, when they injure their subjects or when they neglect to render them happy. Sovereigns! It is not the Gods, but your people whom you offend when you do evil. It is to these people, and by retroaction, to yourselves, that you do harm when you govern unjustly.

Nothing is more common in history than to see religious tyrants; nothing more rare than to find equitable, vigilant, enlightened princes. A monarch can be pious, very strict in fulfilling servilely the duties of his religion, very submissive to his priests, liberal in their behalf, and at the same time destitute of all the virtues and talents necessary for governing. Religion for the princes is but an instrument intended to keep the people more firmly under the yoke. According to the beautiful principles of religious morality, a tyrant who, during a long reign, will have done nothing but oppress his subjects, rob them of the fruits of their labor, sacrifice them without pity to his insatiable ambition; a conqueror who will have usurped the provinces of others, who will have slaughtered whole nations, who will have been all his life a real scourge of the human race, imagines that his conscience can be tranquillized, if, in order to expiate so many crimes, he will have wept at the feet of a priest, who will have the cowardly complaisance to console and reassure a brigand, whom the most frightful despair would punish too little for the evil which he has done upon earth.


A sincerely religious sovereign is generally a very dangerous chief for a State; credulity always indicates a narrow mind; devotion generally absorbs the attention which the prince ought to give to the ruling of his people. Docile to the suggestions of his priests, he constantly becomes the toy of their caprices, the abettor of their quarrels, the instrument and the accomplice of their follies, to which he attaches the greatest importance. Among the most fatal gifts which religion has bestowed upon the world, we must consider above all, these devoted and zealous monarchs, who, with the idea of working for the salvation of their subjects, have made it their sacred duty to torment, to persecute, to destroy those whose conscience made them think otherwise than they do. A religious bigot at the head of an empire, is one of the greatest scourges which Heaven in its fury could have sent upon earth. One fanatical or deceitful priest who has the ear of a credulous and powerful prince, suffices to put a State into disorder and the universe into combustion.

In almost all countries, priests and devout persons are charged with forming the mind and the heart of the young princes destined to govern the nations. What enlightenment can teachers of this stamp give? Filled themselves with prejudices, they will hold up to their pupil superstition as the most important and the most sacred thing, its chimerical duties as the most holy obligations, intolerance, and the spirit of persecution, as the true foundations of his future authority; they will try to make him a chief of party, a turbulent fanatic, and a tyrant; they will suppress at an early period his reason; they will premonish him against it; they will prevent truth from reaching him; they will prejudice him against true talents, and prepossess him in favor of despicable talents; finally they will make of him an imbecile devotee, who will have no idea of justice or of injustice, of true glory or of true greatness, and who will be devoid of the intelligence and virtue necessary to the government of a great kingdom. Here, in brief, is the plan of education for a child destined to make, one day, the happiness or the misery of several millions of men.


Priests in all times have shown themselves supporters of despotism, and the enemies of public liberty. Their profession requires vile and submissive slaves, who never have the audacity to reason. In an absolute government, their great object is to secure control of the mind of a weak and stupid prince, in order to make themselves masters of the people. Instead of leading the people to salvation, priests have always led them to servitude.

For the sake of the supernatural titles which religion has forged for the most wicked princes, the latter have generally united with the priests, who, sure of governing by controlling the opinion of the sovereign himself, have charge of tying the hands of the people and of keeping them under their yoke. But it is vain that the tyrant, protected by the shield of religion, flatters himself with being sheltered from all the blows of fate. Opinion is a weak rampart against the despair of the people. Besides, the priest is the friend of the tyrant only so long as he finds his profit by the tyranny; he preaches sedition and demolishes the idol which he has made, when he considers it no longer in conformity with the interests of Heaven, which he speaks of as he pleases, and which never speaks but in behalf of his interests. No doubt it will be said, that the sovereigns, knowing all the advantages which religion procures for them, are truly interested in upholding it with all their strength. If religious opinions are useful to tyrants, it is evident that they are useless to those who govern according to the laws of reason and of equity. Is there any advantage in exercising tyranny? Does not tyranny deprive princes of true power, the love of the people, in which is safety? Should not every rational prince perceive that the despot is but an insane man who injures himself? Will not every enlightened prince beware of his flatterers, whose object is to put him to sleep at the edge of the precipice to which they lead him?


If the sacerdotal flatteries succeed in perverting princes and changing them into tyrants, the latter on their side necessarily corrupt the great men and the people. Under an unjust master, without goodness, without virtue, who knows no law but his caprice, a nation must become necessarily depraved. Will this master wish to have honest, enlightened, and virtuous men near him? No! he needs flatterers in those who approach him, imitators, slaves, base and servile minds, who give themselves up to his taste; his court will spread the contagion of vice to the inferior classes. By degrees all will be necessarily corrupted, in a State whose chief is corrupt himself. It was said a long time ago that the princes seem ordained to do all they do themselves. Religion, far from being a restraint upon the sovereigns, entitles them, without fear and without remorse, to the errors which are as fatal to themselves as to the nations which they govern. Men are never deceived with impunity. Tell a prince that he is a God, and very soon he will believe that he owes nothing to anybody. As long as he is feared, he will not care much for love; he will recognize no rights, no relations with his subjects, nor obligations in their behalf. Tell this prince that he is responsible for his actions to God alone, and very soon he will act as if he was responsible to nobody.


An enlightened sovereign is he who understands his true interests; he knows they are united to those of his nation; he knows that a prince can be neither great, nor powerful, nor beloved, nor respected, so long as he will command but miserable slaves; he knows that equity, benevolence, and vigilance will give him more real rights over men than fabulous titles which claim to come from Heaven. He will feel that religion is useful but to the priests; that it is useless to society, which is often troubled by it; that it must be limited to prevent it from doing injury; finally, he will understand that, in order to reign with glory, he must make good laws, possess virtues, and not base his power on impositions and chimeras.


The ministers of religion have taken great care to make of their God a terrible, capricious, and changeable tyrant; it was necessary for them that He should be thus in order that He might lend Himself to their various interests. A God who would be just and good, without a mixture of caprice and perversity; a God who would constantly have the qualities of an honest man or of a compliant sovereign, would not suit His ministers. It is necessary to the priests that we tremble before their God, in order that we have recourse to them to obtain the means to be quieted. No man is a hero to his valet de chambre. It is not surprising that a God clothed by His priests in such a way as to cause others to fear Him, should rarely impose upon those priests themselves, or exert but little influence upon their conduct. Consequently we see them behave themselves in a uniform way in every land; everywhere they devour nations, debase souls, discourage industry, and sow discord under the pretext of the glory of their God. Ambition and avarice were at all times the dominating passions of the priesthood; everywhere the priest places himself above the sovereign and the laws; everywhere we see him occupied but with the interests of his pride, his cupidity, his despotic and vindictive mood; everywhere he substitutes expiations, sacrifices, ceremonies, and mysterious practices; in a word, inventions lucrative to himself for useful and social virtues. The mind is confounded and reason interdicted with the view of ridiculous practices and pitiable means which the ministers of the gods invented in every country to purify souls and render Heaven favorable to nations. Here, they practice circumcision upon a child to procure it Divine benevolence; there, they pour water upon his head to wash away the crimes which he could not yet have committed; in other places he is told to plunge himself into a river whose waters have the power to wash away all his impurities; in other places certain food is forbidden to him, whose use would not fail to excite celestial indignation; in other countries they order the sinful man to come periodically for the confession of his faults to a priest, who is often a greater sinner than he.


What would we say of a crowd of quacks, who every day would exhibit in a public place, selling their remedies and recommending them as infallible, while we should find them afflicted with the same infirmities which they pretend to cure? Would we have much confidence in the recipes of these charlatans, who would bawl out: "Take our remedies, their effects are infallible—they cure everybody except us?" What would we think to see these same charlatans pass their lives in complaining that their remedies never produce any effect upon the patients who take them? Finally, what idea would we form of the foolishness of the common man who, in spite of this confession, would continue to pay very high for remedies which will not be beneficial to him? The priests resemble alchemists, who boldly assert that they have the secret of making gold, while they scarcely have clothing enough to cover their nudity.

The ministers of religion incessantly declaim against the corruption of the age, and complain loudly of the little success of their teachings, at the same time they assure us that religion is the universal remedy, the true panacea for all human evils. These priests are sick themselves; however, men continue to frequent their stands and to have faith in their Divine antidotes, which, according to their own confession, cure nobody!


Religion, especially among modern people, in taking possession of morality, totally obscured its principles; it has rendered men unsocial from a sense of duty; it has forced them to be inhuman toward all those who did not think as they did. Theological disputes, equally unintelligible for the parties already irritated against each other, have unsettled empires, caused revolutions, ruined sovereigns, devastated the whole of Europe; these despicable quarrels could not be extinguished even in rivers of blood. After the extinction of Paganism the people established a religious principle of going into a frenzy, every time that an opinion was brought forth which their priests considered contrary to the holy doctrine. The votaries of a religion which preaches externally but charity, harmony, and peace, have shown themselves more ferocious than cannibals or savages every time that their instructors have excited them to the destruction of their brethren. There is no crime which men have not committed in the idea of pleasing the Deity or of appeasing His wrath. The idea of a terrible God who was represented as a despot, must necessarily have rendered His subjects wicked. Fear makes but slaves, and slaves are cowardly, low, cruel, and think they have a right to do anything when it is the question of gaining the good-will or of escaping the punishments of the master whom they fear. Liberty of thought can alone give to men humanity and grandeur of soul. The notion of a tyrant God can create but abject, angry, quarrelsome, intolerant slaves. Every religion which supposes a God easily irritated, jealous, vindictive, punctilious about His rights or His title, a God small enough to be offended at opinions which we have of Him, a God unjust enough to exact uniform ideas in regard to Him, such a religion becomes necessarily turbulent, unsocial, sanguinary; the worshipers of such a God never believe they can, without crime, dispense with hating and even destroying all those whom they designate as adversaries of this God; they would believe themselves traitors to the cause of their celestial Monarch, if they should live on good terms with rebellious fellow-citizens. To love what God hates, would it not be exposing one's self to His implacable hatred? Infamous persecutors, and you, religious cannibals! will you never feel the folly and injustice of your intolerant disposition? Do you not see that man is no more the master of his religious opinions, of his credulity or incredulity, than of the language which he learns in childhood, and which he can not change? To tell men to think as you do, is it not asking a foreigner to express his thoughts in your language? To punish a man for his erroneous opinions, is it not punishing him for having been educated differently from yourself? If I am incredulous, is it possible for me to banish from my mind the reasons which have unsettled my faith? If God allows men the freedom to damn themselves, is it your business? Are you wiser and more prudent than this God whose rights you wish to avenge?


There is no religious person who, according to his temperament, does not hate, despise, or pity the adherents of a sect different from his own. The dominant religion (which is never but that of the sovereign and the armies) always makes its superiority felt in a very cruel and injurious manner toward the weaker sects. There does not exist yet upon earth a true tolerance; everywhere a jealous God is worshiped, and each nation believes itself His friend to the exclusion of all others.

Every nation boasts itself of worshiping the true God, the universal God, the Sovereign of Nature; but when we come to examine this Monarch of the world, we perceive that each organization, each sect, each religious party, makes of this powerful God but an inferior sovereign, whose cares and kindness extend themselves but over a small number of His subjects who pretend to have the exclusive advantage of His favors, and that He does not trouble Himself about the others.

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