Superstition In All Ages (1732) - Common Sense
by Jean Meslier
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The founders of religions, and the priests who maintain them, have intended to separate the nations which they indoctrinated, from other nations; they desired to separate their own flock by distinctive features; they gave to their votaries Gods inimical to other Gods as well as the forms of worship, dogmas, ceremonies, separately; they persuaded them especially that the religions of others were ungodly and abominable. By this infamous contrivance, these ambitious impostors took exclusive possession of the minds of their votaries, rendered them unsocial, and made them consider as outcasts all those who had not the same ideas and form of worship as their own. This is the way religion succeeded in closing the heart, and in banishing from it that affection which man ought to have for his fellow-being. Sociability, tolerance, humanity, these first virtues of all morality are totally in compatible with religious prejudices.


Every national religion has a tendency to make man vain, unsocial, and wicked; the first step toward humanity is to permit each one to follow peacefully the worship and the opinions which suit him. But such a conduct can not please the ministers of religion, who wish to have the right to tyrannize over even the thoughts of men. Blind and bigoted princes, you hate, you persecute, you devote heretics to torture, because you are persuaded that these unfortunate ones displease God. But do you not claim that your God is full of kindness? How can you hope to please Him by such barbarous actions which He can not help disapproving of? Besides, who told you that their opinions displease your God? Your priests told you! But who guarantees that your priests are not deceived themselves or that they do not wish to deceive you? It is these same priests! Princes! it is upon the perilous word of your priests that you commit the most atrocious and the most unheard-of crimes, with the idea of pleasing the Deity!



"Never," says Pascal, "do we do evil so thoroughly and so willingly as when we do it through a false principle of conscience." Nothing is more dangerous than a religion which licenses the ferocity of the people, and justifies in their eyes the blackest crimes; it puts no limits to their wickedness as soon as they believe it authorized by their God, whose interests, as they are told, can justify all their actions. If there is a question of religion, immediately the most civilized nations become true savages, and believe everything is permitted to them. The more cruel they are, the more agreeable they suppose themselves to be to their God, whose cause they imagine can not be sustained by too much zeal. All religions of the world have authorized countless crimes. The Jews, excited by the promises of their God, arrogated to themselves the right of exterminating whole nations; the Romans, whose faith was founded upon the oracles of their Gods, became real brigands, and conquered and ravaged the world; the Arabians, encouraged by their Divine preceptor, carried the sword and the flame among Christians and idolaters. The Christians, under pretext of spreading their holy religion, covered the two hemispheres a hundred times with blood. In all events favorable to their own interests, which they always call the cause of God, the priests show us the finger of God. According to these principles, religious bigots have the luck of seeing the finger of God in revolts, in revolutions, massacres, regicides, prostitutions, infamies, and, if these things contribute to the advantage of religion, we can say, then, that God uses all sorts of means to secure His ends. Is there anything better calculated to annihilate every idea of morality in the minds of men, than to make them understand that their God, who is so powerful and so perfect, is often compelled to use crime to accomplish His designs?


When we complain about the violence and evils which generally religion causes upon earth, we are answered at once, that these excesses are not due to religion, but that they are the sad effect of men's passions. I would ask, however, what unchained these passions? It is evidently religion; it is a zeal which renders inhuman, and which serves to cover the greatest infamy. Do not these disorders prove that religion, instead of restraining the passions of men, does but cover them with a cloak that sanctifies them; and that nothing would be more beneficial than to tear away this sacred cloak of which men make such a bad use? What horrors would be banished from society, if the wicked were deprived of a pretext so plausible for disturbing it!

Instead of cherishing peace among men, the priests stirred up hatred and strife. They pleaded their conscience, and pretended to have received from Heaven the right to be quarrelsome, turbulent, and rebellious. Do not the ministers of God consider themselves to be wronged, do they not pretend that His Divine Majesty is injured every time that the sovereigns have the temerity to try to prevent them from doing injury? The priests resemble that irritable woman, who cried out fire! murder! assassins! while her husband was holding her hands to prevent her from beating him.


Notwithstanding the bloody tragedies which religion has so often caused in this world, we are constantly told that there can be no morality without religion. If we judge theological opinions by their effects, we would be right in assuming that all morality is perfectly incompatible with the religious opinions of men. "Imitate God," is constantly repeated to us. Ah! what morals would we have if we should imitate this God! Which God should we imitate? Is it the deist's God? But even this God can not be a model of goodness for us. If He is the author of all, He is equally the author of the good and of the bad we see in this world; if He is the author of order, He is also the author of disorder, which would not exist without His permission; if He produces, He destroys; if He gives life, He also causes death; if He grants abundance, riches, prosperity, and peace, He permits or sends famines, poverty, calamities, and wars. How can you accept as a model of permanent beneficence the God of theism or of natural religion, whose favorable intentions are at every moment contradicted by everything that transpires in the world? Morality needs a firmer basis than the example of a God whose conduct varies, and whom we can not call good but by obstinately closing the eyes to the evil which He causes, or permits to be done in this world.

Shall we imitate the good and great Jupiter of ancient Paganism? To imitate such a God would be to take as a model a rebellious son, who wrests his father's throne from him and then mutilates his body; it is imitating a debauchee and adulterer, an incestuous, intemperate man, whose conduct would cause any reasonable mortal to blush. What would have become of men under the control of Paganism if they had imagined, according to Plato, that virtue consisted in imitating the gods?

Must we imitate the God of the Jews? Will we find a model for our conduct in Jehovah? He is truly a savage God, really created for an ignorant, cruel, and immoral people; He is a God who is constantly enraged, breathing only vengeance; who is without pity, who commands carnage and robbery; in a word, He is a God whose conduct can not serve as a model to an honest man, and who can be imitated but by a chief of brigands.

Shall we imitate, then, the Jesus of the Christians? Can this God, who died to appease the implacable fury of His Father, serve as an example which men ought to follow? Alas! we will see in Him but a God, or rather a fanatic, a misanthrope, who being plunged Himself into misery, and preaching to the wretched, advises them to be poor, to combat and extinguish nature, to hate pleasure, to seek sufferings, and to despise themselves; He tells them to leave father, mother, all the ties of life, in order to follow Him. What beautiful morality! you will say. It is admirable, no doubt; it must be Divine, because it is impracticable for men. But does not this sublime morality tend to render virtue despicable? According to this boasted morality of the man-God of the Christians, His disciples in this lower world are, like Tantalus, tormented with burning thirst, which they are not permitted to quench. Do not such morals give us a wonderful idea of nature's Author? If He has, as we are assured, created everything for the use of His creatures, by what strange caprice does He forbid the use of the good things which He has created for them? Is the pleasure which man constantly desires but a snare that God has maliciously laid in his path to entrap him?


The votaries of Christ would like to make us regard as a miracle the establishment of their religion, which is in every respect contrary to nature, opposed to all the inclinations of the heart, an enemy to physical pleasures. But the austerity of a doctrine has a tendency to render it more wonderful to the ignorant. The same reason which makes us respect, as Divine and supernatural, inconceivable mysteries, causes us to admire, as Divine and supernatural, a morality impracticable and beyond the power of man. To admire morals and to practice them, are two very different things. All the Christians continually admire the morals of the Gospel, but it is practiced but by a small number of saints; admired by people who themselves avoid imitating their conduct, under the pretext that they are lacking either the power or the grace.

The whole universe is infected more or less with a religious morality which is founded upon the opinion that to please the Deity it is necessary to render one's self unhappy upon earth. We see in all parts of our globe penitents, hermits, fakirs, fanatics, who seem to have studied profoundly the means of tormenting themselves for the glory of a Being whose goodness they all agree in celebrating. Religion, by its essence, is the enemy of joy and of the welfare of men. "Blessed are those who suffer!" Woe to those who have abundance and joy! These are the rare revelations which Christianity teaches!


In what consists the saint of all religions? It is a man who prays, fasts, who torments himself, who avoids the world, who, like an owl, is pleased but in solitude, who abstains from all pleasure, who seems frightened at every object which turns him a moment from his fanatical meditations. Is this virtue? Is a being of this stamp of any use to himself or to others? Would not society be dissolved, and would not men retrograde into barbarism, if each one should be fool enough to wish to be a saint?

It is evident that the literal and rigorous practice of the Divine morality of the Christians would lead nations to ruin. A Christian who would attain perfection, ought to drive away from his mind all that can alienate him from heaven—his true country. He sees upon earth but temptations, snares, and opportunities to go astray; he must fear science as injurious to faith; he must avoid industry, as it is a means of obtaining riches, which are fatal to salvation; he must renounce preferments and honors, as things capable of exciting his pride and calling his attention away from his soul; in a word, the sublime morality of Christ, if it were not impracticable, would sever all the ties of society.

A saint in the world is no more useful than a saint in the desert; the saint has an unhappy, discontented, and often irritable, turbulent disposition; his zeal often obliges him, conscientiously, to disturb society by opinions or dreams which his vanity makes him accept as inspirations from Heaven. The annals of all religions are filled with accounts of anxious, intractable, seditious saints, who have distinguished themselves by ravages that, for the greater glory of God, they have scattered throughout the universe. If the saints who live in solitude are useless, those who live in the world are very often dangerous. The vanity of performing a role, the desire of distinguishing themselves in the eyes of the stupid vulgar by a strange conduct, constitute usually the distinctive characteristics of great saints; pride persuades them that they are extraordinary men, far above human nature; beings who are more perfect than others; chosen ones, which God looks upon with more complaisance than the rest of mortals. Humility in a saint is, is a general rule, but a pride more refined than that of common men. It must be a very ridiculous vanity which can determine a man to continually war with his own nature!


A morality which contradicts the nature of man is not made for him. But you will say that man's nature is depraved. In what consists this pretended depravity? Is it because he has passions? But are not passions the very essence of man? Must he not seek, desire, love that which is, or that which he believes to be, essential to his happiness? Must he not fear and avoid that which he judges injurious or fatal to him? Excite his passions by useful objects; let him attach himself to these same objects, divert him by sensible and known motives from that which can do him or others harm, and you will make of him a reasonable and virtuous being. A man without passions would be equally indifferent to vice and to virtue.

Holy doctors! you constantly tell us that man's nature is perverted; you tell us that the way of all flesh is corrupt; you tell us that nature gives us but inordinate inclinations. In this case you accuse your God, who has not been able or willing to keep this nature in its original perfection. If this nature became corrupted, why did not this God repair it? The Christian assures me that human nature is repaired, that the death of his God has reestablished it in its integrity. How comes it then, that human nature, notwithstanding the death of a God, is still depraved? Is it, then, a pure loss that your God died? What becomes of His omnipotence and His victory over the Devil, if it is true that the Devil still holds the empire which, according to you, he has always exercised in the world?

Death, according to Christian theology, is the penalty of sin. This opinion agrees with that of some savage Negro nations, who imagine that the death of a man is always the supernatural effect of the wrath of the Gods. The Christians firmly believe that Christ has delivered them from sin, while they see that, in their religion as in the others, man is subject to death. To say that Jesus Christ has delivered us from sin, is it not claiming that a judge has granted pardon to a guilty man, while we see him sent to torture?


If, closing our eyes upon all that transpires in this world, we should rely upon the votaries of the Christian religion, we would believe that the coming of our Divine Saviour has produced the most wonderful revolution and the most complete reform in the morals of nations. The Messiah, according to Pascal, [See Thoughts of Pascal] ought of Himself alone to produce a great, select, and holy people; conducting and nourishing it, and introducing it into the place of repose and sanctity, rendering it holy to God, making it the temple of God, saving it from the wrath of God, delivering it from the servitude of sin, giving laws to this people, engraving these laws upon their hearts, offering Himself to God for them, crushing the head of the serpent, etc. This great man has forgotten to show us the people upon whom His Divine Messiah has produced the miraculous effects of which He speaks with so much emphasis; so far, it seems, they do not exist upon the earth!

If we examine ever so little the morals of the Christian nations, and listen to the clamors of their priests, we will be obliged to conclude that their God, Jesus Christ, preached without fruit, without success; that His Almighty will still finds in men a resistance, over which this God either can not or does not wish to triumph. The morality of this Divine Doctor which His disciples admire so much, and practice so little, is followed during a whole century but by half a dozen of obscure saints, fanatical and ignorant monks, who alone will have the glory of shining in the celestial court; all the remainder of mortals, although redeemed by the blood of this God, will be the prey of eternal flames.


When a man has a great desire to sin, he thinks very little about his God; more than this, whatever crimes he may have committed, he always flatters himself that this God will mitigate the severity of his punishments. No mortal seriously believes that his conduct can damn him. Although he fears a terrible God, who often makes him tremble, every time he is strongly tempted he succumbs and sees but a God of mercy, the idea of whom quiets him. Does he do evil? He hopes to have the time to correct himself, and promises earnestly to repent some day.

There are in the religious pharmacy infallible receipts for calming the conscience; the priests in every country possess sovereign secrets for disarming the wrath of Heaven. However true it may be that the anger of Deity is appeased by prayers, by offerings, by sacrifices, by penitential tears, we have no right to say that religion holds in check the irregularities of men; they will first sin, and afterward seek the means to reconcile God. Every religion which expiates, and which promises the remission of crimes, if it restrains any, it encourages the great number to commit evil. Notwithstanding His immutability, God is, in all the religions of this world, a veritable Proteus. His priests show Him now armed with severity, and then full of clemency and gentleness; now cruel and pitiless, and then easily reconciled by the repentance and the tears of the sinners. Consequently, men face the Deity in the manner which conforms the most to their present interests. An always wrathful God would repel His worshipers, or cast them into despair. Men need a God who becomes angry and who can be appeased; if His anger alarms a few timid souls, His clemency reassures the determined wicked ones who intend to have recourse sooner or later to the means of reconciling themselves with Him; if the judgments of God frighten a few faint-hearted devotees who already by temperament and by habitude are not inclined to evil, the treasures of Divine mercy reassure the greatest criminals, who have reason to hope that they will participate in them with the others.


The majority of men rarely think of God, or, at least, do not occupy themselves much with Him. The idea of God has so little stability, it is so afflicting, that it can not hold the imagination for a long time, except in some sad and melancholy visionists who do not constitute the majority of the inhabitants of this world. The common man has no conception of it; his weak brain becomes perplexed the moment he attempts to think of Him. The business man thinks of nothing but his affairs; the courtier of his intrigues; worldly men, women, youth, of their pleasures; dissipation soon dispels the wearisome notions of religion. The ambitious, the avaricious, and the debauchee sedulously lay aside speculations too feeble to counterbalance their diverse passions.

Whom does the idea of God overawe? A few weak men disappointed and disgusted with this world; some persons whose passions are already extinguished by age, by infirmities, or by reverses of fortune. Religion is a restraint but for those whose temperament or circumstances have already subjected them to reason. The fear of God does not prevent any from committing sin but those who do not wish to sin very much, or who are no longer in a condition to sin. To tell men that Divinity punishes crime in this world, is to claim as a fact that which experience contradicts constantly The most wicked men are usually the arbiters of the world, and those whom fortune blesses with its favors. To convince us of the judgments of God by sending us to the other life, is to make us accept conjectures in order to destroy facts which we can not dispute.


No one dreams about another life when he is very much absorbed in objects which he meets on earth. In the eyes of a passionate lover, the presence of his mistress extinguishes the fires of hell, and her charms blot out all the pleasures of Paradise. Woman! you leave, you say, your lover for your God? It is that your lover is no longer the same in your estimation; or your lover leaves you, and you must fill the void which is made in your heart. Nothing is more common than to see ambitious, perverse, corrupt, and immoral men who are religious, and who sometimes exhibit even zeal in its behalf; if they do not practice religion, they promise themselves they will practice it some day; they keep it in reserve as a remedy which, sooner or later, will be necessary to quiet the conscience for the evil which they intend yet to do. Besides, devotees and priests being a very numerous, active, and powerful party, it is not astonishing to see impostors and thieves seek for its support in order to gain their ends. We will be told, no doubt, that many honest people are sincerely religious without profit; but is uprightness of heart always accompanied with intelligence? We are cited to a great number of learned men, men of genius, who are very religious. This proves that men of genius can have prejudices, can be pusillanimous, can have an imagination which seduces them and prevents them from examining objects coolly. Pascal proves nothing in favor of religion, except that a man of genius can possess a grain of weakness, and is but a child when he is weak enough to listen to prejudices. Pascal himself tells us "that the mind can be strong and narrow, and just as extended as it is weak." He says more: "We can have our senses all right, and not be equally able in all things; because there are men who, being right in a certain sphere of things, lose themselves in others."


What is virtue according to theology? It is, we are told, the conformity of men's actions with the will of God. But who is God? He is a being whom no one is able to conceive of, and whom, consequently, each one modifies in his own way. What is the will of God? It is what men who have seen God, or whom God has inspired, have told us. Who are those who have seen God? They are either fanatics, or scoundrels, or ambitious men, whose word we can not rely upon. To found morality upon a God that each man represents differently, that each one composes by his own idea, whom everybody arranges according to his own temperament and his own interest, is evidently founding morality upon the caprice and upon the imagination of men; it is basing it upon the whims of a sect, faction, or party, who, excluding all others, claim to have the advantage of worshiping the true God.

To establish morality, or the duties of man, upon the Divine will, is founding it upon the wishes, the reveries, or the interests of those who make God talk without fear of contradiction. In every religion the priests alone have the right to decide upon what pleases or displeases their God; we may rest assured that they will decide upon what pleases or displeases themselves.

The dogmas, ceremonies, the morality and the virtues which all religions of the world prescribe, are visibly calculated only to extend the power or to increase the emoluments of the founders and of the ministers of these religions; the dogmas are obscure, inconceivable, frightful, and, thereby, very liable to cause the imagination to wander, and to render the common man more docile to those who wish to domineer over him; the ceremonies and practices procure fortune or consideration to the priests; the religious morals and virtues consist in a submissive faith, which prevents reasoning; in a devout humility, which assures to the priests the submission of their slaves; in an ardent zeal, when the question of religion is agitated; that is to say, when the interest of these priests is considered, all religious virtues having evidently for their object the advantage of the priests.


When we reproach the theologians with the sterility of their religious virtues, they praise, with emphasis, charity, that tender love of our neighbor which Christianity makes an essential duty for its disciples. But, alas! what becomes of this pretended charity as soon as we examine the actions of the Lord's ministers? Ask if you must love your neighbor if he is impious, heretical, and incredulous, that is to say, if he does not think as they do? Ask them if you must tolerate opinions contrary to those which they profess? Ask them if the Lord can show indulgence to those who are in error? Immediately their charity disappears, and the dominating clergy will tell you that the prince carries the sword but to sustain the interests of the Most High; they will tell you that for love of the neighbor, you must persecute, imprison, exile, or burn him. You will find tolerance among a few priests who are persecuted themselves, but who put aside Christian charity as soon as they have the power to persecute in their turn.

The Christian religion which was originally preached by beggars and by very wretched men, strongly recommends alms-giving under the name of charity; the faith of Mohammed equally makes it an indispensable duty. Nothing, no doubt, is better suited to humanity than to assist the unfortunate, to clothe the naked, to lend a charitable hand to whoever needs it. But would it not be more humane and more charitable to foresee the misery and to prevent the poor from increasing? If religion, instead of deifying princes, had but taught them to respect the property of their subjects, to be just, and to exercise but their legitimate rights, we should not see such a great number of mendicants in their realms. A greedy, unjust, tyrannical government multiplies misery; the rigor of taxes produces discouragement, idleness, indigence, which, on their part, produce robbery, murders, and all kinds of crime. If the sovereigns had more humanity, charity, and justice, their States would not be peopled by so many unfortunate ones whose misery becomes impossible to soothe.

The Christian and Mohammedan States are filled with vast and richly endowed hospitals, in which we admire the pious charity of the kings and of the sultans who erected them. Would it not have been more humane to govern the people well, to procure them ease, to excite and to favor industry and trade, to permit them to enjoy in safety the fruits of their labors, than to oppress them under a despotic yoke, to impoverish them by senseless wars, to reduce them to mendicity in order to gratify an immoderate luxury, and afterward build sumptuous monuments which can contain but a very small portion of those whom they have rendered miserable? Religion, by its virtues, has but given a change to men; instead of foreseeing evils, it applies but insufficient remedies. The ministers of Heaven have always known how to benefit themselves by the calamities of others; public misery became their element; they made themselves the administrators of the goods of the poor, the distributors of alms, the depositaries of charities; thereby they extended and sustained at all times their power over the unfortunates who usually compose the most numerous, the most anxious, the most seditious part of society. Thus the greatest evils are made profitable to the ministers of the Lord.

The Christian priests tell us that the goods which they possess are the goods of the poor, and pretend by this title that their possessions are sacred; consequently, the sovereigns and the people press themselves to accumulate lands, revenues, treasures for them; under pretext of charity, our spiritual guides have become very opulent, and enjoy, in the sight of the impoverished nations, goods which were destined but for the miserable; the latter, far from murmuring about it, applaud a deceitful generosity which enriches the Church, but which very rarely alleviates the sufferings of the poor.

According to the principles of Christianity, poverty itself is a virtue, and it is this virtue which the sovereigns and the priests make their slaves observe the most. According to these ideas, a great number of pious Christians have renounced with good-will the perishable riches of the earth; have distributed their patrimony to the poor, and have retired into a desert to live a life of voluntary indigence. But very soon this enthusiasm, this supernatural taste for misery, must surrender to nature. The successors to these voluntary poor, sold to the religious people their prayers and their powerful intercession with the Deity; they became rich and powerful; thus, monks and hermits lived in idleness, and, under the pretext of charity, devoured insultingly the substance of the poor. Poverty of spirit was that of which religion made always the greatest use. The fundamental virtue of all religion, that is to say, the most useful one to its ministers, is faith. It consists in an unlimited credulity, which causes men to believe, without examination, all that which the interpreters of the Deity wish them to believe. With the aid of this wonderful virtue, the priests became the arbiters of justice and of injustice; of good and of evil; they found it easy to commit crimes when crimes became necessary to their interests. Implicit faith has been the source of the greatest outrages which have been committed upon the earth.


He who first proclaimed to the nations that, when man had wronged man, he must ask God's pardon, appease His wrath by presents, and offer Him sacrifices, obviously subverted the true principles of morality. According to these ideas, men imagine that they can obtain from the King of Heaven, as well as from the kings of the earth, permission to be unjust and wicked, or at least pardon for the evil which they might commit.

Morality is founded upon the relations, the needs, and the constant interests of the inhabitants of the earth; the relations which subsist between men and God are either entirely unknown or imaginary. The religion associating God with men has visibly weakened or destroyed the ties which unite men.

Mortals imagine that they can, with impunity, injure each other by making a suitable reparation to the Almighty Being, who is supposed to have the right to remit all the injuries done to His creatures. Is there anything more liable to encourage wickedness and to embolden to crime, than to persuade men that there exists an invisible being who has the right to pardon injustice, rapine, perfidy, and all the outrages they can inflict upon society? Encouraged by these fatal ideas, we see the most perverse men abandon themselves to the greatest crimes, and expect to repair them by imploring Divine mercy; their conscience rests in peace when a priest assures them that Heaven is quieted by sincere repentance, which is very useless to the world; this priest consoles them in the name of Deity, if they consent in reparation of their faults to divide with His ministers the fruits of their plunderings, of their frauds, and of their wickedness. Morality united to religion, becomes necessarily subordinate to it. In the mind of a religious person, God must be preferred to His creatures; "It is better to obey Him than men!" The interests of the Celestial Monarch must be above those of weak mortals. But the interests of Heaven are evidently the interests of the ministers of Heaven; from which it follows evidently, that in all religions, the priests, under pretext of Heaven's interest's, or of God's glory, will be able to dispense with the duties of human morals when they do not agree with the duties which God is entitled to impose.

Besides, He who has the power to pardon crimes, has He not the right to order them committed?


We are constantly told that without a God, there can be no moral obligation; that it is necessary for men and for the sovereigns themselves to have a lawgiver sufficiently powerful to compel them to be moral; moral obligation implies a law; but this law arises from the eternal and necessary relations of things among themselves, which have nothing in common with the existence of a God. The rules which govern men's conduct spring from their own nature, which they are supposed to know, and not from the Divine nature, of which they have no conception; these rules compel us to render ourselves estimable or contemptible, amiable or hateful, worthy of reward or of punishments, happy or unhappy, according to the extent to which we observe them. The law that compels man not to harm himself, is inherent in the nature of a sensible being, who, no matter how he came into this world, or what can be his fate in another, is compelled by his very nature to seek his welfare and to shun evil, to love pleasure and to fear pain. The law which compels a man not to harm others and to do good, is inherent in the nature of sensible beings living in society, who, by their nature, are compelled to despise those who do them no good, and to detest those who oppose their happiness. Whether there exists a God or not, whether this God has spoken or not, men's moral duties will always be the same so long as they possess their own nature; that is to say, so long as they are sensible beings. Do men need a God whom they do not know, or an invisible lawgiver, or a mysterious religion, or chimerical fears in order to comprehend that all excess tends ultimately to destroy them, and that in order to preserve themselves they must abstain from it; that in order to be loved by others, they must do good; that doing evil is a sure means of incurring their hatred and vengeance? "Before the law there was no sin." Nothing is more false than this maxim. It is enough for a man to be what he is, to be a sensible being in order to distinguish that which pleases or displeases him. It is enough that a man knows that another man is a sensible being like himself, in order for him to know what is useful or injurious to him. It is enough that man needs his fellow-creature, in order that he should fear that he might produce unfavorable impressions upon him. Thus a sentient and thinking being needs but to feel and to think, in order to discover that which is due to him and to others. I feel, and another feels, like myself; this is the foundation of all morality.


We can judge of the merit of a system of morals but by its conformity with man's nature. According to this comparison, we have a right to reject it, if we find it detrimental to the welfare of mankind. Whoever has seriously meditated upon religion and its supernatural morality, whoever has weighed its advantages and disadvantages, will become convinced that they are both injurious to the interests of the human race, or directly opposed to man's nature.

"People, to arms! Your God's cause is at stake! Heaven is outraged! Faith is in danger! Down upon infidelity, blasphemy, and heresy!"

By the magical power of these valiant words, which the people never understand, the priests in all ages were the leaders in the revolts of nations, in dethroning kings, in kindling civil wars, and in imprisoning men. When we chance to examine the important objects which have excited the Celestial wrath and produced so many ravages upon the earth, it is found that the foolish reveries and the strange conjectures of some theologian who did not understand himself, or, the pretensions of the clergy, have severed all ties of society and inundated the human race in its own blood and tears.


The sovereigns of this world in associating the Deity in the government of their realms, in pretending to be His lieutenants and His representatives upon earth, in admitting that they hold their power from Him, must necessarily accept His ministers as rivals or as masters. Is it, then, astonishing that the priests have often made the kings feel the superiority of the Celestial Monarch? Have they not more than once made the temporal princes understand that the greatest physical power is compelled to surrender to the spiritual power of opinion? Nothing is more difficult than to serve two masters, especially when they do not agree upon what they demand of their subjects. The anion of religion with politics has necessarily caused a double legislation in the States. The law of God, interpreted by His priests, is often contrary to the law of the sovereign or to the interest of the State. When the princes are firm, and sure of the love of their subjects, God's law is sometimes obliged to comply with the wise intentions of the temporal sovereign; but more often the sovereign authority is obliged to retreat before the Divine authority, that is to say, before the interests of the clergy. Nothing is more dangerous for a prince, than to meddle with ecclesiastical affairs (to put his hands into the holy-water pot), that is to say, to attempt the reform of abuses consecrated by religion. God is never more angry than when the Divine rights, the privileges, the possessions, and the immunities of His priests are interfered with.

Metaphysical speculations or the religious opinions of men, never influence their conduct except when they believe them conformed to their interests. Nothing proves this truth more forcibly than the conduct of a great number of princes in regard to the spiritual power, which we see them very often resist. Should not a sovereign who is persuaded of the importance and the rights of religion, conscientiously feel himself obliged to receive with respect the orders of his priests, and consider them as commandments of the Deity? There was a time when the kings and the people, more conformable, and convinced of the rights of the spiritual power, became its slaves, surrendered to it on all occasions, and were but docile instruments in its hands; this happy time is no more. By a strange inconsistency, we sometimes see the most religious monarchs oppose the enterprises of those whom they regard as God's ministers. A sovereign who is filled with religion or respect for his God, ought to be constantly prostrate before his priests, and regard them as his true sovereigns. Is there a power upon the earth which has the right to measure itself with that of the Most High?


Have the princes who believe themselves interested in propagating the prejudices of their subjects, reflected well upon the effects which are produced by privileged demagogues, who have the right to speak when they choose, and excite in the name of Heaven the passions of many millions of their subjects? What ravages would not these holy haranguers cause should they conspire to disturb a State, as they have so often done?

Nothing is more onerous and more ruinous for the greatest part of the nations than the worship of their Gods! Everywhere their ministers not only rank as the first order in the State, but also enjoy the greater portion of society's benefits, and have the right to levy continual taxes upon their fellow-citizens. What real advantages do these organs of the Most High procure for the people in exchange for the immense profits which they draw from them? Do they give them in exchange for their wealth and their courtesies anything but mysteries, hypotheses, ceremonies, subtle questions, interminable quarrels, which very often their States must pay for with their blood?


Religion, which claims to be the firmest support of morality, evidently deprives it of its true motor, to substitute imaginary motors, inconceivable chimeras, which, being obviously contrary to common sense, can not be firmly believed by any one. Everybody assures us that he believes firmly in a God who rewards and punishes; everybody claims to be persuaded of the existence of a hell and of a Paradise; however, do we see that these ideas render men better or counterbalance in the minds of the greatest number of them the slightest interest? Each one assures us that he is afraid of God's judgments, although each one gives vent to his passions when he believes himself sure of escaping the judgments of men. The fear of invisible powers is rarely as great as the fear of visible powers. Unknown or distant sufferings make less impression upon people than the erected gallows, or the example of a hanged man. There is scarcely any courtier who fears God's anger more than the displeasure of his master. A pension, a title, a ribbon, are sufficient to make one forget the torments of hell and the pleasures of the celestial court. A woman's caresses expose him every day to the displeasure of the Most High. A joke, a banter, a bon-mot, make more impression upon the man of the world than all the grave notions of his religion. Are we not assured that a true repentance is sufficient to appease Divinity? However, we do not see that this true repentance is sincerely expressed; at least, we very rarely see great thieves, even in the hour of death, restore the goods which they know they have unjustly acquired. Men persuade themselves, no doubt, that they will submit to the eternal fire, if they can not guarantee themselves against it. But as settlements can be made with Heaven by giving the Church a portion of their fortunes, there are very few religious thieves who do not die perfectly quieted about the manner in which they gained their riches in this world.


Even by the confession of the most ardent defenders of religion and of its usefulness, nothing is more rare than sincere conversions; to which we might add, nothing is more useless to society. Men do not become disgusted with the world until the world is disgusted with them; a woman gives herself to God only when the world no longer wants her. Her vanity finds in religious devotion a role which occupies her and consoles her for the ruin of her charms. She passes her time in the most trifling practices, parties, intrigues, invectives, and slander; zeal furnishes her the means of distinguishing herself and becoming an object of consideration in the religious circle. If the bigots have the talent to please God and His priests, they rarely possess that of pleasing society or of rendering themselves useful to it. Religion for a devotee is a veil which covers and justifies all his passions, his pride, his bad humor, his anger, his vengeance, his impatience, his bitterness. Religion arrogates to itself a tyrannical superiority which banishes from commerce all gentleness, gaiety, and joy; it gives the right to censure others; to capture and to exterminate the infidels for the glory of God; it is very common to be religious and to have none of the virtues or the qualities necessary to social life.


We are assured that the dogma of another life is of the greatest importance to the peace of society; it is imagined that without it men would have no motives for doing good. Why do we need terrors and fables to teach any reasonable man how he ought to conduct himself upon earth? Does not each one of us see that he has the greatest interest in deserving the approbation, esteem, and kindness of the beings which surround him, and in avoiding all that can cause the censure, the contempt, and the resentment of society? No matter how short the duration of a festival, of a conversation, or of a visit may be, does not each one of us wish to act a befitting part in it, agreeable to himself and to others? If life is but a passage, let us try to make it easy; it can not be so if we lack the regards of those who travel with us.

Religion, which is so sadly occupied with its gloomy reveries, represents man to us as but a pilgrim upon earth; it concludes that in order to travel with more safety, he should travel alone; renounce the pleasures which he meets and deprive himself of the amusements which could console him for the fatigues and the weariness of the road. A stoical and morose philosophy sometimes gives us counsels as senseless as religion; but a more rational philosophy inspires us to strew flowers on life's pathway; to dispel melancholy and panic terrors; to link our interests with those of our traveling companions; to divert ourselves by gaiety and honest pleasures from the pains and the crosses to which we are so often exposed. We are made to feel, that in order to travel pleasantly, we should abstain from that which could become injurious to ourselves, and to avoid with great care that which could make us odious to our associates.



It is asked what motives has an atheist for doing right. He can have the motive of pleasing himself and his fellow-creatures; of living happily and tranquilly; of making himself loved and respected by men, whose existence and whose dispositions are better known than those of a being impossible to understand. Can he who fears not the Gods, fear anything? He can fear men, their contempt, their disrespect, and the punishments which the laws inflict; finally, he can fear himself; he can be afraid of the remorse that all those experience whose conscience reproaches them for having deserved the hatred of their fellow-beings. Conscience is the inward testimony which we render to ourselves for having acted in such a manner as to deserve the esteem or the censure of those with whom we associate. This conscience is based upon the knowledge which we have of men, and of the sentiments which our actions must awaken in them. A religious person's conscience persuades him that he has pleased or displeased his God, of whom he has no idea, and whose obscure and doubtful intentions are explained to him only by suspicious men, who know no more of the essence of Divinity than he does, and who do not agree upon what can please or displease God. In a word, the conscience of a credulous man is guided by men whose own conscience is in error, or whose interest extinguishes intelligence.

Can an atheist have conscience? What are his motives for abstaining from secret vices and crimes of which other men are ignorant, and which are beyond the reach of laws? He can be assured by constant experience that there is no vice which, in the nature of things, does not bring its own punishment. If he wishes to preserve himself, he will avoid all those excesses which can be injurious to his health; he would not desire to live and linger, thus becoming a burden to himself and others. In regard to secret crimes, he would avoid them through fear of being ashamed of himself, from whom he can not hide. If he has reason, he will know the price of the esteem that an honest man should have for himself. He will know, besides, that unexpected circumstances can unveil to the eyes of others the conduct which he feels interested in concealing. The other world gives no motive for doing well to him who finds no motive for it here.


The speculating atheist, the theist will tell us, may be an honest man, but his writings will cause atheism in politics. Princes and ministers, being no longer restrained by the fear of God, will give themselves up without scruple to the most frightful excesses. But no matter what we can suppose of the depravity of an atheist on a throne, can it ever be any greater or more injurious than that of so many conquerors, tyrants, persecutors, of ambitious and perverse courtiers, who, without being atheists, but who, being very often religious, do not cease to make humanity groan under the weight of their crimes? Can an atheistical king inflict more evil on the world than a Louis XI., a Philip II., a Richelieu, who have all allied religion with crime? Nothing is rarer than atheistical princes, and nothing more common than very bad and very religious tyrants.


Any man who reflects can not fail of knowing his duties, of discovering the relations which subsist between men, of meditating upon his own nature, of discerning his needs, his inclinations, and his desires, and of perceiving what he owes to the beings necessary to his own happiness. These reflections naturally lead to the knowledge of the morality which is the most essential for society. Every man who loves to retire within himself in order to study and seek for the principles of things, has no very dangerous passions; his greatest passion will be to know the truth, and his greatest ambition to show it to others. Philosophy is beneficial in cultivating the heart and the mind. In regard to morals, has not he who reflects and reasons the advantage over him who does not reason?

If ignorance is useful to priests and to the oppressors of humanity, it is very fatal to society. Man, deprived of intelligence, does not enjoy the use of his reason; man, deprived of reason and intelligence, is a savage, who is liable at any moment to be led into crime. Morality, or the science of moral duties, is acquired but by the study of man and his relations. He who does not reflect for himself does not know true morals, and can not walk the road of virtue. The less men reason, the more wicked they are. The barbarians, the princes, the great, and the dregs of society, are generally the most wicked because they are those who reason the least. The religious man never reflects, and avoids reasoning; he fears examination; he follows authority; and very often an erroneous conscience makes him consider it a holy duty to commit evil. The incredulous man reasons, consults experience, and prefers it to prejudice. If he has reasoned justly, his conscience becomes clear; he finds more real motives for right-doing than the religious man, who has no motives but his chimeras, and who never listens to reason. Are not the motives of the incredulous man strong enough to counterbalance his passions? Is he blind enough not to recognize the interests which should restrain him? Well! he will be vicious and wicked; but even then he will be no worse and no better than many credulous men who, notwithstanding religion and its sublime precepts, continue to lead a life which this very religion condemns. Is a credulous murderer less to be feared than a murderer who does not believe anything? Is a religious tyrant any less a tyrant than an irreligious one?


There is nothing more rare in the world than consistent men. Their opinions do not influence their conduct, except when they conform to their temperament, their passions, and to their interests. Religious opinions, according to daily experience, produce much more evil than good; they are injurious, because they very often agree with the passions of tyrants, fanatics, and priests; they produce no effect, because they have not the power to balance the present interests of the majority of men. Religious principles are always put aside when they are opposed to ardent desires; without being incredulous, they act as if they believed nothing. We risk being deceived when we judge the opinions of men by their conduct or their conduct by their opinions. A very religious man, notwithstanding the austere and cruel principles of a bloody religion, will sometimes be, by a fortunate inconsistency, humane, tolerant, moderate; in this case the principles of his religion do not agree with the mildness of his disposition. A libertine, a debauchee, a hypocrite, an adulterer, or a thief will often show us that he has the clearest ideas of morals. Why do they not practice them? It is because neither their temperament, their interests, nor their habits agree with their sublime theories. The rigid principles of Christian morality, which so many attempt to pass off as Divine, have but very little influence upon the conduct of those who preach them to others. Do they not tell us every day to do what they preach, and not what they practice?

The religious partisans generally designate the incredulous as libertines. It may be that many incredulous people are immoral; this immorality is due to their temperament, and not to their opinions. But what has their conduct to do with these opinions? Can not an immoral man be a good physician, a good architect, a good geometer, a good logician, a good metaphysician? With an irreproachable conduct, one can be ignorant upon many things, and reason very badly. When truth is presented, it matters not from whom it comes. Let us not judge men by their opinions, or opinions by men; let us judge men by their conduct; and their opinions by their conformity with experience, reason, and their usefulness for mankind.


Every man who reasons soon becomes incredulous, because reasoning proves to him that theology is but a tissue of falsehoods; that religion is contrary to all principles of common sense; that it gives a false color to all human knowledge. The rational man becomes incredulous, because he sees that religion, far from rendering men happier, is the first cause of the greatest disorders, and of the permanent calamities with which the human race is afflicted. The man who seeks his well-being and his own tranquillity, examines his religion and is undeceived, because he finds it inconvenient and useless to pass his life in trembling at phantoms which are made but to intimidate silly women or children. If, sometimes, libertinage, which reasons but little, leads to irreligion, the man who is regular in his morals can have very legitimate motives for examining his religion, and for banishing it from his mind. Too weak to intimidate the wicked, in whom vice has become deeply rooted, religious terrors afflict, torment, and burden imaginative minds. If souls have courage and elasticity, they shake off a yoke which they bear unwillingly. If weak or timorous, they wear the yoke during their whole life, and they grow old, trembling, or at least they live under burdensome uncertainty.

The priests have made of God such a malicious, ferocious being, so ready to be vexed, that there are few men in the world who do not wish at the bottom of their hearts that this God did not exist. We can not live happy if we are always in fear. You worship a terrible God, O religious people! Alas! And yet you hate Him; you wish that He was not. Can we avoid wishing the absence or the destruction of a master, the idea of whom can but torment the mind? It is the dark colors in which the priests paint the Deity which revolt men, moving them to hate and reject Him.


If fear has created the Gods, fear still holds their empire in the mind of mortals; they have been so early accustomed to tremble even at the name of the Deity, that it has become for them a specter, a goblin, a were-wolf which torments them, and whose idea deprives them even of the courage to attempt to reassure themselves. They are afraid that this invisible specter will strike them if they cease to be afraid. The religious people fear their God too much to love Him sincerely; they serve Him as slaves, who can not escape His power, and take the part of flattering their Master; and who, by continually lying, persuade themselves that they love Him. They make a virtue of necessity. The love of religious bigots for their God, and of slaves for their despots, is but a servile and simulated homage which they render by compulsion, in which the heart has no part.


The Christian Doctors have made their God so little worthy of love, that several among them have thought it their duty not to love Him; this is a blasphemy which makes less sincere doctors tremble. Saint Thomas, having asserted that we are under obligation to love God as soon as we can use our reason, the Jesuit Sirmond replied to him that that was very soon; the Jesuit Vasquez claims that it is sufficient to love God in the hour of death; Hurtado says that we should love God at all times; Henriquez is content with loving Him every five years; Sotus, every Sunday. "Upon what shall we rely?" asks Father Sirmond, who adds: "that Suarez desires that we should love God sometimes. But at what time? He allows you to judge of it; he knows nothing about it himself; for he adds: 'What a learned doctor does not know, who can know?'" The same Jesuit Sirmond continues, by saying: "that God does not command us to love Him with human affection, and does not promise us salvation but on condition of giving Him our hearts; it is enough to obey Him and to love Him, by fulfilling His commandments; that this is the only love which we owe Him, and He has not commanded so much to love Him as not to hate Him." [See "Apology, Des Lettres Provinciales," Tome II.] This doctrine appears heretical, ungodly, and abominable to the Jansenists, who, by the revolting severity which they attribute to their God, render Him still less lovable than their adversaries, the Jesuits. The latter, in order to make converts, represent God in such a light as to give confidence to the most perverse mortals. Thus, nothing is less established among the Christians than the important question, whether we can or should love or not love God. Among their spiritual guides some pretend that we must love God with all the heart, notwithstanding all His severity; others, like the Father Daniel, think that an act of pure love of God is the most heroic act of Christian virtue, and that human weakness can scarcely reach so high. The Jesuit Pintereau goes still further; he says: "The deliverance from the grievous yoke of Divine love is a privilege of the new alliance."


It is always the character of man which decides upon the character of his God; each one creates a God for himself, and in his own image. The cheerful man who indulges in pleasures and dissipation, can not imagine God to be an austere and rebukeful being; he requires a facile God with whom he can make an agreement. The severe, sour, bilious man wants a God like himself; one who inspires fear; and regards as perverse those that accept only a God who is yielding and easily won over. Heresies, quarrels, and schisms are necessary. Can men differently organized and modified by diverse circumstances, agree in regard to an imaginary being which exists but in their own brains? The cruel and interminable disputes continually arising among the ministers of the Lord, have not a tendency to attract the confidence of those who take an impartial view of them. How can we help our incredulity, when we see principles about which those who teach them to others, never agree? How can we avoid doubting the existence of a God, the idea of whom varies in such a remarkable way in the mind of His ministers? How can we avoid rejecting totally a God who is full of contradictions? How can we rely upon priests whom we see continually contending, accusing each other of being infidels and heretics, rending and persecuting each other without mercy, about the way in which they understand the pretended truths which they reveal to the world?


However, so far, this important truth has not yet been demonstrated, not only to the incredulous, but in a satisfactory way to theologians themselves. In all times, we have seen profound thinkers who thought they had new proofs of the truth most important to men. What have been the fruits of their meditations and of their arguments? They left the thing at the same point; they have demonstrated nothing; nearly always they have excited the clamors of their colleagues, who accuse them of having badly defended the best of causes.


The apologists of religion repeat to us every day that the passions alone create unbelievers. "It is," they say, "pride, and a desire to distinguish themselves, that make atheists; they seek also to efface the idea of God from their minds, because they have reason to fear His rigorous judgments." Whatever may be the motives which cause men to be irreligious, the thing in question is whether they have found truth. No man acts without motives; let us first examine the arguments—we shall examine the motives afterward—and we shall find that they are more legitimate, and more sensible, than those of many credulous devotees who allow themselves to be guided by masters little worthy of men's confidence.

You say, O priests of the Lord! that the passions cause unbelievers; you pretend that they renounce religion through interest, or because it interferes with their irregular inclinations; you assert that they attack your Gods because they fear their punishments. Ah! yourselves in defending this religion and its chimeras, are you, then, really exempt from passions and interests? Who receive the fees of this religion, on whose behalf the priests are so zealous? It is the priests. To whom does religion procure power, credit, honors, wealth? To the priests! In all countries, who make war upon reason, science, truth, and philosophy and render them odious to the sovereigns and to the people? Who profit by the ignorance of men and their vain prejudices? The priests! You are, O priests, rewarded, honored, and paid for deceiving mortals, and you punish those who undeceive them. The follies of men procure you blessings, offerings, expiations; the most useful truths bring to those who announce them, chains, sufferings, stakes. Let the world judge between us.


Pride and vanity always were and always will be the inherent vices of the priesthood. Is there anything that has a tendency to render men haughty and vain more than the assumption of exercising Heavenly power, of possessing a sacred character, of being the messengers of the Most High? Are not these dispositions continually increased by the credulity of the people, by the deference and the respect of the sovereigns, by the immunities, the privileges, and the distinctions which the clergy enjoy? The common man is, in every country, more devoted to his spiritual guides, whom he considers as Divine men, than to his temporal superiors, whom he considers as ordinary men. Village priests enjoy more honor than the lord or the judge. A Christian priest believes himself far above a king or an emperor. A Spanish grandee having spoken hastily to a monk, the latter said to him, arrogantly, "Learn to respect a man who has every day your God in his hands and your queen at his feet."

Have the priests any right to accuse the unbelievers of pride? Do they distinguish themselves by a rare modesty or profound humility? Is it not evident that the desire to domineer over men is the essence of their profession? If the Lord's ministers were truly modest, would we see them so greedy of respect, so easily irritated by contradictions, so prompt and so cruel in revenging themselves upon those whose opinions offend them? Does not modest science impress us with the difficulty of unraveling truth? What other passion than frenzied pride can render men so ferocious, so vindictive, so devoid of toleration and gentleness? What is more presumptuous than to arm nations and cause rivers of blood, in order to establish or to defend futile conjectures?

You say, O Doctors of Divinity! that it is presumption alone which makes atheists. Teach them, then, what your God is; instruct them about His essence; speak of Him in an intelligible way; tell of Him reasonable things, which are not contradictory or impossible! If you are not in the condition to satisfy them; if, so far, none of you have been able to demonstrate the existence of a God in a clear and convincing way; if, according to your own confession, His essence is as much hidden from you as from the rest of mortals, pardon those who can not admit that which they can neither understand nor reconcile. Do not accuse of presumption and vanity those who have the sincerity to confess their ignorance; accuse not of folly those who find it impossible to believe in contradictions. You should blush at the thought of exciting the hatred of the people and the vengeance of the sovereigns against men who do not think as you do upon a Being of whom you have no idea yourselves. Is there anything more audacious and more extravagant than to reason about an object which it is impossible to conceive of?

You tell us it is corruption of the heart which produces atheists; that they shake off the yoke of the Deity because they fear His terrible judgments. But why do you paint your God in such black colors? Why does this powerful God permit that such corrupt hearts should exist? Why should we not make efforts to break the yoke of a Tyrant who, being able to make of the hearts of men what He pleases, allows them to become perverted and hardened; blinds them; refuses them His grace, in order to have the satisfaction of punishing them eternally for having been hardened, blinded, and not having received the grace which He refused them? The theologians and the priests must feel themselves very sure of Heaven's grace and of a happy future, in order not to detest a Master so capricious as the God whom they announce to us. A God who damns eternally must be the most odious Being that the human mind could imagine.


No man on earth is truly interested in sustaining error; sooner or later it is compelled to surrender to truth. General interest tends to the enlightenment of mortals; even the passions sometimes contribute to the breaking of some of the chains of prejudice. Have not the passions of some sovereigns destroyed, within the past two centuries in some countries of Europe, the tyrannical power which a haughty Pontiff formerly exercised over all the princes of his sect? Politics, becoming more enlightened, has despoiled the clergy of an immense amount of property which credulity had accumulated in their hands. Should not this memorable example make even the priests realize that prejudices are but for a time, and that truth alone is capable of assuring a substantial well-being?

Have not the ministers of the Lord seen that in pampering the sovereigns, in forging Divine rights for them, and in delivering to them the people, bound hand and foot, they were making tyrants of them? Have they not reason to fear that these gigantic idols, whom they have raised to the skies, will crush them also some day? Do not a thousand examples prove that they ought to fear that these unchained lions, after having devoured nations, will in turn devour them?

We will respect the priests when they become citizens. Let them make use, if they can, of Heaven's authority to create fear in those princes who incessantly desolate the earth; let them deprive them of the right of being unjust; let them recognize that no subject of a State enjoys living under tyranny; let them make the sovereigns feel that they themselves are not interested in exercising a power which, rendering them odious, injures their own safety, their own power, their own grandeur; finally, let the priests and the undeceived kings recognize that no power is safe that is not based upon truth, reason, and equity.


The ministers of the Gods, in warring against human reason, which they ought to develop, act against their own interest. What would be their power, their consideration, their empire over the wisest men; what would be the gratitude of the people toward them if, instead of occupying themselves with their vain quarrels, they had applied themselves to the useful sciences; if they had sought the true principles of physics, of government, and of morals. Who would dare reproach the opulence and credit of a corporation which, consecrating its leisure and its authority to the public good, should use the one for studying and meditating, and the other for enlightening equally the minds of the sovereigns and the subjects?

Priests! lay aside your idle fancies, your unintelligible dogmas, your despicable quarrels; banish to imaginary regions these phantoms, which could be of use to you only in the infancy of nations; take the tone of reason, instead of sounding the tocsin of persecution against your adversaries; instead of entertaining the people with foolish disputes, of preaching useless and fanatical virtues, preach to them humane and social morality; preach to them virtues which are really useful to the world; become the apostles of reason, the lights of the nations, the defenders of liberty, reformers of abuses, the friends of truth, and we will bless you, we will honor you, we will love you, and you will be sure of holding an eternal empire over the hearts of your fellow-beings.


Philosophers, in all ages, have taken the part that seemed destined for the ministers of religion. The hatred of the latter for philosophy was never more than professional jealousy. All men accustomed to think, instead of seeking to injure each other, should unite their efforts in combating errors, in seeking truth, and especially in dispelling the prejudices from which the sovereigns and subjects suffer alike, and whose upholders themselves finish, sooner or later, by becoming the victims.

In the hands of an enlightened government the priests would become the most useful of citizens. Could men with rich stipends from the State, and relieved of the care of providing for their own subsistence, do anything better than to instruct themselves in order to be able to instruct others? Would not their minds be better satisfied in discovering truth than in wandering in the labyrinths of darkness? Would it be any more difficult to unravel the principles of man's morals, than the imaginary principles of Divine and theological morals? Would ordinary men have as much trouble in understanding the simple notions of their duties, as in charging their memories with mysteries, unintelligible words, and obscure definitions which are impossible for them to understand? How much time and trouble is lost in trying to teach men things which are of no use to them. What resources for the public benefit, for encouraging the progress of the sciences and the advancement of knowledge, for the education of youth, are presented to well-meaning sovereigns through so many monasteries, which, in a great number of countries devour the people's substance without an equivalent. But superstition, jealous of its exclusive empire, seems to have formed but useless beings. What advantage could not be drawn from a multitude of cenobites of both sexes whom we see in so many countries, and who are so well paid to do nothing. Instead of occupying them with sterile contemplations, with mechanical prayers, with monotonous practices; instead of burdening them with fasts and austerities, let there be excited among them a salutary emulation that would inspire them to seek the means of serving usefully the world, which their fatal vows oblige them to renounce. Instead of filling the youthful minds of their pupils with fables, dogmas, and puerilities, why not invite or oblige the priests to teach them true things, and so make of them citizens useful to their country? The way in which men are brought up makes them useful but to the clergy, who blind them, and to the tyrants, who plunder them.


The adherents of credulity often accuse the unbelievers of bad faith because they sometimes waver in their principles, changing opinions during sickness, and retracting them at the hour of death. When the body is diseased, the faculty of reasoning is generally disturbed also. The infirm and decrepit man, in approaching his end, sometimes perceives himself that reason is leaving him, he feels that prejudice returns. There are diseases which have a tendency to lessen courage, to make pusillanimous, and to enfeeble the brain; there are others which, in destroying the body, do not affect the reason. However, an unbeliever who retracts in sickness, is not more rare or more extraordinary than a devotionist who permits himself, while in health, to neglect the duties that his religion prescribes for him in the most formal manner.

Cleomenes, King of Sparta, having shown little respect for the Gods during his reign, became superstitious in his last days; with the view of interesting Heaven in his favor, he called around him a multitude of sacrificing priests. One of his friends expressing his surprise, Cleomenes said: "What are you astonished at? I am no longer what I was, and not being the same, I can not think in the same way."

The ministers of religion in their daily conduct, often belie the rigorous principles which they teach to others, so that the unbelievers in their turn think they have a right to accuse them of bad faith. If some unbelievers contradict, in sight of death or during sickness, the opinions which they entertained in health, do not the priests in health belie opinions of the religion which they hold? Do we see a great multitude of humble, generous prelates devoid of ambition, enemies of pomp and grandeur, the friends of poverty? In short, do we see the conduct of many Christian priests corresponding with the austere morality of Christ, their God and their model?


Atheism, we are told, breaks all social ties. Without belief in God, what becomes of the sacredness of the oath? How can we bind an atheist who can not seriously attest the Deity? But does the oath place us under stronger obligations to the engagements which we make? Whoever dares to lie, will he not dare to perjure himself? He who is base enough to violate his word, or unjust enough to break his promises in contempt of the esteem of men, will not be more faithful for having taken all the Gods as witnesses to his oaths. Those who rank themselves above the judgments of men, will soon put themselves above the judgments of God. Are not princes, of all mortals, the most prompt in taking oaths, and the most prompt in violating them?


Religion, they tell us, is necessary for the masses; that though enlightened persons may not need restraint upon their opinions, it is necessary at least for the common people, in whom education has not developed reason. Is it true, then, that religion is a restraint for the people? Do we see that this religion prevents them from intemperance, drunkenness, brutality, violence, frauds, and all kinds of excesses?

Could a people who had no idea of the Deity, conduct itself in a more detestable manner than many believing people in whom we see dissolute habits, and the vices most unworthy of rational beings? Do we not see the artisan or the man of the people go from his church and plunge headlong into his usual excesses, persuading himself all the while that his periodical homage to God gives him the right to follow without remorse his vicious practices and habitual inclinations? If the people are gross and ignorant, is not their stupidity due to the negligence of the princes who do not attend to the public education, or who oppose the instruction of their subjects? Finally, is not the irrationality of the people plainly the work of the priests, who, instead of interesting them in a rational morality, do nothing but entertain them with fables, phantoms, intrigues, observances, idle fancies, and false virtues, upon which they claim that everything depends?

Religion is, for the people, but a vain attendance upon ceremonies, to which they cling from habit, which amuses their eyes, which enlivens temporarily their sleepy minds, without influencing the conduct, and without correcting their morals. By the confession even of the ministers at the altars, nothing is more rare than the interior and spiritual religion, which is alone capable of regulating the life of man, and of triumphing over his inclinations. In good faith, among the most numerous and the most devotional people, are there many capable of understanding the principles of their religious system, and who find them of sufficient strength to stifle their perverse inclinations?

Many people will tell us that it is better to have some kind of a restraint than none at all. They will pretend that if religion does not control the great mass, it serves at least to restrain some individuals, who, without it, would abandon themselves to crime without remorse. No doubt it is necessary for men to have a restraint; but they do not need an imaginary one; they need true and visible restraints; they need real fears, which are much better to restrain them than panic terrors and idle fancies. Religion frightens but a few pusillanimous minds, whose weakness of character already renders them little to be dreaded by their fellow-citizens. An equitable government, severe laws, a sound morality, will apply equally to everybody; every one would be forced to believe in it, and would feel the danger of not conforming to it.


We may be asked if atheism can suit the multitude? I reply, that every system which demands discussion is not for the multitude. What use is there, then, in preaching atheism? It can at least make those who reason, feel that nothing is more extravagant than to make ourselves uneasy, and nothing more unjust than to cause anxiety to others on account of conjectures, destitute of all foundation. As to the common man, who never reasons, the arguments of an atheist are no better suited to him than a philosopher's hypothesis, an astronomer's observations, a chemist's experiments, a geometer's calculations, a physician's examinations, an architect's designs, or a lawyer's pleadings, who all labor for the people without their knowledge.

The metaphysical arguments of theology, and the religious disputes which have occupied for so long many profound visionists, are they made any more for the common man than the arguments of an atheist? More than this, the principles of atheism, founded upon common sense, are they not more intelligible than those of a theology which we see bristling with insolvable difficulties, even for the most active minds? The people in every country have a religion which they do not understand, which they do not examine, and which they follow but by routine; their priests alone occupy themselves with the theology which is too sublime for them. If, by accident, the people should lose this unknown theology, they could console them selves for the loss of a thing which is not only entirely useless, but which produces among them very dangerous ebullitions.

It would be very foolish to write for the common man or to attempt to cure his prejudices all at once. We write but for those who read and reason; the people read but little, and reason less. Sensible and peaceable people enlighten themselves; their light spreads itself gradually, and in time reaches the people. On the other hand, those who deceive men, do they not often take the trouble themselves of undeceiving them?


If theology is a branch of commerce useful to theologians, it has been demonstrated to be superfluous and injurious to the rest of society. The interests of men will succeed in opening their eyes sooner or later. The sovereigns and the people will some day discover the indifference and the contempt that a futile science deserves which serves but to trouble men without making them better. They will feel the uselessness of many expensive practices, which do not at all contribute to public welfare; they will blush at many pitiful quarrels, which will cease to disturb the tranquillity of the States as soon as they cease to attach any importance to them.

Princes! instead of taking part in the senseless contentions of your priests, instead of espousing foolishly their impertinent quarrels, instead of striving to bring all your subjects to uniform opinions, occupy yourselves with their happiness in this world, and do not trouble yourselves about the fate which awaits them in another. Govern them justly, give them good laws, respect their liberty and their property, superintend their education, encourage them in their labors, reward their talents and their virtues, repress their licentiousness, and do not trouble yourselves upon what they think about objects useless to them and to you. Then you will no longer need fictions to make yourselves obeyed; you will become the only guides of your subjects; their ideas will be uniform about the feelings of love and respect which will be your due. Theological fables are useful but to tyrants, who do not understand the art of ruling over reasonable beings.


Does it require the efforts of genius to comprehend that what is beyond man, is not made for men; that what is supernatural, is not made for natural beings; that impenetrable mysteries are not made for limited minds? If theologians are foolish enough to dispute about subjects which they acknowledge to be unintelligible to themselves, should society take a part in their foolish quarrels? Must human blood flow in order to give value to the conjectures of a few obstinate visionists? If it is very difficult to cure the theologians of their mania and the people of their prejudices, it is at least very easy to prevent the extravagances of the one and the folly of the other from producing pernicious effects. Let each one be allowed to think as he chooses, but let him not be allowed to annoy others for their mode of thinking. If the chiefs of nations were more just and more sensible, theological opinions would not disturb the public tranquillity any more than the disputes of philosophers, physicians, grammarians, and of critics. It is the tyranny of princes which makes theological quarrels have serious consequences. When kings shall cease to meddle with theology, theological quarrels will no longer be a thing to fear.

Those who boast so much upon the importance and usefulness of religion, ought to show us its beneficial results, and the advantages that the disputes and abstract speculations of theology can bring to porters, to artisans, to farmers, to fishmongers, to women, and to so many depraved servants, with whom the large cities are filled. People of this kind are all religious, they have implicit faith; their priests believe for them; they accept a faith unknown to their guides; they listen assiduously to sermons; they assist regularly in ceremonies; they think it a great crime to transgress the ordinances to which from childhood they have been taught to conform. What good to morality results from all this? None whatever; they have no idea of morality, and you see them indulge in all kinds of rogueries, frauds, rapine, and excesses which the law does not punish. The masses, in truth, have no idea of religion; what is called religion, is but a blind attachment to unknown opinions and mysterious dealings. In fact, to deprive the people of religion, is depriving them of nothing. If we should succeed in destroying their prejudices, we would but diminish or annihilate the dangerous confidence which they have in self-interested guides, and teach them to beware of those who, under the pretext of religion, very often lead them into fatal excesses.


Under pretext of instructing and enlightening men, religion really holds them in ignorance, and deprives them even of the desire of understanding the objects which interest them the most. There exists for the people no other rule of conduct than that which their priests indicate to them. Religion takes the place of everything; but being in darkness itself, it has a greater tendency to misguide mortals, than to guide them in the way of science and happiness. Philosophy, morality, legislation, and politics are to them enigmas. Man, blinded by religious prejudices, finds it impossible to understand his own nature, to cultivate his reason, to make experiments; he fears truth as soon as it does not agree with his opinions. Everything tends to render the people devout, but all is opposed to their being humane, reasonable, and virtuous. Religion seems to have for its object only to blunt the feeling and to dull the intelligence of men.

The war which always existed between the priests and the best minds of all ages, comes from this, that the wise men perceived the fetters which superstition wished to place upon the human mind, which it fain would keep in eternal infancy, that it might be occupied with fables, burdened with terrors, and frightened by phantoms which would prevent it from progressing. Incapable of perfecting itself, theology opposed insurmountable barriers to the progress of true knowledge; it seemed to be occupied but with the care to keep the nations and their chiefs in the most profound ignorance of their true interests, of their relations, of their duties, of the real motives which can lead them to prosperity; it does but obscure morality; renders its principles arbitrary, subjects it to the caprices of the Gods, or of their ministers; it converts the art of governing men into a mysterious tyranny which becomes the scourge of nations; it changes the princes into unjust and licentious despots, and the people into ignorant slaves, who corrupt themselves in order to obtain the favor of their masters.

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