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The System of Nature, Vol. 1
by Baron D'Holbach
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Thus, I repeat, all the actions of man are necessary those which are always useful, which constantly contribute to the real, tend to the permanent happiness of his species, are called virtues, and are necessarily pleasing to all who experience their influence; at least, if their passions or false opinions do not oblige them to judge in that manner which is but little accordant with the nature of things: each man acts, each individual judges, necessarily, according to his own peculiar mode of existence—after the ideas, whether true or false, which he has formed with regard to his happiness. There are necessary actions which man is obliged to approve; there are others, that, in despite of himself, he is compelled to censure; of which the idea generates shame when his reflection permits him to contemplate them under the same point of view that they are regarded by his associates. The virtuous man and the wicked man act from motives equally necessary: they differ simply in their organization—in the ideas they form to themselves of happiness: we love the one necessarily—we detest the other from the same necessity. The law of his nature, which wills that a sensible being shall constantly labour to preserve himself, has not left to man the power to choose, or the free-agency to prefer pain to pleasure—vice to utility—crime to virtue. It is, then, the essence of man himself that obliges him to discriminate those actions which are advantageous to him, form those which are prejudicial to his interest, from those which are baneful to his felicity.

This distinction subsists even in the most corrupt societies, in which the ideas of virtue, although completely effaced from their conduct, remain the same in their mind. Let us suppose a matt, who had decidedly determined for villainy, who should say to himself—"It is folly to be virtuous in a society that is depraved, in a community that is debauched." Let us suppose also, that he has sufficient address, the unlooked-for good fortune to escape censure or punishment, during a long series of years; I say, that in despite of all these circumstances, apparently so advantageous for himself, such a man has neither been happy nor contented with his own conduct, He has been in continual agonies—ever at war with his own actions—in a state of constant agitation. How much pain, how much anxiety, has he not endured in this perpetual conflict with himself? How many precautions, what excessive labour, what endless solicitude, has he not been compelled to employ in this continued struggle; how many embarrassments, how many cares, has he not experienced in this eternal wrestling with his associates, whose penetration he dreads, whose scorn he fears will follow a true knowledge of his pursuits. Demand of him what he thinks of himself, he will shrink from the question. Approach the bedside of this villain at the moment he is dying; ask him if he would be willing to recommence, at the same price, a life of similar agitation? If he is ingenuous, he will avow that he has tasted neither repose nor happiness; that each crime filled him with inquietude—that reflection prevented him from sleeping—that the world has been to him only one continued scene of alarm—an uninterrupted concatenation of terror—an everlasting, anxiety of mind; —that to live peaceably upon bread and water, appears to him to be a much happier, a more easy condition, than to possess riches, credit, reputation, honours, on the same terms that he has himself acquired them. If this villain, notwithstanding all his success, finds his condition so deplorable, what must be thought of the feelings of those who have neither the same resources nor the same advantages to succeed in their criminal projects.

Thus, the system of necessity is a truth not only founded upon certain experience, but, again, it establishes morals upon an immoveable basis. Far from sapping the foundations of virtue, it points out its necessity; it clearly shows the invariable sentiments it must excite—sentiments so necessary, so strong, so congenial to his existence, that all the prejudices of man—all the vices of his institutions—all the effect of evil example, have never been able entirely to eradicate them from his mind. When he mistakes the advantages of virtue, it ought to be ascribed to the errors that are infused into him—to the irrationality of his institutions: all his wanderings are the fatal consequences of error,— the necessary result of prejudices which have identified themselves with his existence. Let it not, therefore, any longer be imputed to his nature that he has become wicked, but to those baneful opinions which he has imbibed with his mother's milk,—that have rendered him ambitious, avaricious, envious, haughty, arrogant, debauched, intolerant, obstinate, prejudiced, incommodious to his fellows, mischievous to himself. It is education that carries into his system the germ of those vices which necessarily torment him during the whole course of his life.

Fatalism is reproached with discouraging man—with damping the ardour of his soul—with plunging him into apathy—with destroying the bonds that should connect him with society. Its opponents say, "If every thing is necessary, we must let things go on, and not be disturbed by any thing." But does it depend on man to be sensible or not? Is he master of feeling or not feeling pain? If Nature has endowed him with a humane, with a tender soul, is it possible he should not interest himself in a very lively manner, in the welfare of beings whom he knows are necessary to his own peculiar happiness? His feelings are necessary: they depend on his own peculiar nature, cultivated by education. His imagination, prompt to concern itself with the felicity of his race, causes his heart to be oppressed at the sight of those evils his fellow-creature is obliged to endure,—makes his soul tremble in the contemplation of the misery arising from the despotism that crushes him—from the superstition that leads him astray—from the passions that distract him in a state of warfare against his neighbour. Although he knows that death is the fatal, the necessary period to the form of all beings, his soul is not affected in a less lively manner at the loss of a beloved wife,—at the demise of a child calculated to console his old age,—at the final separation from an esteemed friend who had become dear to his heart. Although he is not ignorant that it is the essence of fire to burn, he does not believe he is dispensed from using his utmost efforts to arrest the progress of a conflagration. Although he is intimately convinced that the evils to which he is a witness, are the necessary consequence of primitive errors with which his fellow-citizens are imbued, he feels he ought to display truth to them, if Nature has given him the necessary courage; under the conviction, that if they listen to it, it will, by degrees, become a certain remedy for their sufferings, that it will produce those necessary effects which it is of its essence to operate.

If the speculations of man modify his conduct, if they change his temperament, he ought not to doubt that the system of necessity would have the most advantageous influence over him; not only is it suitable to calm the greater part of his inquietude, but it will also contribute to inspire him with a useful submission, a rational resignation, to the decrees of a destiny with which his too great sensibility frequently causes him to be overwhelmed. This happy apathy, without doubt, would be, desirable to those whose souls, too tender to brook the inequalities of life, frequently render them the deplorable sport of their fate; or whose organs, too weak to make resistance to the buffettings of fortune, incessantly expose them to be dashed in pieces under the rude blows of adversity.

But, of all the important advantages the human race would be enabled to derive from the doctrine of fatalism, if man was to apply it to his conduct, none would be of greater magnitude, none of more happy consequence, none that would more efficaciously corroborate his happiness, than that general indulgence, that universal toleration, that must necessarily spring from the opinion, that all is necessary. In consequence, of the adoption of this principle, the fatalist, if he had a sensible soul, would commisserate the prejudices of his fellow-man— would lament over his wanderings—would seek to undeceive him—would try by gentleness to lead him into the right path, without ever irritating himself against his weakness, without ever insulting his misery. Indeed, what right have we to hate or despise man for his opinions? His ignorance, his prejudices, his imbecility, his vices, his passions, his weakness, are they not the inevitable consequence of vicious institutions? Is he not sufficiently punished by the multitude of evils that afflict him on every side? Those despots who crush him with an iron sceptre, are they not continual victims to their own peculiar restlessness—mancipated to their perpetual diffidence—eternal slaves to their suspicions? Is there one wicked individual who enjoys a pure, an unmixed, a real happiness? Do not nations unceasingly suffer from their follies? Are they not the incessant dupes to their prejudices? Is not the ignorance of chiefs, the ill-will they bear to reason, the hatred they have for truth, punished by the imbecility of their citizens, by the ruin of the states they govern? In short, the fatalist would grieve to witness necessity each moment exercising its severe decrees upon mortals who are ignorant of its power, or who feel its castigation, without being willing to acknowledge the hand from whence it proceeds; he will perceive that ignorance is necessary, that credulity is the necessary result of ignorance—that slavery and bondage are necessary consequences of ignorant credulity—that corruption of manners springs necessarily from slavery—that the miseries of society, the unhappiness of its members, are the necessary offspring of this corruption. The fatalist, in consequence, of these ideas, will neither he a gloomy misanthrope, nor a dangerous citizen; he will pardon in his brethren those wanderings, he will forgive them those errors—which their vitiated nature, by a thousand causes, has rendered necessary—he will offer them consolation—he will endeavour to inspire them with courage—he will be sedulous to undeceive them in their idle notions, in their chimerical ideas; but he will never display against them bitterness of soul—he will never show them that rancorous animosity which is more suitable, to make them revolt from his doctrines, than to attract them to reason;—he will not disturb the repose of society—he will not raise the people to insurrection against the sovereign authority; on the contrary, he will feel that the miserable blindness of the great, and the wretched perverseness, the fatal obstinacy of so many conductors of the people, are the necessary consequence of that flattery that is administered to them in their infancy—that feeds their hopes with allusive falsehoods—of the depraved malice of those who surround them—who wickedly corrupt them, that they may profit by their folly— that they may take advantage of their weakness: in short, that these things are the inevitable effect of that profound ignorance of their true interest, in which every thing strives to keep them.

The fatalist has no right to be vain of his peculiar talents; no privilege to be proud of his virtues; he knows that these qualities are only the consequence of his natural organization, modified by circumstances that have in no wise depended upon himself. He will neither have hatred nor feel contempt for those whom Nature and circumstances have not favoured in a similar manner. It is the fatalist who ought to be humble, who should be modest from principle: is he not obliged to acknowledge, that he possesses nothing that he has not previously received?

In fact, will not every thing conduct to indulgence the fatalist whom experience has convinced of the necessity of things? Will he not see with pain, that it is the essence of a society badly constituted, unwisely governed, enslaved to prejudice, attached to unreasonable customs, submitted to irrational laws, degraded under despotism, corrupted by luxury, inebriated by false opinions, to be filled with trifling members; to be composed of vicious citizens; to be made up of cringing slaves, who are proud of their chains; of ambitious men, without idea of true glory; of misers and prodigals; of fanatics and libertines! Convinced of the necessary connection of things, he will not be surprised to see that the supineness of their chiefs carries discouragement into their country, or that the influence of their governors stirs up bloody wars by which it is depopulated, and causes useless expenditures that impoverish it; that all these excesses united, is the reason why so many nations contain only men wanting happiness, without understanding to attain it; who are devoid of morals, destitute of virtue. In all this he will contemplate nothing more than the necessary action and re-action of physics upon morals, of morals upon physics. In short, all who acknowledge fatality, will remain persuaded that a nation badly governed is a soil very fruitful in venomous reptiles—very abundant in poisonous plants; that these have such a plentiful growth as to crowd each other and choak themselves. It is in a country cultivated by the hands of a Lycurgus, that he will witness the production of intrepid citizens, of noble-minded individuals, of disinterested men, who are strangers to irregular pleasures. In a country cultivated by a Tiberius, he will find nothing but villains with depraved hearts, men with mean contemptible souls, despicable informers, execrable traitors. It is the soil, it is the circumstances in which man finds himself placed, that renders him either a useful object or a prejudicial being: the wise man avoids the one, as he would those dangerous reptiles whose nature it is to sting and communicate their deadly venom; he attaches himself to the other, esteems him, loves him, as he does those delicious fruits with whose rich maturity his palate is pleasantly gratified, with whose cooling juices he finds himself agreeably refreshed: he sees the wicked without anger—he cherishes the good with pleasure—he delights in the bountiful: he knows full well that the tree which is languishing without culture in the arid, sandy desert, that is stunted for want of attention, leafless for want of moisture, that has grown crooked from neglect, become barren from want of loam, whose tender bark is gnawed by rapacious beasts of prey, pierced by innumerable insects, would perhaps have expanded far and wide its verdant boughs from a straight and stately stem, have brought forth delectable fruit, have afforded from its luxuriant foliage under its lambent leaves an umbrageous refreshing retreat from the scorching rays of a meridian sun, have offered beneath its swelling branches, under its matted tufts a shelter from the pitiless storm, it its seed had been fortunately sown in a more fertile soil, placed in a more congenial climate, had experienced the fostering cares of a skilful cultivator.

Let it not then be said, that it is degrading man reduce his functions to a pure mechanism; that it is shamefully to undervalue him, scandalously to abuse him, to compare him to a tree; to an abject vegetation. The philosopher devoid of prejudice does not understand this language, invented by those who are ignorant of what constitutes the true dignity of man. A tree is an object which, in its station, joins the useful with the agreeable; it merits our approbation when it produces sweet and pleasant fruit; when it affords a favourable shade. All machines are precious, when they are truly useful, when they faithfully perform the functions for which they are designed. Yes, I speak it with courage, reiterate it with pleasure, the honest man, when he has talents, when he possesses virtue, is, for the beings of his species, a tree that furnishes them with delicious fruit, that affords them refreshing shelter: the honest man is a machine of which the springs are adapted to fulfil its functions in a manner that must gratify the expectation of all his fellows. No, I should not blush, I should not feel degraded, to be a machine of this sort; and my heart would leap with joy, if I could foresee that the fruit of my reflections would one day be useful to my race, consoling to my fellow-man.

Is not Nature herself a vast machine, of which the human species is but a very feeble spring? I see nothing contemptible either in her or her productions; all the beings who come out of her hands are good, are noble, are sublime, whenever they co-operate to the production of another, to the maintenance of harmony in the sphere where they must act. Of whatever nature the soul may be, whether it is made mortal, or whether it be supposed immortal; whether it is regarded as a spirit, or whether it be looked upon as a portion of the body; it will be found noble, it will be estimated great, it will be ranked good, it will be considered sublime, in a Socrates, in an Aristides, in a Cato: it will be thought abject, it will be viewed as despicable, it will be called corrupt, in a Claudius, in a Sejanus, in a Nero: its energies will be admired, we shall be delighted with its manner, fascinated with its efforts, in a Shakespeare, in a Corneille, in a Newton, in a Montesquieu: its baseness will be lamented, when we behold mean, contemptible men, who flatter tyranny, or who servilely cringe at the foot of superstition.

All that has been said in the course of this work, proves clearly that every thing is necessary; that every thing is always in order, relatively to Nature; where all beings do nothing more than follow the laws that are imposed on their respective classes. It is part of her plan, that certain portions of the earth shall bring forth delicious fruits, shall blossom beauteous flowers; whilst others shall only furnish brambles, shall yield nothing but noxious vegetables: she has been willing that some societies should produce wise men, great heroes; that others should only give birth to abject souls, contemptible men, without energy, destitute of virtue. Passions, winds, tempests, hurricanes, volcanoes, wars, plagues, famines, diseases, death, are as necessary to her eternal march as the beneficent heat of the sun, the serenity of the atmosphere, the gentle showers of spring, plentiful years, peace, health, harmony, life: vice and virtue, darkness and light, and science are equally necessary; the one are not benefits, the other are not evils, except for those beings whose happiness they influence by either favouring or deranging their peculiar mode of existence. The whole cannot be miserable, but it may contain unhappy individuals.

Nature, then, distributes with the same hand that which is called order, and that which is called disorder; that which is called pleasure, and that which is called pain: in short, she diffuses by the necessity of her existence, good and evil in the world we inhabit. Let not man, therefore, either arraign her bounty, or tax her with malice; let him not imagine that his feeble cries, his weak supplications, can never arrest her colossal power, always acting after immutable laws; let him submit silently to his condition; and when he suffers, let him not seek a remedy by recurring to chimeras that his own distempered imagination has created; let him draw from the stores of Nature herself, the remedies which she offers for the evil she brings upon him: if she sends him diseases, let him search in her bosom for those salutary productions to which she has given birth, which will cure them: if she gives him errors, she also furnishes him with experience to counteract them; in truth, she supplies him with an antidote suitable to destroy their fatal effects. If she permits man to groan under the pressure of his vices, beneath the load of his follies, she also shews him in virtue, a sure remedy for his infirmities: if the evils that some societies experience are necessary, when they shall have become too incommodious they will be irresistibly obliged to search for those remedies which Nature will always point out to them. If this Nature has rendered existence insupportable, to some unfortunate beings, whom she appears to have selected for her victims, still death, is a door that will surely be opened to them—that will deliver them from their misfortunes, although in their puny, imbecile, wayward judgment, they may be deemed impossible of cure.

Let not man, then, accuse Nature with being inexorable to him, since there does not exist in her whole circle an evil for which she has not furnished the remedy, to those who have the courage to seek it, who have the fortitude to apply it. Nature follows general and necessary laws in all her operations; physical calamity and moral evil are not to be ascribed to her want of kindness, but to the necessity of things. Physical calamity is the derangement produced in man's organs by physical causes which he sees act: moral evil is the derangement produced in him by physical causes of which the action is to him a secret. These causes always terminate by producing sensible effects, which are capable of striking his senses; neither the thoughts nor the will of man ever shew themselves, but by the marked effects they produce either in himself or upon those beings whom Nature has rendered susceptible of feeling their impulse. He suffers, because it is of the essence of some beings to derange the economy of his machine; he enjoys, because the properties of some beings are analogous to his own mode of existence; he is born, because it is of the nature of some matter to combine itself under a determinate form; he lives, he acts, he thinks, because it is of the essence of certain combinations to maintain themselves in existence by given means for a season; at length he dies, because a necessary law prescribes that all the combinations which are formed, shall either be destroyed or dissolve themselves. From all this it results, that Nature is impartial to all its productions; she submits man, like all other beings, to those eternal laws from which she has not even exempted herself; if she was to suspend these laws, even for an instant, from that moment disorder would reign in her, system; her harmony would be disturbed.

Those who wish to study Nature, must take experience for their guide; this, and this only, can enable them to dive into her secrets, to unravel by degrees, the frequently imperceptible woof of those slender causes, of which she avails herself to operate the greatest phenomena: by the aid of experience, man often discovers in her properties, perceives modes of action entirely unknown to the ages which have preceded him; those effects which his grandfathers contemplated as marvellous, which they regarded as supernatural efforts, looked upon as miracles, have become familiar to him in the present day, and are at this moment contemplated as simple and natural consequences, of which he comprehends the mechanism—of which he understands the cause—of which he can unfold the manner of action. Man, in fathoming Nature, has arrived at discovering the true causes of earthquakes; of the periodical motion of the sea; of subterraneous conflagrations; of meteors; of the electrical fluid, the whole of which were considered by his ancestors, and are still so by the ignorant, by the uninformed, as indubitable signs of heaven's wrath. His posterity, in following up, in rectifying the experience already made, will perhaps go further, and discover those causes which are totally veiled from present eyes. The united efforts of the human species will one day perhaps penetrate even into the sanctuary of Nature, and throw into light many of those mysteries which up to the present time she seems to have refused to all his researches.

In contemplating man under his true aspect; in quitting authority to follow experience; in laying aside error to consult reason; in submitting every thing to physical laws, from which his imagination has vainly exerted its utmost power to withdraw them; it will be found that the phenomena of the moral world follow exactly the same general rules as those of the physical; that the greater part of those astonishing effects, which ignorance, aided by his prejudices, make him consider as inexplicable, and regard as wonderful, are natural consequences flowing from simple causes. He will find that the eruption of a volcano and the birth of a Tamerlane are to Nature the same thing; in recurring to the primitive causes of those striking events which he beholds with consternation, which he contemplates with fearful alarm, in falling back to the sources of those terrible revolutions, those frightful convulsions, those dreadful explosions that distract mankind, lay waste the fairest works of Nature, ravage nations, and tear up society by the roots; he will find the wills that compassed the most surprising changes, that operated the most extensive alterations in the state of things, that brought about the most unlooked-for events, were moved by physical causes, whose exility made him treat them as contemptible; whose want of consequence in his own purblind eyes led him to believe them utterly incapable to give birth to the phenomena whose magnitude strikes him with such awe, whose stupendous range fills him with such amazement.

If man was to judge of causes by their effects, there would be no small causes in the universe. In a Nature where every thing is connected, where every thing acts and re-acts, moves and changes, composes and decomposes, forms and destroys, there is not an atom which does not play an important part—that does not occupy a necessary station; there is not an imperceptible particle, however minute, which, placed in convenient circumstances, does not operate the most prodigious effects. If man was in a capacity to follow the eternal chain, to pursue the concatenated links, that connect with their causes all the effects he witnesses, without losing sight of any one of its rings,—if he could unravel the ends of those insensible threads that give impulse to the thoughts, decision to the will, direction to the passions of those men who are called mighty, according to their actions, he would find, they are true atoms which Nature employs to move the moral world; that it is the unexpected but necessary function of these indiscernible particles of matter, it is their aggregation, their combination, their proportion, their fermentation, which modifying the individual by degrees, in despite of himself, frequently without his own knowledge, make him think, will, and act, in a determinate, but necessary mode. If, then, the will and the actions of this individual have an influence over a great number of other men, here is the moral world in a state of the greatest combustion, and those consequences ensue which man contemplates with fearful wonder. Too much acrimony in the bile of a fanatic—blood too much inflamed in the heart of a conqueror—a painful indigestion in the stomach of a monarch—a whim that passes in the mind of a woman—are sometimes causes sufficient to bring on war—to send millions of men to the slaughter—to root out an entire people—to overthrow walls—to reduce cities into ashes—to plunge nations into slavery—to put a whole people into mourning—to breed famine in a land—to engender pestilence —to propagate calamity—to extend misery—to spread desolation far and wide upon the surface of our globe, through a long series of ages.

The dominant passion of an individual of the human species, when it disposes of the passions of many others, arrives at combining their will, at uniting their efforts, and thus decides the condition of man. It is after this manner that an ambitious, crafty, and voluptuous Arab, gave to his countrymen an impulse of which the effect was the subjugation and desolation of vast countries in Asia, in Africa, and in Europe; whose consequences were sufficiently potential to erect a new, extensive, but slavish empire; to give a novel system of religion to millions of human beings; to overturn the altars of their former gods; in short, to alter the opinions, to change the customs of a considerable portion of the population of the earth. But in examining the primitive sources of this strange revolution, what were the concealed causes that had an influence over this man—that excited his peculiar passions, and modified his temperament? What was the matter from the combination of which resulted a crafty, ambitious, enthusiastic, and eloquent man; in short, a personage competent to impose on his fellow-creatures—capable of making them concur in his most extravagant views. They were, undoubtedly, the insensible particles of his blood; the imperceptible texture of his fibres; the salts, more or less acrid, that stimulated his nerves; the proportion of igneous fluid that circulated in his system. From whence came these elements? It was from the womb of his mother; from the aliments which nourished him; from the climate in which he had his birth; from the ideas he received; from the air which he respired; without reckoning a thousand inappreciable, a thousand transitory causes, that in the instance given had modified, had determined the passions of this importent being, who had thereby acquired the capacity to change the face of this mundane sphere.

To causes so weak in their principles, if in the origin the slightest obstacle had been opposed, these wonderful events, which have astounded man, would never have been produced. The fit of an ague, the consequence of bile a little too much inflamed, had sufficed, perhaps, to have rendered abortive all the vast projects, of the legislator of the Mussulmen. Spare diet, a glass of water, a sanguinary evacuation, would sometimes have been sufficient to have saved kingdoms.

It will be seen, then, that the condition of the human species, as well as that of each of its individuals, every instant depends on insensible causes, to which circumstances, frequently fugitive, give birth; that opportunity developes, that convenience puts in action: man attributes their effects to chance, whilst these causes operate necessarily, act according to fixed rules: he has frequently neither the sagacity nor the honesty to recur to their true principles; he regards such feeble motives with contempt, because he has been taught to consider them as incapable of producing such stupendous events. They are, however, these motives, weak as they may appear to be, these springs, so pitiful in his eyes, is which according to her necessary laws, suffice in the hands of Nature to move the universe. The conquests of a Gengis-Khan have nothing in them that is more strange to the eye of a philosopher than the explosion of a mine, caused in its principle by a feeble spark, which commences with setting fire to a single grain of powder; this presently communicates itself to many millions of other contiguous grains, of which the united force, the multiplied powers, terminate by blowing up mountains, overthrowing fortifications, or converting populous, well- built cities, into heaps of ruins.

Thus, imperceptible causes, concealed in the bosom of Nature, until the moment their action is displayed, frequently decide the fate of man. The happiness or the wretchedness, the prosperity or the misery of each individual, as well as that of whole nations, are attached to powers which it is impossible for him to foresee, which he cannot appreciate, of which he is incapable to arrest the action. Perhaps at this moment atoms are amassing, insensible particles are combining, of which the assemblage shall form a sovereign, who will be either the scourge or the saviour of a mighty empire. Man cannot answer for his own destiny one single instant; he has no cognizance of what is passing within himself; he is ignorant of the causes which act in the interior of his machine; he knows nothing of the circumstances that will give them activity: he is unacquainted with what may develope their energy; it is, nevertheless, on these causes, impossible to be unravelled by him, that depends his condition in life. Frequently, an unforeseen rencontre gives birth to a passion in his soul, of which the consequences shall, necessarily, have an influence over his felicity. It is thus that the most virtuous man, by a whimsical combination of unlooked-for circumstances, may become in an instant the most criminal of his species.

This truth, without doubt, will be found frightful—this fact will unquestionably appear terrible: but at bottom, what has it more revolting than that which teaches him that an infinity of accidents, as irremediable as they are unforeseen, may every instant wrest from him that life to which he is so strongly attached? Fatalism reconciles the good man easily to death: it makes him contemplate it as a certain means of withdrawing himself from wickedness; this system shews death, even to the happy man himself, as a medium between him and those misfortunes which frequently terminate by poisoning his happiness; that end with embittering the most fortunate existence.

Let man, then, submit to necessity: in despite of himself it will always hurry him forward: let him resign himself to Nature, let him accept the good with which she presents him: let him oppose to the necessary evil which she makes him experience, those necessary remedies which she consents to afford him; let him not disturb his mind with useless inquietude; let him enjoy with moderation, because he will find that pain is the necessary companion of excess: let him follow the paths of virtue, because every thing will prove to him, even in this world of perverseness, that it is absolutely necessary to render him estimable in the eyes of others, to make him contented with himself.

Feeble, vain mortal, thou pretendest to be a free agent. Alas! dost thou not see all the threads which enchain thee? Dost thou not perceive that they are atoms which form thee; that they are atoms which move thee; that they are circumstances independent of thyself, that modify thy being; that they are circumstances over which thou hast not any controul, that rule thy destiny? In the puissant Nature that environs thee, shalt thou pretend to be the only being who is able to resist her power? Dost thou really believe that thy weak prayers will induce her to stop in her eternal march; that thy sickly desires can oblige her to change her everlasting course?



CHAP. XIII.

Of the Immortality of the Soul;—of the Doctrine of a future State;—of the Fear of Death.

The reflections presented to the reader in this work, tend to shew what ought to be thought of the human soul, as well as of its operations and faculties: every thing proves, in the most convincing manner, that it acts, that it moves according to laws similar to those prescribed to the other beings of Nature; that it cannot be distinguished from the body; that it is born with it; that it grows up with it; that it is modified in the same progression; in short, every thing ought to make man conclude that it perishes with it. This soul, as well as the body, passes through a state of weakness and infancy; it is in this stage of its existence, that it is assailed by a multitude of modifications; that it is stored with an infinity of ideas, which it receives from exterior objects through the medium of the organs; that it amasses facts, that it collects experience, whether true or false, that it forms to itself a system of conduct, according to which it thinks, in conformity with which it acts, from whence results either its happiness or its misery, its reason or its delirium, its virtues or its vices; arrived with the body at its full powers, having in conjunction with it reached maturity, it does not cease for a single instant to partake in common of its sensations, whether these are agreeable or disagreeable; it participates in all its pleasures; it shares in all its pains; in consequence it conjointly approves or disapproves its state; like it, it is either sound or diseased; active or languishing; awake or asleep. In old age man extinguishes entirely, his fibres become rigid, his nerves loose their elasticity, his senses are obtunded, his sight grows dim, his ears lose their quickness, his ideas become unconnected, his memory fails, his imagination cools: what then becomes of his soul? Alas! it sinks down with the body; it gets benumbed as this loses its feeling; becomes sluggish as this decays in activity; like it, when enfeebled by years it fulfils its functions with pain; this substance, which is deemed spiritual, which is considered immaterial, which it is endeavoured to distinguish from matter, undergoes the same revolutions, experiences the same vicissitudes, submits to the same modifications, as does the body itself.

In despite of this proof of the materiality of the soul, of its identity with the body, so convincing to the unprejudiced, some thinkers have supposed, that although the latter is perishable, the former does not perish: that this portion of man enjoys the especial privilege of immortality; that it is exempt from dissolution: free from those changes of form all the beings in Nature undergo: in consequence of this, man has persuaded himself, that this privileged soul does not die: its immortality, above all, appears indubitable to those who suppose it spiritual: after having made it a simple being, without extent, devoid of parts, totally different from any thing of which he has a knowledge, he pretended that it was not subjected to the laws of decomposition common to all beings, of which experience shews him the continual operation.

Man, feeling within himself a concealed force, that insensibly produced action, that imperceptibly gave direction to the motion of his machine, believed that the entire of Nature, of whose energies he is ignorant, with whose modes of acting he is unacquainted, owed its motion to an agent analogous to his own soul; who acted upon the great macrocosm, in the same manner that this soul acted upon his body. Man, having supposed himself double, made Nature double also: he distinguished her from her own peculiar energy; he separated her from her mover, which by degrees he made spiritual. Thus Nature, distinguished from herself, was regarded as the soul of the world; and the soul of man was considered as opinions emanating from this universal soul. This notion upon the origin of the soul is of very remote antiquity. It was that of the Egyptians, of the Chaldeans, of the Hebrews, of the greater number of the wise men of the east. It should appear that Moses believed with the Egyptians the divine emanation of souls: according to him, "God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul:" nevertheless, the Catholic, at this day, rejects this system of divine emanation, seeing that it supposes the Divinity divisible: which would have, been inconvenient to the Romish idea of purgatory, or to the system of everlasting punishment. Although Moses, in the above quotation, seems to indicate that the soul was a portion of the Divinity, it does not appear that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul was established in any one of the books attributed to him. It was during the Babylonish captivity, that the Jews learned the doctrine of future rewards and punishments, taught by Zoroaster to the Persians, but which the Hebrew legislator did not understand, or, at least, he left his people ignorant on the subject. It was in those schools, that Pherecydes, Pythagoras, and Plato, drew up a doctrine so flattering to the vanity of human nature—so gratifying to the imagination of mortals. Man thus believed himself a portion of the Divinity; immortal, like the Godhead, in one part of himself: nevertheless, subsequent religions have renounced these advantages, which they judged incompatible with the other parts of their systems; they held forth that the Sovereign of Nature, or her contriver was not the soul of man, but, that, in virtue of his omnipotence, he created human souls, in proportion as he produced the bodies which they must animate; and they taught, that these souls once produced, by an effect of the same omnipotence, enjoyed immortality.

However it may be with these variations upon the origin of souls, those who supposed them emanating from the Divinity, believed that after the death of the body, which served them for an envelope, they returned, by refunding to their first source. Those who, without adopting the opinion of divine emanation, admired the spirituality, believed the immortality of the soul, were under the necessity to suppose a region, to find out an abode for these souls, which their imagination painted to them, each according to his fears, his hopes, his desires, and his prejudices.

Nothing is more popular than the doctrine of the immortality of the soul; nothing is more universally diffused than the expectation of another life. Nature having inspired man with the most ardent love for his existence, the desire of preserving himself for ever was a necessary consequence; this desire was presently converted into certainty: from that desire of existing eternally which Nature has implanted in him, he made an argument, to prove that man would never cease to exist. Abady says, "our soul has no useless desires, it naturally desires an eternal life;" and by a very strange logic, he concludes that this desire could not fail to be fulfilled. Cicero, before Abady, had declared the immortality of the soul to be an innate idea in man; yet, strange to tell, in another part of his works he considers Pherecydes as the inventor of the doctrine. However this may be, man, thus disposed, listened with avidity to those who announced to him systems so conformable to his wishes. Nevertheless, he ought not to regard as supernatural the desire of existing, which always was, and always will be, of the essence man; it ought not to excite surprise, if he received with eagerness an hypothesis that flattered his hopes, by promising that his desire would one day be gratified; but let him beware how he concludes that this desire itself is an indubitable proof of the reality of this future life, with which at present he seems to be so much occupied. The passion for existence is in man only a natural consequence of the tendency of a sensible being, whose essence it is to be willing to conserve himself: in the human being it follows the energy of his soul—keeps pace with the force of his imagination—always ready to realize that which he strongly desires. He desires the life of the body, nevertheless this desire is frustrated; wherefore should not the desire for the life of the soul be frustrated like the other? The partizans of the doctrine of the immortality of the soul reason thus: "All men desire to live for ever, therefore they will live for ever." Suppose the argument retorted on them; would it be believed? If it was asserted, "All men naturally desire to be rich; therefore all men will one day be rich," how many partizans would this doctrine find?

The most simple reflection upon the nature of his soul, ought to convince man that the idea of its immortality is only an illusion of the brain. Indeed what is his soul, save the principle of sensibility? What is it, to think, to enjoy, to suffer; is it not to feel? What is life, except it be the assemblage of modifications, the congregation of motion, peculiar to an organized being? Thus, as soon as the body ceases to live, its sensibility can no longer exercise itself; when its sensibility is no more, it can no longer have ideas, nor in consequence thoughts. Ideas, as we have proved, can only reach man through his senses; now, how will they have it, that once deprived of his senses, he is yet capable of receiving sensations, of having perceptions, of forming ideas? As they have made the soul of man a being separated from the animated body, wherefore have they not made life a being distinguished from the living body? Life in a body is the totality of this motion; feeling and thought make a part of this motion: thus it is reasonable to suppose, that in the dead man these motions will cease, like all the others.

Indeed, by what reasoning will it be proved, that this soul, which cannot feel, think, will, or act, but by aid of man's organs, can suffer pain, be susceptible of pleasure, or even have a consciousness of its own existence, when the organs which should warn it of their presence are decomposed or destroyed? Is it not evident, that the soul depends on the arrangement of the various parts of the body; on the order with which these parts conspire to perform their functions; on the combined motion of the whole? Thus the organic structure once destroyed, can it be reasonably doubted the soul will be destroyed also? Is it not seen, that during the whole course of human life this soul is stimulated, changed, deranged, disturbed, by all the changes man's organs experience? And yet it will be insisted, that this soul acts, thinks, subsists, when these same organs have entirely disappeared!

An organized being may be compared to a clock, which once broken, is no longer suitable to the use for which it was designed. To say, that the soul shall feel, shall think, shall enjoy, shall suffer after the death of the body; is to pretend that a clock, shivered into a thousand pieces, will continue to strike the hour; shall yet have the faculty of marking the progress of time. Those who say, that the soul of man is able to subsist, notwithstanding the destruction of the body, evidently support the position, that the modification of a body will be enabled to conserve itself after the subject is destroyed: this on any other occasion would be considered as completely absurd.

It will be said that the conservation of the soul after the death of the body, is an effect of the Divine Omnipotence: but this is supporting an absurdity by a gratuitous hypothesis. It surely is not meant by Divine Omnipotence, of whatever nature it may be supposed, that a thing shall exist and not exist at the same time: unless this be granted, it will be rather difficult to prove, that a soul shall feel and think without the intermediates necessary to thought.

Let them then, at least, forbear asserting, that reason is not wounded by the doctrine of the immortality of the soul; or by the expectation of a future life. These notions, formed to flatter man, to disturb the imagination of the uninformed, who do not reason, cannot appear either convincing or probable to enlightened minds. Reason, exempted from the illusions of prejudice, is, without doubt, wounded by the supposition of a soul, that feels, that thinks, that is afflicted, that rejoices, that has ideas, without having organs; that is to say, destitute of the only known medium, wanting all the natural means, by which, according to what we can understand, it is possible for it to feel sensations, have perceptions, or form ideas. If it he replied, other means are able to exist, which are supernatural or unknown, it may be answered, that these means of transmitting ideas to the soul, separated from the body, are not better known to, or more within the reach of, those who suppose it, that they are of other men. It is, at least, very certain, it cannot admit even of a controversy, that all those who reject the system of innate ideas, cannot, without contradicting their own principles, admit the doctrine of the immortality of the soul.

In defiance of the consolation that so many persons pretend to find in the notion of an eternal existence; in despite of that firm persuasion which such numbers of men assure us they have, that their souls will survive their bodies, they seem so very much alarmed at the dissolution of this body, that they do not contemplate their end, which they ought to desire as the period of so many miseries, but with the greatest inquietude; so true it is, that the real, the present, even accompanied with pain, has much more influence over mankind, than the most beautiful chimeras of the future; which he never views but through the clouds of uncertainty. Indeed the most religious men, notwithstanding the conviction they express of a blessed eternity, do not find these flattering hopes sufficiently consoling to repress their fears; to prevent their trembling, when they think on the necessary dissolution of their bodies. Death was always, for mortals, the most frightful point of view; they regard it as a strange phenomenon, contrary to the order of things, opposed to Nature; in a word, as an effect of the celestial vengeance, as the wages of sin. Although every thing proves to man that death is inevitable, he is never able to familiarize himself with its idea; he never thinks on it without shuddering; the assurance of possessing an immortal soul but feebly indemnifies him for the grief he feels in the deprivation of his perishable body. Two causes contribute to strengthen his fears, to nourish his alarm; the one is, that this death, commonly accompanied with pain, wrests from him an existence that pleases him—with which he is acquainted—to which he is accustomed; the other is the uncertainty of the state that must succeed his actual existence.

The illustrious Bacon has said, that "men fear death for the same reason that children dread being alone in darkness." Man naturally challenges every thing with which he is unacquainted; he is desirous to see clearly to the end, that he may guarantee himself against those objects which may menace his safety; that he may also be enabled to procure for himself those which may be useful to him; the man who exists cannot form to himself any idea of non-existence; as this circumstance disturbs him, for want of experience, his imagination sets to work; this points out to him, either well or ill, this uncertain state: accustomed to think, to feel, to be stimulated into activity, to enjoy society, he contemplates as the greatest misfortune, a dissolution that will strip him of these objects, that will deprive him of those sensations which his present nature has rendered necessary to him; he views with dismay a situation that will prevent his being warned of his own existence—that shall bereave him of his pleasures—to plunge him into nothing. In supposing it even exempt from pain, he always looks upon this nothing as an afflicting solitude—as an heap of profound darkness; he sees himself in a state of general desolation; destitute of all assistance; and he feels keenly all the rigour of this frightful situation. But does not a profound sleep help to give him a true idea of this nothing? Does not that deprive him of every thing? Does it not appear to annihilate the universe to him, and him to the universe? Is death any thing more than a profound, a permanent steep? It is for want of being able to form an idea of death that man dreads it; if he could figure to himself a true image of this state of annihilation, he would from thence cease to fear it; but he is not able to conceive a state in which there is no feeling; he therefore believes, that when he shall no longer exist, he will have the same feelings, the same consciousness of things, which, during his existence, appear so sad to his mind; which his fancy paints in such gloomy colours. Imagination pictures to him his funeral pomp—the grave they are digging for him—the lamentations that will accompany him to his last abode-the epicedium that surviving friendship may dictate; he persuades himself that these melancholy objects will affect him as painfully even after his decease, as they do in his present condition, in which he is in full possession of his senses.

Mortal, led astray by fear! after thy death thine eyes will see no more; thine ears will hear no longer; in the depth of thy grave thou wilt no more be witness to this scene, which thine imagination, at present, represents to thee under such dismal colours; thou wilt no longer take part in what shall he done in the world; thou wilt no more be occupied with what may befal thine inanimate remains, than thou wast able to be the day previous to that which ranked thee among the beings of thy species. To die is to cease to think; to lack feeling; no longer to enjoy; to find a period to suffering; thine ideas will perish with thee; thy sorrows will not follow thee to the silent tomb. Think of death, not to feed thy fears—not to nourish thy melancholy—but to accustom thyself to look upon it with a peaceable eye; to cheer thee up against those false terrors with which the enemies to thy repose labour to inspire thee! The fears of death are vain illusions, that must disappear as soon as we learn to contemplate this necessary event under its true point of view. A great man has defined philosophy to be a meditation on death; he is not desirous by that to have it understood that man ought to occupy himself sorrowfully with his end, with a view to nourish his fears; on the contrary, he wishes to invite him to familiarize himself with an object that Nature has rendered necessary to him; to accustom himself to expect it with a serene countenance. If life is a benefit, if it be necessary to love it, it is no less necessary to quit it; reason ought to teach him a calm resignation to the decrees of fate: his welfare exacts that he should contract the habit of contemplating with placidity, of viewing without alarm, an event that his essence has rendered inevitable: his interest demands that he should not brood gloomily over his misfortune; that he should not, by continual dread, embitter his life; the charms of which he must inevitably destroy, if he can never view its termination but with trepidation. Reason and his interest then, concur to assure him against those vague terrors with which his imagination inspires him, in this respect. If he was to call them to his assistance, they would reconcile him to an object that only startles him, because he has no knowledge of it; because it is only shewn to him with those hideous accompaniments with which it is clothed by superstition. Let him then, endeavour to despoil death of these vain illusions, and he will perceive that it is only the sleep of life; that this sleep will not be disturbed with disagreeable dreams; that an unpleasant awakening is never likely to follow it. To die is to sleep; it is to enter into that state of insensibility in which he was previous to his birth; before he had senses; before he was conscious of his actual existence. Laws, as necessary as those which gave him birth, will make him return into the bosom of Nature, from whence he was drawn, in order to reproduce him afterwards under some new form, which it would he useless for him to know: without consulting him, Nature places him for a season in the order of organized beings; without his consent, she will oblige him to quit it, to occupy some other order.

Let him not complain then, that Nature is callous; she only makes him undergo a law from which she does not exempt any one being she contains. Man complains of the short duration of life—of the rapidity with which time flies away; yet the greater number of men do not know how to employ either time or life. If all are born and perish—if every thing is changed and destroyed—if the birth of a being is never more than the first step towards its end; how is it possible to expect that man, whose machine is so frail, of which the parts are so complicated, the whole of which possesses such extreme mobility, should be exempted from the common law; which decrees, that even the solid earth he inhabits shall experience change—shall undergo alteration—perhaps be destroyed! Feeble, frail mortal! Thou pretendest to exist for ever; whit thou, then, that for thee alone eternal Nature shall change her undeviating course? Dost thou not behold in those eccentric comets with which thine eyes are sometimes astonished, that the planets themselves are subject to death? Live then in peace for the season that Nature permits thee; if thy mind be enlightened by reason thou wilt die without terror!

Notwithstanding the simplicity of these reflections; nothing is more rare than the sight of men truly fortified against the fears of death: the wise man himself turns pale at its approach; he has occasion to collect the whole force of his mind, to expect it with serenity. It cannot then, furnish matter for surprise, if the idea of death is so revolting to the generality of mortals; it terrifies the young—it redoubles the chagrin of the middle-aged—it even augments the sorrow of the old, who are worn down with infirmity: indeed the aged, although enfeebled by time, dread it much more than the young, who are in the full vigour of life; the man of many lustres is more accustomed to live years as they roll over his head, confirm his attachment to existence; nevertheless, long unwearied exertions weaken the powers of his mind; labour, sickness, and pain, waste his animal strength; he has less energy; his volition becomes faint, superstitious terrors easily appal him; at length disease consumes him; sometimes with excruciating tortures: the unhappy wretch, thus plunged into misfortune, has, notwithstanding, scarcely ever dared to contemplate death; which he ought to consider as the period to all his anguish.

If the source of this pusillanimity be sought, it will be found in his nature, which attaches him to life; in that deficiency of energy in his soul, which hardly any thing tends to corroborate, but which every thing strives to enfeeble: which superstition, instead of strengthening, contributes to bruise. Almost all human institutions, nearly all the opinions of man, conspire to augment his fears; to render his ideas of death more terrible; to make them more revolting to his feelings. Indeed, superstition pleases itself with exhibiting death under the most frightful traits: it represents it to man under the most disgusting colours; as a dreadful moment, which not only puts an end to his pleasures, but gives him up without defence to the strange rigour of a pitiless decree, which nothing can soften. According to this superstition, the most virtuous man has reason to tremble for the severity of his fate; is never certain of being happy; the most dreadful torments, endless punishments, await the victim to involuntary weakness; to the necessary faults of a short-lived existence; his infirmities, his momentary offences, the propensities that have been planted in his heart, the errors of his mind, the opinions he has imbibed, even in the society in which he was born without his own consent, the ideas he has formed, the passions he has indulged above all, his not being able to comprehend all the extravagant dogmas offered to his acceptance, are to be implacably avenged with the most severe and never-ending penalties. Ixion is for ever fastened to his wheel; Sisyphus must to all eternity roll his stone without ever being able to reach the apex of his mountain; the vulture must perpetually prey on the liver of the unfortunate Prometheus: those who dare to think for themselves—those who have refused to listen to their enthusiastic guides—those who have not reverenced the oracles—those who have had the audacity to consult their reason—those who have boldly ventured to detect impostors—those who have doubted the divine mission of the Phythonissa—those who believe that Jupiter violated decency in his visit to Danae—those who look upon Apollo as no better than a strolling musician—those who think that Mahomet was an arch knave—are to smart everlastingly in flaming oceans of burning sulpher; are to float to all eternity in the most excruciating agonies on seas of liquid brimstone, wailing and gnashing their teeth: what wonder, then, if man dreads to be cast into these hideous gulfs; if his mind loathes the horrific picture; if he wishes to defer for a season these dreadful punishments; if he clings to an existence, painful as it may be, rather than encounter such revolting cruelties.

Such, then, are the afflicting objects with which superstition occupies its unhappy, its credulous disciples; such are the fears which the tyrant of human thoughts points out to them as salutary. In defiance Of the exility of the effect which these notions produce oil the greater number, even of those who say they are, or who believe themselves persuaded, they are held forth as the most powerful rampart that can be opposed to the irregularities of man. Nevertheless, as will be seen presently, it will be found that these systems, or rather these chimeras, so terrible to behold, operate little or nothing on the larger portion of mankind, who dream of them but seldom, never in the moment that passion, interest, pleasure, or example, hurries them along. If these fears act, it is commonly on those, who have but little occasion to abstain from evil; they make honest hearts tremble, but fail of effect on the perverse. They torment sensible souls, but leave those that are hardened in repose; they disturb tractable, gentle minds, but cause no trouble to rebellious spirits: thus they alarm none but those who are already sufficiently alarmed; they coerce only those who are already restrained.

These notions, then, impress nothing on the wicked; when by accident they do act on them, it is only to redouble the wickedness of their natural character—to justify them in their own eyes—to furnish them with pretexts to exercise it without fear—to follow it without scruple. Indeed, the experience of a great number of ages has shewn to what excess of wickedness, to what lengths, the passions of man have carried him, when they have been authorized by the priesthood—when they have been unchained by superstition—or, at least, when he has been enabled to cover himself with its mantle. Man has never been more ambitious, never more covetous, never more crafty, never more cruel, never more seditious, than when he has persuaded himself that superstition permitted or commanded him to be so: thus, superstition did nothing more than lend an invincible force to his natural passions, which under its sacred auspices he could exercise with impunity, indulge without remorse; still more, the greatest villains, in giving free vent to the detestable propensities of their natural wickedness, have under its influence believed, that, by displaying an over-heated zeal, they merited well of heaven; that they exempted themselves by new crimes, from that chastisement which they thought their anterior conduct had richly merited.

These, then, are the effects which what are called the salutary notions of superstition, produce on mortals. These reflections will furnish an answer to those who say that, "If heaven was promised equally to the wicked as to the righteous, there would be found none incredulous of another life." We reply, that, in point of fact, superstition does accord heaven to the wicked, since it frequently places in this happy abode the most useless, the most depraved of men. Is not Mahomet himself enthroned in the empyrean by this superstition? If the calendar of the Romish saints was examined, would it be found to contain none but righteous, none but good men? Does not Mahometanism cut off from all chance of future existence, consequently from all hope of reaching heaven, the female part of mankind? Have the Jews exalted no one to the celestial regions, save the virtuous? When the Jew is condemned to the devouring flames, do not the men who thus torture an unhappy wretch, whose only crime is adherence to the religion of his forefathers, expect to be rewarded for the deed with everlasting happiness? Are they not promised eternal salvation for their orthodoxy? Was Constantine, was St. Cyril, was St. Athanasius, was St. Dominic, worthy beatification? Were Jupiter, Thor, Mercury, Woden, and a thousand others, deserving of celestial diadems? Is erring, feeble man, with all his imbecilities, competent to form a judgment of the heavenly deserts of his fellows? Can be, with his dim optics, with his limited vision, fathom the human heart? Can he sound its depths, trace its meanderings, dive into its recesses, with sufficient precision, to determine who amongst his race is or is not possessed of the requisite merit to enjoy a blessed eternity? Thus wicked men are held up as models by superstition, which as we shall see, sharpens the passions of evil-disposed men, by legitimating those crimes, at which, without this sanction, they would shudder; which they would fear to commit; or for which, at least, they would feel shame; for which they would experience remorse. In short, the ministers of superstition furnish to the most profligate men the power of indulging their inflamed passions, and then hold forth to them means of diverting from their own heads the thunderbolt that should strike their crimes, by spreading before them fresh incentives to intolerant persecution, with the promise of a never-fading happiness.

With respect to the incredulous, without doubt, there may be amongst them wicked men, as well as amongst the most credulous; but incredulity no more supposes wickedness, than credulity supposes righteousness. On the contrary, the man who thinks, who meditates, knows far better the true motives to goodness, than he who suffers himself to be blindly guided by uncertain motives, or by the interest of others. Sensible men have the greatest advantage in examining opinions, which it is pretended must have an influence over their eternal happiness: if these are found false, if they appear injurious to their present life, they will not therefore conclude, that they have not another life either to fear or to hope; that they are permitted to deliver themselves up with impunity to vice, which would do an injury to themselves, that would draw upon them the contempt of their neighbour, which would subject them to the anger of society: the man who does not expect another life, is only more interested in prolonging his existence in this; in rendering himself dear to his fellows, by cultivating virtue; by performing all his duties with more strictness, in the only life of which be has any knowledge: he has made a great stride towards felicity, in disengaging himself from those terrors which afflict others, which frequently prevent their acting. Such a man has nothing to fear, but every thing to hope; if, contrary to what he is able to judge, there should be an hereafter existence, will not his actions have been so regulated by virtue, will he not have so comported himself in his present existence, as to stand a fair chance of enjoying in their fullest extent those felicities prepared for his species?

Superstition, in fact, takes a pride in rendering man slothful, in moulding him to credulity, in making him pusillanimous. It is its principle to afflict him without intermission; to redouble in him the horrors of death: ever ingenious in tormenting him, it has extended his inquietudes beyond even his own existence; its ministers, the more securely to dispose of him in this world, invented, in future regions, a variety of rewards and punishments, reserving to themselves the privilege of awarding these heavenly recompences to those who yielded most implicitly to their arbitrary laws; of decreeing punishment to those refractory beings who rebelled against their power: thus, according to them, Tantalus for divulging their secrets, must eternally fear, engulphed in burning sulphur, the stone ready to fall on his devoted head; whilst Romulus was beatified and worshipped as a god under the name of Quirinus. The same system of superstition caused the philosopher Callisthenes to be put to death, for opposing the worship of Alexander; and elevated the monk Athanasius to be a saint in heaven. Far from holding forth consolation to mortals, far from cultivating man's reason, far from teaching him to yield under the hands of necessity, superstition, in a great many countries, strives to render death still more bitter to him; to make its yoke sit heavy; to fill up its retinue with a multitude of hideous phantoms; to paint it in the most frightful colours; to render its approach terrible: by this means it has crowded the world with enthusiasts, whom it seduces by vague promises; with contemptible slaves, whom it coerces with the fear of imaginary evils: it has at length persuaded man, that his actual existence is only a journey, by which he will arrive at a more important life: this doctrine, whether it be rational or irrational, prevents him from occupying himself with his true happiness; from even dreaming of ameliorating his institutions, of improving his laws, of advancing the progress of science, of perfectioning his morals. Vain and gloomy ideas have absorbed his attention: he consents to groan under fanatical tyranny—to writhe under political inflictions—to live in error—to languish in misfortune—in the hope, when he shall be no more, of being one day happier; in the firm confidence, that after he has disappeared, his calamities, his patience, will conduct him to a never-ending felicity: he has believed himself submitted to cruel priests, who are willing to make him purchase his future welfare at the expence of every thing most dear to his peace, most valuable to his existence here below: they have pictured heaven as irritated against him, as disposed to appease itself by punishing him eternally, for any efforts he should make to withdraw himself from, their power. It is thus the doctrine of a future life has been made fatal to the human species: it plunged whole nations into sloth, made them languid, filled them with indifference to their present welfare, or else precipitated them, into the most furious enthusiasm, which hurried them on to such lengths that they tore each other in pieces in order to merit the promised heaven.

It will be asked, perhaps, by what road has man been conducted to form to himself these gratuitous ideas of another world? I reply, that it is a truth man has no idea of a future life, they are the ideas of the past and the present that furnish his imagination with the materials of which he constructs the edifice of the regions of futurity. Hobbes says, "We believe that, that which is will always be, and that the same causes will have the same effects." Man in his actual state, has two modes of feeling, one that he approves, another that he disapproves: thus, persuaded that these two modes of feeling must accompany him, even beyond his present existence, he placed in the regions of eternity two distinguished abodes, one destined to felicity, the other to misery: the one must contain those who obey the calls of superstition, who believe in its dogmas; the other is a prison, destined to avenge the cause of heaven, on all those who shall not faithfully believe the doctrines promulgated by the ministers of a vast variety of superstitions. Has sufficient attention been paid to the fact that results as a necessary consequence from this reasoning; which on examination will be found to have rendered the first place entirely useless, seeing, that by the number and contradiction of these various systems, let man believe which ever he may, let him follow it in the most faithful manner, still he must he ranked as an infidel, as a rebel to the Divinity, because he cannot believe in all; and those from which he dissents, by a consequence of their own creed, condemn him to the prison-house?

Such is the origin of the ideas upon a future life, so diffused among mankind. Every where may be seen an Elysium and a Tartarus; a Paradise and a Hell; in a word, two distinguished abodes, constructed according to the imagination of the enthusiasts who have invented them, who have accommodated them to their own peculiar prejudices, to the hopes, to the fears, of the people who believe in them. The Indian figures the first of these abodes as one of in-action, of permanent repose, because, being the inhabitant of a hot climate, he has learned to contemplate rest as the extreme of felicity: the Mussulman promises himself corporeal pleasures, similar to those that actually constitute the object of his research in this life: each figures to himself, that on which he has learned to set the greatest value.

Of whatever nature these pleasures may be, man apprehended that a body was needful, in order that his soul might be enabled to enjoy the pleasures, or to experience the pains in reserve for him: from hence the doctrine of the resurrection; but as he beheld this body putrify, as he saw it dissolve, as he witnessed its decomposition, after death, he was at a loss how to form anew what he conceived so necessary to his system he therefore had recourse to the Divine Omnipotence, by whose interposition he now believes it will he effected. This opinion, so incomprehensible, is said to have originated in Persia, among the Magi, and finds a great number of adherents, who have never given it a serious examination: but the doctrine of the resurrection appears perfectly useless to all those, who believe in the existence of a soul that feels, thinks, suffers, and enjoys, after a separation from the body: indeed, there are already sects who begin to maintain, that the body is not necessary; that therefore it will not be resurrected. Like Berkeley, they conceive that "the soul has need neither of body nor any exterior being, either to experience sensations, or to have ideas:" the Malebranchists, in particular, must suppose that the rejected souls will see every thing in the Divinity; will feel themselves burn, without having occasion for bodies for that purpose. Others, incapable of elevating themselves to these sublime notions, believed, that under divers forms, man animated successively different animals of various species; that he never ceased to be an inhabitant of the earth; such was the opinion of those who adopted the doctrine of Metempsychosis.

As for the miserable abode of souls, the imagination of fanatics, who were desirous of governing the people, strove to assemble the most frightful images, to render it still more terrible: fire is of all beings that which produces in man the most pungent sensation; not finding any thing more cruel, the enemies to the several dogmas were to be everlastingly punished with this torturing element: fire, therefore, was the point at which their imagination was obliged to stop. The ministers of the various systems agreed pretty generally, that fire would one day avenge their offended divinities: thus they painted the victims to the anger of the gods, or rather those who questioned their own creeds, as confined in fiery dungeons, as perpetually rolling in a vortex of bituminous flames, as plunged in unfathomable gulphs of liquid sulphur, making the infernal caverns resound with their useless groanings, with their unavailing gnashing of teeth.

But it will, perhaps, be enquired, how could man reconcile himself to the belief of an existence accompanied with eternal torments; above all, as many according to their own superstitions had reason to fear it for themselves? Many causes have concurred to make him adopt so revolting an opinion: in the first place, very few thinking men have ever believed such an absurdity, when they have deigned to make use of their reason; or, when they have accredited it, this notion was always counterbalanced by the idea of the goodness, by a reliance on the mercy, which they attributed to their respective divinities: in the second place, those who were blinded by their fears, never rendered to themselves any account of these strange doctrines, which they either received with awe from their legislators, or which were transmitted to them by their fathers: in the third place, each sees the object of his terrors only at a favourable distance: moreover, superstition promises him the means of escaping the tortures he believes he has merited. At length, like those sick people whom we see cling with fondness, even to the most painful life, man preferred the idea of an unhappy, though unknown existence, to that of non-existence, which he looked upon as the most frightful evil that could befal him; either because he could form no idea of it, or because his imagination painted to him this non-existence this nothing, as the confused assemblage of all evils. A known evil, of whatever magnitude, alarmed him less (above all, when there remained the hope of being able to avoid it), than an evil of which he knew nothing, upon which, consequently, his imagination was painfully employed, but to which he knew not how to oppose a remedy.

It will be seen, then, that superstition, far from consoling man upon the necessity of death, only redoubles his terrors, by the evils with which it pretends his decease will be followed; these terrors are so strong, that the miserable wretches who believe strictly in these formidable doctrines, pass their days in affliction, bathed in the most bitter tears. What shall be said of an opinion so destructive to society, yet adopted by so many nations, which announces to them, that a severe fate may at each instant take them unprovided; that at each moment they are liable to pass under the most rigorous judgment? What idea can be better suited to terrify man—what more likely to discourage him—what more calculated to damp the desire of ameliorating his condition—than the afflicting prospect of a world always on the brink of dissolution; of a Divinity seated upon the ruins of Nature, ready to pass judgment on the human species? Such are, nevertheless, the fatal opinions with which the mind of nations has been fed for thousands of years: they are so dangerous, that if by a happy want of just inference, he did not derogate in his conduct from these afflicting ideas, he would fall into the most abject stupidity. How could man occupy himself with a perishable world, ready every moment to crumble into atoms? How dream of rendering himself happy on earth, when it is only the porch to an eternal kingdom? Is it then, surprising, that the superstitions to which similar doctrines serve for a basis, have prescribed to their disciples a total detachment from things below—an entire renunciation of the most innocent pleasures; have given birth to a sluggishness, to a pusillanimity, to an abjection of soul, to an insociability, that renders him useless to himself, dangerous to others? If necessity did not oblige man to depart in his practice from these irrational systems— if his wants did not bring him back to reason, in despite of these superstitious doctrines—the whole world would presently become a vast desert, inhabited by some few isolated savages, who would not even have courage to multiply themselves. What are these, but notions which he must necessarily put aside, in order that human association may subsist?

Nevertheless, the doctrine of a future life, accompanied with rewards and punishments, has been regarded for a great number of ages as the most powerful, or even as the only motive capable of coercing the passions of man; as the sole means that can oblige him to be virtuous: by degrees, this doctrine has become the basis of almost all religions and political systems, so much so, that at this day it is said, this prejudice cannot be attacked without absolutely rending asunder the bonds of society. The founders of superstition have made use of it to attach their credulous disciples; legislators have looked upon it as the curb best calculated to keep mankind under discipline; religion considers it necessary to his happiness; many philosophers themselves have believed with sincerity, that this doctrine was requisite to terrify man, was the only means to divert him from crime: notwithstanding, when the doctrine of the immortality of the soul first came out of the school of Plato; when it first diffused itself among the Greeks, it caused the greatest ravages; it determined a multitude of men, who were discontented with their condition, to terminate their existence: Ptolemy Philadelphus, king of Egypt, seeing the effect this doctrine, which at the present day is looked upon as so salutary, produced on the brains of his subjects, prohibited the teaching of it under the penalty of death.

It must, indeed, be allowed that this doctrine has been of the greatest utility to those who have given superstitions to nations, who at the same time made themselves its ministers; it was the foundation of their power, the source of their wealth, the permanent cause of that blindness, the solid basis of those terrors, which it was their interest to nourish in the human race. It was by this doctrine the priest became first the rival, then the master of kings: it is by this dogma that nations are filled with enthusiasts inebriated with superstition, always more disposed to listen to its menaces, than to the counsels of reasons, to the orders of the sovereign, to the cries of Nature, or to the laws of society. Politics itself was enslaved to the caprice of the priest; the temporal monarch was obliged to bend under the yoke of the monarch of superstition; the one only disposed of this perishable world, the other extended his power into the world to come; much more important for man than the earth, on which he is only a pilgrim, a mere passenger. Thus the doctrine of another life placed the government itself in a state of dependance upon the priest; the monarch was nothing more than his first subject; he was never obeyed, but when the two were in accord. Nature in vain cried out to man, to be careful of his present happiness; the priest ordered him to be unhappy, in the expectation of future felicity; reason in vain exhorted him to be peaceable; the priest breathed forth fanaticism, fulminated fury, obliged him to disturb the public tranquillity, every time there was a question of the supposed interests of the invisible monarch of another life, and the real interests of his ministers in this.

Such is the fruit that politics has gathered from the doctrine of a future life; the regions of the world to come have enabled the priesthood to conquer the present world. The expectation of celestial happiness, and the dread of future tortures, only served to prevent man from seeking after the means to render himself happy here below. Thus error, under whatever aspect it is considered, will never be more than a source of evil for mankind. The doctrine of another life, in presenting to mortals an ideal happiness, will render them enthusiasts; in overwhelming them with fears, it will make useless beings; generate cowards; form atrabilarious or furious men; who will lose sight of their present abode, to occupy themselves with the pictured regions of a world to come, with those dreadful evils which they must fear after their death.

If it be insisted that the doctrine of future rewards and punishments is the most powerful curb to restrain the passions of man, we shall reply by calling in daily experience. If we only cast our eyes around, if for a moment we examine what passes in review before us, we shall see this assertion contradicted; we shall find that these marvellous speculations do not in any manner diminish the number of the wicked, because they are incapable of changing the temperament of man, of annihilating those passions which the vices of society engender in his heart. In those nations who appear the most thoroughly convinced of this future punishment, may be seen assassins, thieves, crafty knaves, oppressors, adulterers, voluptuaries; all these pretend they are firmly persuaded of the reality of an hereafter; yet in the whirlwind of dissipation, in the vortex of pleasure, in the fury of their passions, they no longer behold this formidable future existence, which in those moments has no kind of influence over their earthly conduct.

In short, in many of those countries where the doctrine of another life is so firmly established, that each individual irritates himself against whoever may have the temerity to combat the opinion, or even to doubt it, we see that it is utterly incapable of impressing any thing on rulers who are unjust, who are negligent of the welfare of their people, who are, debauched, on courtezans who are lewd in their habits, on covetous misers, on flinty extortioners who fatten on the substance of a nation, on women without modesty, on a vast multitude of drunken, intemperate, vicious men, on great numbers even amongst those priests, whose function it is to preach this future state, who are paid to announce the vengeance of heaven, against vices which they themselves encourage by their example. If it be enquired of them, how they dare to give themselves up to such scandalous actions, which they ought to know are certain to draw upon them eternal punishment? They will reply, that the madness of their passions, the force of their habits, the contagion of example, or even the power of circumstances, have hurried them along; have made them forget the dreadful consequences in which their conduct is likely to involve them; besides, they will say, that the treasures of the divine mercy are infinite; that repentance suffices to efface the foulest transgressions; to cleanse the blackest guilt; to blot out the most enormous crimes: in this multitude of wretched beings, who each after his own manner desolates society with his criminal pursuits, you will find only a small number who are sufficiently intimidated by the fears of the miserable hereafter, to resist their evil propensities. What did I say? These propensities are in themselves too weak to carry them forward without the aid of the doctrine of another life; without this, the law and the fear of censure would have been motives sufficient to prevent them from rendering themselves criminal.

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