Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

IMPIOUS.

Who is the impious man? It is he who exhibits the Being of Beings, the great former of the world, the eternal intelligence by whom all nature is governed, with a long white beard, and having hands and feet. However, he is pardonable for his impiety — a weak and ignorant creature, the sight or conduct of whom we ought not to allow to provoke or to vex us.

If he should even paint that great and incomprehensible Being as carried on a cloud, which can carry nothing; if he is so stupid as to place God in a mist, in rain, or on a mountain, and to surround him with little round, chubby, painted faces, accompanied by two wings, I can smile and pardon him with all my heart.

The impious man, who ascribes to the Being of Beings absurd predictions and absolute iniquities, would certainly provoke me, if that Great Being had not bestowed upon me the gift of reason to control my anger. This senseless fanatic repeats to me once more what thousands of others have said before him, that it is not our province to decide what is reasonable and just in the Great Being; that His reason is not like our reason, nor His justice like our justice. What then, my rather too absurd and zealous friend, would you really wish me to judge of justice and reason by any other notions than I have of them myself? Would you have me walk otherwise than with my feet, or speak otherwise than with my mouth?

The impious man, who supposes the Great Being to be jealous, proud, malignant, and vindictive, is more dangerous. I would not sleep under the same roof with such a man.

But how will you treat the impious man, the daring blasphemer, who says to you: “See only with my eyes; do not think for yourself; I proclaim to you a tyrant God, who ordained me to be your tyrant; I am His well-beloved; He will torment to all eternity millions of His creatures, whom He detests, for the sake of gratifying me; I will be your master in this world and will laugh at your torments in the next!”

Do you not feel a very strong inclination to beat this cruel blasphemer? And, even if you happen to be born with a meek and forgiving spirit, would you not fly with the utmost speed to the West, when this barbarian utters his atrocious reveries in the East?

With respect to another and very different class of the impious — those who, while washing their elbows, neglect to turn their faces towards Aleppo and Erivan, or who do not kneel down in the dirt on seeing a procession of capuchin friars at Perpignan, they are certainly culpable; but I hardly think they ought to be impaled.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:25