Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


§ I.

The Epicureans, who had no religion, recommended retirement from public affairs, study, and concord. This sect was a society of friends, for friendship was their principal dogma. Atticus, Lucretius, Memmius, and a few other such men, might live very reputably together; this we see in all countries; philosophize as much as you please among yourselves. A set of amateurs may give a concert of refined and scientific music; but let them beware of performing such a concert before the ignorant and brutal vulgar, lest their instruments be broken over their heads. If you have but a village to govern, it must have a religion.

I speak not here of an error; but of the only good, the only necessary, the only proved, and the second revealed.

Had it been possible for the human mind to have admitted a religion — I will not say at all approaching ours — but not so bad as all the other religions in the world — what would that religion have been?

Would it not have been that which should propose to us the adoration of the supreme, only, infinite, eternal Being, the former of the world, who gives it motion and life, “cui nec simile, nec secundum”? That which should re-unite us to this Being of beings, as the reward of our virtues, and separate us from Him, as the chastisement of our crimes?

That which should admit very few of the dogmas invented by unreasoning pride; those eternal subjects of disputation; and should teach a pure morality, about which there should never be any dispute?

That which should not make the essence of worship consist in vain ceremonies, as that of spitting into your mouth, or that of taking from you one end of your prepuce, or of depriving you of one of your testicles — seeing that a man may fulfil all the social duties with two testicles and an entire foreskin, and without another’s spitting into his mouth?

That of serving one’s neighbor for the love of God, instead of persecuting and butchering him in God’s name? That which should tolerate all others, and which, meriting thus the goodwill of all, should alone be capable of making mankind a nation of brethren?

That which should have august ceremonies, to strike the vulgar, without having mysteries to disgust the wise and irritate the incredulous?

That which should offer men more encouragements to the social virtues than expiations for social crimes?

That which should insure to its ministers a revenue large enough for their decent maintenance, but should never allow them to usurp dignities and power that might make them tyrants?

That which should establish commodious retreats for sickness and old age, but never for idleness?

A great part of this religion is already in the hearts of several princes; and it will prevail when the articles of perpetual peace, proposed by the abbé de St. Pierre, shall be signed by all potentates.

§ II.

Last night I was meditating; I was absorbed in the contemplation of nature, admiring the immensity, the courses, the relations of those infinite globes, which are above the admiration of the vulgar.

I admired still more the intelligence that presides over this vast machinery. I said to myself: A man must be blind not to be impressed by this spectacle; he must be stupid not to recognize its author; he must be mad not to adore him. What tribute of adoration ought I to render him? Should not this tribute be the same throughout the extent of space, since the same Supreme Power reigns equally in all that extent?

Does not a thinking being, inhabiting a star of the Milky Way, owe him the same homage as the thinking being on this little globe where we are? Light is the same to the dog-star as to us; morality, too, must be the same.

If a feeling and thinking being in the dog-star is born of a tender father and mother, who have labored for his welfare, he owes them as much love and duty as we here owe to our parents. If any one in the Milky Way sees another lame and indigent, and does not relieve him, though able to do it, he is guilty in the sight of every globe.

The heart has everywhere the same duties; on the steps of the throne of God, if He has a throne, and at the bottom of the great abyss, if there be an abyss.

I was wrapt in these reflections, when one of those genii who fill the spaces between worlds, came down to me. I recognized the same aërial creature that had formerly appeared to me, to inform me that the judgments of God are different from ours, and how much a good action is preferable to controversy.

He transported me into a desert covered all over with bones piled one upon another; and between these heaps of dead there were avenues of evergreen trees, and at the end of each avenue a tall man of august aspect gazing with compassion on these sad remains.

“Alas! my archangel,” said I, “whither have you brought me?” “To desolation,” answered he. “And who are those fine old patriarchs whom I see motionless and melancholy at the end of those green avenues, and who seem to weep over this immense multitude of dead?” “Poor human creature! thou shalt know,” replied the genius; “but, first, thou must weep.”

He began with the first heap. “These,” said he, “are the twenty-three thousand Jews who danced before a calf, together with the twenty-four thousand who were slain while ravishing Midianitish women; the number of the slaughtered for similar offences or mistakes amounts to nearly three hundred thousand.

“At the following avenues are the bones of Christians, butchered by one another on account of metaphysical disputes. They are divided into several piles of four centuries each; it was necessary to separate them; for had they been all together, they would have reached the sky.”

“What!” exclaimed I, “have brethren thus treated their brethren; and have I the misfortune to be one of this brotherhood?”

“Here,” said the spirit, “are the twelve millions of Americans slain in their own country for not having been baptized.” “Ah! my God! why were not these frightful skeletons left to whiten in the hemisphere where the bodies were born, and where they were murdered in so many various ways? Why are all these abominable monuments of barbarity and fanaticism assembled here?” “For thy instruction.”

“Since thou art willing to instruct me,” said I to the genius, “tell me if there be any other people than the Christians and the Jews, whom zeal and religion, unhappily turned into fanaticism, have prompted to so many horrible cruelties?” “Yes,” said he; “the Mahometans have been stained by the same inhuman acts, but rarely; and when their victims have cried out ‘amman!’ (mercy!) and have offered them tribute, they have pardoned them. As for other nations, not one of them, since the beginning of the world, has ever made a purely religious war. Now, follow me!” I followed.

A little beyond these heaps of dead we found other heaps; these were bags of gold and silver; and each pile had its label: “Substance of the heretics massacred in the eighteenth century, in the seventeenth, in the sixteenth,” and so on. “Gold and silver of the slaughtered Americans,” etc.; and all these piles were surmounted by crosses, mitres, crosiers, and tiaras, enriched with jewels.

“What! my genius, was it then to possess these riches that these carcasses were accumulated?” “Yes, my son.”

I shed tears; and when by my grief I had merited to be taken to the end of the green avenues, he conducted me thither.

“Contemplate,” said he, “the heroes of humanity who have been the benefactors of the earth, and who united to banish from the world, as far as they were able, violence and rapine. Question them.”

I went up to the first of this band; on his head was a crown, and in his hand a small censer. I humbly asked him his name. “I,” said he, “am Numa Pompilius; I succeeded a robber, and had robbers to govern; I taught them virtue and the worship of God; after me they repeatedly forgot both. I forbade any image to be placed in the temples, because the divinity who animates nature cannot be represented. During my reign the Romans had neither wars nor seditions; and my religion did nothing but good. Every neighboring people came to honor my funeral, which has happened to me alone. . . . .”

I made my obeisance and passed on to the second. This was a fine old man, of about a hundred, clad in a white robe; his middle finger was placed on his lip, and with the other hand he was scattering beans behind him. In him I recognized Pythagoras. He assured me that he had never had a golden thigh, and that he had never been a cock, but that he had governed the Crotonians with as much justice as Numa had governed the Romans about the same time, which justice was the most necessary and the rarest thing in the world. I learned that the Pythagoreans examined their consciences twice a day. What good people! and how far are we behind them! Yet we, who for thirteen hundred years have been nothing but assassins, assert that these wise men were proud.

To please Pythagoras I said not a word to him, but went on to Zoroaster, who was engaged in concentrating the celestial fire in the focus of a concave mirror, in the centre of a vestibule with a hundred gates, each one leading to wisdom. On the principal of these gates I read these words, which are the abstract of all morality, and cut short all the disputes of the casuists: “When thou art in doubt whether an action is good or bad, abstain from it.”

“Certainly,” said I to my genius, “the barbarians who immolated all the victims whose bones I have seen had not read these fine words.”

Then we saw Zaleucus, Thales, Anaximander, and all the other sages who had sought truth and practised virtue.

When we came to Socrates I quickly recognized him by his broken nose. “Well,” said I, “you then are among the confidants of the Most High! All the inhabitants of Europe, excepting the Turks and the Crim Tartars, who know nothing, pronounce your name with reverence. So much is that great name venerated, so much is it loved, that it has been sought to discover those of your persecutors. Melitus and Anitus are known because of you, as Ravaillac is known because of Henry IV.; but of Anitus I know only the name. I know not precisely who that villain was by whom you were calumniated, and who succeeded in procuring your condemnation to the hemlock.”

“I have never thought of that man since my adventure,” answered Socrates; “but now that you put me in mind of him, I pity him much. He was a wicked priest, who secretly carried on a trade in leather, a traffic reputed shameful amongst us. He sent his two children to my school; the other disciples reproached them with their father’s being a currier, and they were obliged to quit. The incensed father was unceasing in his endeavors until he had stirred up against me all the priests and all the sophists. They persuaded the council of the five hundred that I was an impious man, who did not believe that the moon, Mercury, and Mars were deities. I thought indeed, as I do now, that there is but one God, the master of all nature. The judges gave me up to the republic’s poisoner, and he shortened my life a few days. I died with tranquillity at the age of seventy years, and since then I have led a happy life with all these great men whom you see, and of whom I am the least. . . . .”

After enjoying the conversation of Socrates for some time, I advanced with my guide into a bower, situated above the groves, where all these sages of antiquity seemed to be tasting the sweets of repose.

Here I beheld a man of mild and simple mien, who appeared to me to be about thirty-five years old. He was looking with compassion upon the distant heaps of whitened skeletons through which I had been led to the abode of the sages. I was astonished to find his feet swelled and bloody, his hands in the same state, his side pierced, and his ribs laid bare by flogging. “Good God!” said I, “is it possible that one of the just and wise should be in this state? I have just seen one who was treated in a very odious manner; but there is no comparison between his punishment and yours. Bad priests and bad judges poisoned him. Was it also by priests and judges that you were so cruelly assassinated?

With great affability he answered —“Yes.”

“And who were those monsters?”

“They were hypocrites.”

“Ah! you have said all! by that one word I understand that they would condemn you to the worst of punishments. You then had proved to them, like Socrates, that the moon was not a goddess, and that Mercury was not a god?”

“No; those planets were quite out of the question. My countrymen did not even know what a planet was; they were all arrant ignoramuses. Their superstitions were quite different from those of the Greeks.”

“Then you wished to teach them a new religion?”

“Not at all; I simply said to them —‘Love God with all your hearts, and your neighbor as yourselves; for that is all.’ Judge whether this precept is not as old as the universe; judge whether I brought them a new worship. I constantly told them that I was come, not to abolish their law, but to fulfil it; I had observed all their rites; I was circumcised as they all were; I was baptized like the most zealous of them; like them I paid the corban; like them I kept the Passover; and ate, standing, lamb cooked with lettuce. I and my friends went to pray in their temple; my friends, too, frequented the temple after my death. In short, I fulfilled all their laws without one exception.”

“What! could not these wretches even reproach you with having departed from their laws?”

“Certainly not.”

“Why, then, did they put you in the state in which I now see you?”

“Must I tell you? — They were proud and selfish; they saw that I knew them; they saw that I was making them known to the citizens; they were the strongest; they took away my life; and such as they will always do the same, if they can, to whoever shall have done them too much justice.”

“But did you say nothing; did you do nothing, that could serve them as a pretext?”

“The wicked find a pretext in everything.”

“Did you not once tell them that you were come to bring, not peace, but the sword?”

“This was an error of some scribe. I told them that I brought, not the sword, but peace. I never wrote anything; what I said might be miscopied without any ill intent.”

“You did not then contribute in anything, by your discourses, either badly rendered or badly interpreted, to those frightful masses of bones which I passed on my way to consult you?”

“I looked with horror on those who were guilty of all these murders.”

“And those monuments of power and wealth — of pride and avarice — those treasures, those ornaments, those ensigns of greatness, which, when seeking wisdom, I saw accumulated on the way — do they proceed from you?”

“It is impossible; I and mine lived in poverty and lowliness; my greatness was only in virtue.”

I was on the point of begging of him to have the goodness just to tell me who he was; but my guide warned me to refrain. He told me that I was not formed for comprehending these sublime mysteries. I conjured him to tell me only in what true religion consisted.

“Have I not told you already? — Love God and your neighbor as yourself.”

“What! Can we love God and yet eat meat on a Friday?”

“I always ate what was given me; for I was too poor to give a dinner to any one.”

“Might we love God and be just, and still be prudent enough not to intrust all the adventures of one’s life to a person one does not know?”

“Such was always my custom.”

“Might not I, while doing good, be excused from making a pilgrimage to St. James of Compostello?”

“I never was in that country.”

“Should I confine myself in a place of retirement with blockheads?”

“For my part, I always made little journeys from town to town.”

“Must I take part with the Greek or with the Latin Church?”

“When I was in the world, I never made any difference between the Jew and the Samaritan.”

“Well, if it be so, I take you for my only master.”

Then he gave me a nod, which filled me with consolation. The vision disappeared, and I was left with a good conscience.

§ III.
Questions on Religion.

Warburton, bishop of Gloucester, author of one of the most learned works ever written, thus expresses himself (“Divine Legation of Moses,” i., 8): “A religion, a society, which is not founded on the belief of a future state, must be supported by an extraordinary Providence. Judaism is not founded on the belief of a future state; therefore, Judaism was supported by an extraordinary Providence.”

Many theologians rose up against him; and, as all arguments are retorted, so was his retorted upon himself; he was told:

“Every religion which is not founded on the dogma of the immortality of the soul, and on everlasting rewards and punishments, is necessarily false. Now these dogmas were unknown to the Jews; therefore Judaism, far from being supported by Providence, was, on your own principles, a false and barbarous religion by which Providence was attacked.”

This bishop had some other adversaries, who maintained against him that the immortality of the soul was known to the Jews even in the time of Moses; but he proved to them very clearly that neither the Decalogue, nor Leviticus, nor Deuteronomy, had said one word of such a belief; and that it is ridiculous to strive to distort and corrupt some passages of other books, in order to draw from them a truth which is not announced in the book of the law.

The bishop, having written four volumes to demonstrate that the Jewish law proposed neither pains nor rewards after death, has never been able to answer his adversaries in a very satisfactory manner. They said to him: “Either Moses knew this dogma, and so deceived the Jews by not communicating it, or he did not know it, in which case he did not know enough to found a good religion. Indeed, if the religion had been good why should it have been abolished? A true religion must be for all times and all places; it must be as the light of the sun, enlightening all nations and generations.”

This prelate, enlightened as he is, has found it no easy task to extricate himself from so many difficulties. But what system is free from them?


Another man of learning, and a much greater philosopher, who is one of the profoundest metaphysicians of the day, advances very strong arguments to prove that polytheism was the primitive religion of mankind, and that men began with believing in several gods before their reason was sufficiently enlightened to acknowledge one only Supreme Being.

On the contrary, I venture to believe that in the beginning they acknowledged one only God, and that afterwards human weakness adopted several. My conception of the matter is this:

It is indubitable that there were villages before large towns were built, and that all men have been divided into petty commonwealths before they were united in great empires. It is very natural that the people of a village, being terrified by thunder, afflicted at the loss of its harvests, ill-used by the inhabitants of a neighboring village, feeling every day its own weakness, feeling everywhere an invisible power, should soon have said: There is some Being above us who does us good and harm.

It seems to me to be impossible that it should have said: There are two powers; for why more than one? In all things we begin with the simple; then comes the compound; and after, by superior light, we go back to the simple again. Such is the march of the human mind!

But what is this being who is thus invoked at first? Is it the sun? Is it the moon? I do not think so. Let us examine what passes in the minds of children; they are nearly like those of uninformed men. They are struck, neither by the beauty nor by the utility of the luminary which animates nature, nor by the assistance lent us by the moon, nor by the regular variations of her course; they think not of these things; they are too much accustomed to them. We adore, we invoke, we seek to appease, only that which we fear. All children look upon the sky with indifference; but when the thunder growls they tremble and run to hide themselves. The first men undoubtedly did likewise. It could only be a sect of philosophers who first observed the courses of the planets, made them admired, and caused them to be adored; mere tillers of the ground, without any information, did not know enough of them to embrace so noble an error.

A village then would confine itself to saying: There is a power which thunders and hails upon us, which makes our children die; let us appease it. But how shall we appease it? We see that by small presents we have calmed the anger of irritated men; let us then make small presents to this power. It must also receive a name. The first that presents itself is that of “chief,” “master,” “lord.” This power then is styled “My Lord.” For this reason perhaps it was that the first Egyptians called their god “knef”; the Syrians, “Adonai”; the neighboring nations, “Baal,” or “Bel,” or “Melch,” or “Moloch”; the Scythians, “Papæus”; all these names signifying “lord,” “master.”

Thus was nearly all America found to be divided into a multitude of petty tribes, each having its protecting god. The Mexicans, too, and the Peruvians, forming great nations, had only one god — the one adoring Manco Capak, the other the god of war. The Mexicans called their warlike divinity “Huitzilipochtli,” as the Hebrews had called their Lord “Sabaoth.”

It was not from a superior and cultivated reason that every people thus began with acknowledging one only Divinity; had they been philosophers, they would have adored the God of all nature, and not the god of a village; they would have examined those infinite relations among all things which prove a Being creating and preserving; but they examined nothing — they felt. Such is the progress of our feeble understanding. Each village would feel its weakness and its need of a protector; it would imagine that tutelary and terrible being residing in the neighboring forest, or on a mountain, or in a cloud. It would imagine only one, because the clan had but one chief in war; it would imagine that one corporeal, because it was impossible to represent it otherwise. It could not believe that the neighboring tribe had not also its god. Therefore it was that Jephthah said to the inhabitants of Moab: “You possess lawfully what your god Chemoth has made you conquer; you should, then, let us enjoy what our god has given us by his victories.”

This language, used by one stranger to other strangers, is very remarkable. The Jews and the Moabites had dispossessed the natives of the country; neither had any right but that of force; and the one says to the other: “Your god has protected you in your usurpation; suffer our god to protect us in ours.”

Jeremiah and Amos both ask what right the god Melchem had to seize the country of Gad? From these passages it is evident that the ancients attributed to each country a protecting god. We find other traces of this theology in Homer.

It is very natural that, men’s imaginations being heated, and their minds having acquired some confused knowledge, they should soon multiply their gods, and speedily assign protectors to the elements, the seas, the forests, the fountains, and the fields. The more they observed the stars, the more they would be struck with admiration. How, indeed, should they have adored the divinity of a brook, and not have adored the sun? The first step being taken, the earth would soon be covered with gods; and from the stars men would at last come down to cats and onions.

Reason, however, will advance towards perfection; time at length found philosophers who saw that neither onions, nor cats, nor even the stars, had arranged the order of nature. All those philosophers — Babylonians, Persians, Egyptians, Scythians, Greeks, and Romans — admitted a supreme, rewarding, and avenging God.

They did not at first tell it to the people; for whosoever should have spoken ill of onions and cats before priests and old women, would have been stoned; whosoever should have reproached certain of the Egyptians with eating their gods would himself have been eaten — as Juvenal relates that an Egyptian was in reality killed and eaten quite raw in a controversial dispute.

What then did they do? Orpheus and others established mysteries, which the initiated swore by oaths of execration not to reveal — of which mysteries the principal was the adoration of a supreme God. This great truth made its way through half the world, and the number of the initiated became immense. It is true that the ancient religion still existed; but as it was not contrary to the dogma of the unity of God, it was allowed to exist. And why should it have been abolished? The Romans acknowledged the “Deus optimus maximus,” and the Greeks had their Zeus — their supreme god. All the other divinities were only intermediate beings; heroes and emperors were ranked with the gods, i. e., with the blessed; but it is certain that Claudius, Octavius, Tiberius, and Caligula, were not regarded as the creators of heaven and earth.

In short, it seems proved that, in the time of Augustus, all who had a religion acknowledged a superior, eternal God, with several orders of secondary gods, whose worship was called idolatry.

The laws of the Jews never favored idolatry; for, although they admitted the Malachim, angels and celestial beings of an inferior order, their law did not ordain that they should worship these secondary divinities. They adored the angels, it is true; that is, they prostrated themselves when they saw them; but as this did not often happen, there was no ceremonial nor legal worship established for them. The cherubim of the ark received no homage. It is beyond a doubt that the Jews, from Alexander’s time at least, openly adored one only God, as the innumerable multitude of the initiated secretly adored Him in their mysteries.


It was at the time when the worship of a Supreme God was universally established among all the wise in Asia, in Europe, and in Africa, that the Christian religion took its birth.

Platonism assisted materially the understanding of its dogmas. The “Logos,” which with Plato meant the “wisdom,” the reason of the Supreme Being, became with us the “word,” and a second person of God. Profound metaphysics, above human intelligence, were an inaccessible sanctuary in which religion was enveloped.

It is not necessary here to repeat how Mary was afterwards declared to be the mother of God; how the consubstantiality of the Father and the “word” was established; as also the proceeding of the “pneuma,” the divine organ of the divine Logos; as also the two natures and two wills resulting from the hypostasis; and lastly, the superior manducation — the soul nourished as well as the body, with the flesh and blood of the God-man, adored and eaten in the form of bread, present to the eyes, sensible to the taste, and yet annihilated. All mysteries have been sublime.

In the second century devils began to be cast out in the name of Jesus; before they were cast out in the name of Jehovah or Ihaho; for St. Matthew relates that the enemies of Jesus having said that He cast out devils in the name of the prince of devils, He answered, “If I cast out devils by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out?”

It is not known at what time the Jews recognized Beelzebub, who was a strange god, as the prince of devils; but it is known, for Josephus tells us, that there were at Jerusalem exorcists appointed to cast out devils from the bodies of the possessed; that is, of such as were attacked by singular maladies, which were then in a great part of the world attributed to the malific genii.

These demons were then cast out by the true pronunciation of Jehovah, which is now lost, and by other ceremonies now forgotten.

This exorcism by Jehovah or by the other names of God, was still in use in the first ages of the church. Origen, disputing against Celsus, says to him: “If, when invoking God, or swearing by Him, you call Him ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,’ you will by those words do things, the nature and force of which are such that the evil spirits submit to those who pronounce them; but if you call him by another name, as ‘God of the roaring sea,’ etc., no effect will be produced. The name of ‘Israel,’ rendered in Greek, will work nothing; but pronounce it in Hebrew with the other words required, and you will effect the conjuration.”

The same Origen has these remarkable words: “There are names which are powerful from their own nature. Such are those used by the sages of Egypt, the Magi of Persia, and the Brahmins of India. What is called ‘magic,’ is not a vain and chimerical art, as the Stoics and Epicureans pretend. The names ‘Sabaoth’ and ‘Adonai’ were not made for created beings, but belong to a mysterious theology which has reference to the Creator; hence the virtue of these names when they are arranged and pronounced according to rule.”

Origen, when speaking thus, is not giving his private opinion; he is but repeating the universal opinion.

All the religions then known admitted a sort of magic, which was distinguished into celestial magic, and infernal magic, necromancy and theurgy — all was prodigy, divination, oracle. The Persians did not deny the miracles of the Egyptians, nor the Egyptians those of the Persians. God permitted the primitive Christians to be persuaded of the truth of the oracles attributed to the Sibyls, and left them a few other unimportant errors, which were no essential detriment to their religion. Another very remarkable thing is, that the Christians of the primitive ages held temples, altars, and images in abhorrence. Origen acknowledges this (No. 347). Everything was afterwards changed, with the discipline, when the Church assumed a permanent form.


When once a religion is established in a state, the tribunals are all employed in perverting the continuance or renewal of most of the things that were done in that religion before it was publicly received. The founders used to assemble in private, in spite of magistrates; but now no assemblies are permitted but public ones under the eyes of the law, and all concealed associations are forbidden. The maxim formerly was, that “it is better to obey God than man”; the opposite maxim is now adopted, that “to follow the laws of the state is to obey God.” Nothing was heard of but obsessions and possessions; the devil was then let loose upon the world, but now the devil stays at home. Prodigies and predictions were necessary; now they are no longer admitted: a man who in the places should foretell calamities, would be sent to a madhouse. The founders secretly received the money of the faithful; but now, a man who should gather money for his own disposal, without being authorized by the law, would be brought before a court of justice to answer for so doing. Thus the scaffoldings that have served to build the edifice are no longer made use of.


After our own holy religion, which indubitably is the only good one, what religion would be the least objectionable?

Would it not be that which should be the simplest; that which should teach much morality and very few dogmas; that which should tend to make men just, without making them absurd; that which should not ordain the belief of things impossible, contradictory, injurious to the Divinity, and pernicious to mankind; nor dare to threaten with eternal pains whosoever should possess common sense? Would it not be that which should not uphold its belief by the hand of the executioner, nor inundate the earth with blood to support unintelligible sophisms; that in which an ambiguous expression, a play upon words, and two or three supported charters, should not suffice to make a sovereign and a god of a priest who is often incestuous, a murderer, and a poisoner; which should not make kings subject to this priest; that which should teach only the adoration of one God, justice, tolerance, and humanity.


It has been said, that the religion of the Gentiles was absurd in many points, contradictory, and pernicious; but have there not been imputed to it more harm than it ever did, and more absurdities than it ever preached?

Show me in all antiquity a temple dedicated to Leda lying with a swan, or Europa with a bull. Was there ever a sermon preached at Athens or at Rome, to persuade the young women to cohabit with their poultry? Are the fables collected and adorned by Ovid religious? Are they not like our Golden Legend, our Flower of the Saints? If some Brahmin or dervish were to come and object to our story of St. Mary the Egyptian, who not having wherewith to pay the sailors who conveyed her to Egypt, gave to each of them instead of money what are called “favors,” we should say to the Brahmin: Reverend father, you are mistaken; our religion is not the Golden Legend.

We reproach the ancients with their oracles, and prodigies; if they could return to this world, and the miracles of our Lady of Loretto and our Lady of Ephesus could be counted, in whose favor would be the balance?

Human sacrifices were established among almost every people, but very rarely put in practice. Among the Jews, only Jephthah’s daughter and King Agag were immolated; for Isaac and Jonathan were not. Among the Greeks, the story of “Iphigenia” is not well authenticated; and human sacrifices were very rare among the ancient Romans. In short, the religion of the Pagans caused very little blood to be shed, while ours has deluged the earth. Ours is doubtless the only good, the only true one; but we have done so much harm by its means that when we speak of others we should be modest.


If a man would persuade foreigners, or his own countrymen, of the truth of his religion, should he not go about it with the most insinuating mildness and the most engaging moderation? If he begins with telling them that what he announces is demonstrated, he will find a multitude of persons incredulous; if he ventures to tell them that they reject his doctrine only inasmuch as it condemns their passions; that their hearts have corrupted their minds; that their reasoning is only false and proud, he disgusts them; he incenses them against himself; he himself ruins what he would fain establish.

If the religion he announces be true, will violence and insolence render it more so? Do you put yourself in a rage, when you say that it is necessary to be mild, patient, beneficent, just, and to fulfil all the duties of society? No; because everyone is of your own opinion. Why, then, do you abuse your brother when preaching to him a mysterious system of metaphysics? Because his opinion irritates your self-love. You are so proud as to require your brother to submit his intelligence to yours; humbled pride produces the wrath; it has no other source. A man who has received twenty wounds in a battle does not fly into a passion; but a divine, wounded by the refusal of your assent, at once becomes furious and implacable.


Must we not carefully distinguish the religion of the state from theological religion? The religion of the state requires that the imans keep registers of the circumcised, the vicars or pastors registers of the baptized; that there be mosques, churches, temples, days consecrated to rest and worship, rites established by law; that the ministers of those rites enjoy consideration without power; that they teach good morals to the people, and that the ministers of the law watch over the morals of the ministers of the temples. This religion of the state cannot at any time cause any disturbance.

It is otherwise with theological religion: this is the source of all imaginable follies and disturbances; it is the parent of fanaticism and civil discord; it is the enemy of mankind. A bonze asserts that Fo is a God, that he was foretold by fakirs, that he was born of a white elephant, and that every bonze can by certain grimaces make a Fo. A talapoin says, that Fo was a holy man, whose doctrine the bonzes have corrupted, and that Sammono-codom is the true God. After a thousand arguments and contradictions, the two factions agree to refer the question to the dalai-lama, who resides three hundred leagues off, and who is not only immortal, but also infallible. The two factions send to him a solemn deputation; and the dalai-lama begins, according to his divine custom, by distributing among them the contents of his close-stool.

The two rival sects at first receive them with equal reverence; have them dried in the sun, and encase them in little chaplets which they kiss devoutly; but no sooner have the dalai-lama and his council pronounced in the name of Fo, than the condemned party throw their chaplets in the vice-god’s face, and would fain give him a sound thrashing. The other party defend their lama, from whom they have received good lands; both fight a long time; and when at last they are tired of mutual extermination, assassination, and poisoning, they grossly abuse each other, while the dalai-lama laughs, and still distributes his excrement to whosoever is desirous of receiving the good father lama’s precious favors.

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