Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


Theism is a religion diffused through all religions; it is a metal which mixes itself with all the others, the veins of which extend under ground to the four corners of the world. This mine is more openly worked in China; everywhere else it is hidden, and the secret is only in the hands of the adepts.

There is no country where there are more of these adepts than in England. In the last century there were many atheists in that country, as well as in France and Italy. What the chancellor Bacon had said proved true to the letter, that a little philosophy makes a man an atheist, and that much philosophy leads to the knowledge of a God. When it was believed with Epicurus, that chance made everything, or with Aristotle, and even with several ancient theologians, that nothing was created but through corruption, and that by matter and motion alone the world goes on, then it was impossible to believe in a providence. But since nature has been looked into, which the ancients did not perceive at all; since it is observed that all is organized, that everything has its germ; since it is well known that a mushroom is the work of infinite wisdom, as well as all the worlds; then those who thought, adored in the countries where their ancestors had blasphemed. The physicians are become the heralds of providence; a catechist announces God to children, and a Newton demonstrates Him to the learned.

Many persons ask whether theism, considered abstractedly, and without any religious ceremony, is in fact a religion? The answer is easy: he who recognizes only a creating God, he who views in God only a Being infinitely powerful, and who sees in His creatures only wonderful machines, is not religious towards Him any more than a European, admiring the king of China, would thereby profess allegiance to that prince. But he who thinks that God has deigned to place a relation between Himself and mankind; that He has made him free, capable of good and evil; that He has given all of them that good sense which is the instinct of man, and on which the law of nature is founded; such a one undoubtedly has a religion, and a much better religion than all those sects who are beyond the pale of our Church; for all these sects are false, and the law of nature is true. Thus, theism is good sense not yet instructed by revelation; and other religions are good sense perverted by superstition.

All sects differ, because they come from men; morality is everywhere the same because it comes from God. It is asked why, out of five or six hundred sects, there have scarcely been any who have not spilled blood; and why the theists, who are everywhere so numerous, have never caused the least disturbance? It is because they are philosophers. Now philosophers may reason badly, but they never intrigue. Those who persecute a philosopher, under the pretext that his opinions may be dangerous to the public, are as absurd as those who are afraid that the study of algebra will raise the price of bread in the market; one must pity a thinking being who errs; the persecutor is frantic and horrible. We are all brethren; if one of my brothers, full of respect and filial love, inspired by the most fraternal charity, does not salute our common Father with the same ceremonies as I do, ought I to cut his throat and tear out his heart?

What is a true theist? It is he who says to God: “I adore and serve You;” it is he who says to the Turk, to the Chinese, the Indian, and the Russian: “I love you.” He doubts, perhaps, that Mahomet made a journey to the moon and put half of it in his pocket; he does not wish that after his death his wife should burn herself from devotion; he is sometimes tempted not to believe the story of the eleven thousand virgins, and that of St. Amable, whose hat and gloves were carried by a ray of the sun from Auvergne as far as Rome. But for all that he is a just man. Noah would have placed him in his ark, Numa Pompilius in his councils; he would have ascended the car of Zoroaster; he would have talked philosophy with the Platos, the Aristippuses, the Ciceros, the Atticuses — but would he not have drunk hemlock with Socrates?

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