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Title: Letters to Eugenia - or, a Preservative Against Religious Prejudices
Author: Holbach, Paul Henri Thiry, baron d', 1723-1789
Language: English
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  LETTERS TO EUGENIA;

  OR,

  A PRESERVATIVE
  AGAINST RELIGIOUS PREJUDICES.


  BY BARON D'HOLBACH,
  AUTHOR OF THE SYSTEM OF NATURE, THE SOCIAL SYSTEM,
  GOOD SENSE, CHRISTIANITY UNVEILED, ECCE HOMO,
  UNIVERSAL MORALITY, RELIGIOUS CRUELTY, &c., &c., &c.


  TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH, BY
  ANTHONY C. MIDDLETON, M. D.


                                ... "Arctis
  Religionum animos nodis exsolvere pergo."
    LUCRETII _De Rerum Natura_, lib. iv. _v._ 6, 7.


  BOSTON:
  PUBLISHED BY JOSIAH P. MENDUM,
  AT THE OFFICE OF THE BOSTON INVESTIGATOR.
  1857.



NAIGEON'S PREFACE.

1768.


For many years this work has been known under the title of _Letters to
Eugenia_. The secretive character of those, however, into whose hands
the manuscript at first fell; the singular and yet actual pleasure
that is caused generally enough in the minds of all men by the
exclusive possession of any object whatever; that kind of torpor,
servitude, and terror in which the tyrannical power of the priests
then held all minds--even those who by the superiority of their
talents ought naturally to be the least disposed to bend under the
odious yoke of the clergy,--all these circumstances united contributed
so much to stifle in its birth, if I may so express myself, this
important manuscript, that for a long time it was supposed to be lost;
so much did those who possessed it keep it carefully concealed, and so
constantly did they refuse to allow a copy to be taken. The
manuscripts, indeed, were so scarce, even in the libraries of the
curious, that the late M. De Boze, whose pleasure it was to collect
the rarest works belonging to every species of literature, could never
succeed in acquiring a copy of the _Letters to Eugenia_, and in his
time there were only three in Paris; it may have been from design,
_propter metum Judæorum_;[1] it may have been there were actually no
more known.

[1] _On account of fear of the Jews_, or, in other words, the
intolerant clergy of the despotic government.

It is not till within five or six years that MSS. of these letters
have become more common; and there is reason to believe that they are
now considerably multiplied, since the copy from which this edition is
printed has been revised and corrected by collation with six others,
that have been collected without any great difficulty. Unhappily, all
these copies swarm with faults, which corrupt the sense, and
comprehend many variations, but which also, to use the language of the
Biblical critics, have served sometimes to discover and to fix the
true reading! More often, however, they have rendered it more
uncertain than it was before what one ought to be followed--a new
proof of the multiplicity of copies, because the more numerous are the
manuscripts of a work, the more they differ from each other, as any
one may be fully convinced by consulting those of the _Letter of
Thrasybulus to Leucippus_, and the various readings of the New
Testament collected by the learned Mill, and which amount to more than
thirty thousand.

However this may be, we have spared no pains to reëstablish the text
in all its purity; and we venture to say, that, with the exception of
four or five passages, which we found corrupted in all the manuscripts
that we had an opportunity to collate, and which we have amended to
the best of our ability, the edition of these letters that we now
offer to the reader will probably conform almost exactly with the
original manuscript of the author.

With regard to the author's name and quality we can offer nothing but
conjectures. The only particulars of his life upon which there is a
general agreement are, that he lived upon terms of great intimacy with
the Marquis de la Fare, the Abbé de Chaulieu, the Abbé Terrasson,
Fontenelle, M. de Lasseré, &c. The late MM. Du Marsais and Falconnet
have often been heard to declare that these letters were composed by
some one belonging to the school of Seaux. All that we can pronounce
with certainty is the fact, that it is only necessary to read the
work to be entirely convinced the author was a man of extensive
knowledge, and one who had meditated profoundly concerning the matters
upon which he has treated. His style is clear, simple, easy, and in
which we may remark a certain urbanity, that leads us to be sure that
he was not an obscure individual, nor one to whom good company and
polished society were unfamiliar. But what especially distinguishes
this work, and which should endear it to all good and virtuous people,
is the signal honesty which pervades and characterizes it from the
very beginning to the end. It is impossible to read it without
conceiving the highest idea of the author's probity, whoever he may
have been--without desiring to have had him for a friend, to have
lived with him, and, in a word, without rendering justice to the
rectitude of his intentions, even when we do not approve of his
sentiments. The love of virtue, universal benevolence, respect to the
laws, an inviolable attachment to the duties of morality, and, in
fine, all that can contribute to render men better, is strongly
recommended in these Letters. If, on the one hand, he completely
overthrows the ruinous edifice of Christianity, it is to erect, on the
other hand, the immovable foundations of a system of morality
legitimately established upon the nature of man, upon his physical
wants, and upon his social relations--a base infinitely better and
more solid than that of religion, because sooner or later the lie is
discovered, rejected, and necessarily drags with it what served to
sustain it. On the contrary, the truth subsists eternally, and
consolidates itself as it grows old: _Opinionum commenta delet dies,
naturæ judicia confirmat_.[2]

[2] "Time effaces the comments of opinion, but it confirms the
judgments of nature."--CICERO.

The motto affixed to many of the manuscript copies of these letters
proves that the worthy man to whom we owe them did not desire to be
known as their author, and that it was neither the love of reputation,
nor the thirst of glory, nor the ambition of being distinguished by
bold opinions, which the priests, and the satellites subjected to them
by ignorance, denominate _impieties_, which guided his pen. It was
only the desire of doing good to his fellow-beings by enlightening
them, which actuated him, and the wish to uproot, so to speak,
religion itself, as being the source of all the woes which have
afflicted mankind for so many ages. This is the motto of which we
spoke:--

    "Si j'ai raison, qu'importe à qui je suis?"
      (If reason's mine, no matter who I am.)

It is a verse of Corneille, whose application is exceedingly
appropriate, and which should be upon the frontispiece of all books of
this nature.

We are unable to say any thing more certain concerning the person to
whom our author has addressed his work. It appears, however, from many
circumstances in these Letters, that she was not a supposititious
marchioness, like her of the _Worlds_ of M. de Fontenelle, and that
they have really been written to a woman as distinguished by her rank
as by her manners. Perhaps she was a lady of the school of the Temple,
or of Seaux. But these details, in reality, as well as those which
concern the name and the life of our author, the date of his birth,
that of his death, &c., are of little importance, and could only serve
to satisfy the vain curiosity of some idle readers, who avidiously
collect these kind of anecdotes, who receive from them a kind of
existence in the world, and who feel more satisfaction from being
instructed in them than from the discovery of a truth. I know that
they endeavor to justify their curiosity by saying that when a person
reads a book which creates a public sensation, and with which he is
himself much pleased, it is natural he should desire to know to whom a
grateful homage should be addressed. In this case the desire is so
much the more unreasonable because it cannot be satisfied; first,
because when death and proscription is the penalty, there has never
been and there never will be a man of letters so imprudent, and, to
speak plainly, so strangely daring, as to publish, or during his life
to allow a book to be printed, in which he tramples under foot
temples, altars, and the statues of the gods, and where he attacks
without any disguise the most consecrated religious opinions;
secondly, because it is a matter of public notoriety that all the
works of this character which have appeared for many years are the
secret testaments of numbers of great men, obliged during their lives
to conceal their light under a bushel, whose heads death has withdrawn
from the fury of persecutors, and whose cold ashes, consequently, do
not hear in the tomb either the importunate and denunciatory cries of
the superstitious, or the just eulogiums of the friends of truth;
thirdly and lastly, _because this curiosity, so unfortunately
entertained, may compromise in the most cruel manner the repose, the
fortune, and the liberty of the relatives and friends of the authors
of these bold books!_ This single consideration ought, then, to
determine those hazarders of conjectures, if they have really good
intentions, to wrap in the inmost folds of their hearts whatever
suspicions they may entertain concerning the author, however true or
false they may be, and to turn their inquiring spirits to a use more
beneficial for both themselves and others.



TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE.


In 1819 an anonymous translation of the LETTERS TO EUGENIA was
published in London by Richard Carlile. This translation in some of
its parts was sufficiently complete and correct, but in others it was
at absolute variance with the original work; in other parts, also, it
was interlarded with matter not written by d'Holbach; and in others,
large portions of the original Letters were entirely omitted, as were
likewise a number of notes and the whole of the preliminary
observations, with which the volume was introduced to the public by
Naigeon, so long the intimate friend of both d'Holbach and Diderot. In
again presenting the work in an English dress, the London translation
has been made the foundation of this, but the whole has been
thoroughly revised and collated with the original. The omitted
portions have been translated and inserted in their proper places, and
though some passages of the London work, not entirely faithful to the
original, have been allowed to stand, yet the book, as it now
appears, is essentially a new one, and is the most accurate and
complete translation of the LETTERS TO EUGENIA which has ever been
made into the English language.

The work at first came anonymously from the press, and the mystery of
its authorship was sedulously maintained in the introductory
observations of Naigeon, in consequence of the danger which then
attended the issue of Infidel productions, not only in France but
throughout Christendom. The book was printed in Amsterdam, at
d'Holbach's own expense, by Marc-Michael Rey, a noble printer, to whom
the world is greatly indebted for the inestimable aid he rendered the
philosophers. But bold as he was, and then living in a country the
most free of any in the world, he dared not openly send these LETTERS
from his own press. They were issued in 1768, in two duodecimo
volumes, without any publisher's name, and with the imprint of
_London_ on the title page, in order to set those persecutors at bay
who were prowling for victims, and who sought to burn author, printer,
and book at the same pile. The prudence of the author and printer
saved _them_ from this fate; but the book had hardly reached France
before its sale was forbidden under penalty of fines and imprisonment,
and it was condemned by an act of Parliament to be burnt by the
public executioner in the streets of Paris, all of which particulars
will be narrated in the BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIR OF BARON D'HOLBACH, which
I am now preparing for the press.

Of the excellence of the LETTERS TO EUGENIA, nothing need here be
said. The work speaks for itself, and abounds in that eloquence
peculiar to its author, and overflows with kindly sentiments of
humanity, benevolence and virtue. Like d'Holbach's other works, it is
distinguished by an ardent love of liberty, and an invincible hatred
of despotism; by an unanswerable logic, by deep thought, and by
profound ideas. The tyrant and the priest are both displayed in their
true colors; but while the author shows himself inexorable as fate
towards oppressive hierarchies and false ideas, he is tender as an
infant to the unfortunate, to those overburdened with unreasonable
impositions, to those who need consolation and guidance, and to those
searching after truth. Addressed, as the LETTERS were, to a lady
suffering from religious falsehoods and terrors, the object of the
writer is set forth in the motto from Lucretius which he placed on the
title page, and which may thus be expressed in English:--

    "Reason's pure light I seek to give the mind,
    And from Religion's fetters free mankind."

                                                A. C. M.

The name of the lady was designedly kept in secrecy, and was unknown,
except to _a very few_, till some years after d'Holbach's death. We
now know from the _Feuilles Posthumes_ of Lequinio, who had it from
Naigeon, that the _Letters_ were written several years before their
publication, for the instruction of a lady formerly distinguished at
the French Court for her graces and virtues. They were addressed to
the charming Marguerite, Marchioness de Vermandois. Her husband held
the lucrative post of farmer-general to the king, and besides
inherited large estates. He possessed excellent natural abilities, and
his mind was strengthened and adorned by culture and letters. Had his
modesty permitted him to appear as such, he would now be known as a
poet of genius and merit, for he wrote some poems and plays that were
much admired by all who were allowed to peruse them. He was married in
1763, on the day he completed his twenty-first year, to Marguerite
Justine d'Estrades, then only nineteen years of age, and whom he saw
for the first time in his life only six weeks before they became
husband and wife. Like most of the matches then made among the higher
classes in France, this was one of a purely mercenary character. The
father of the Marquis de Vermandois, and the father of Marguerite, as
a means of joining their estates, contracted their children without
deigning to consult the wishes of the parties, and obedience or
disinheritance was the only alternative. When the compact was
concluded, Marguerite was taken from the convent where for five years
she had lived as a boarder and scholar, and commenced her married life
and her course in the fashionable world at the same time. The match
was far more fortunate than such matches then generally proved to be.
Marguerite's husband was passionately attached to her, and that
attachment was returned. The Marquis was a friend of Baron d'Holbach,
and soon after his marriage introduced his wife to him. Among all the
beauties of Paris the Marchioness was one of the most lovely and
fascinating. Her features were remarkably beautiful, and the bloom and
clearness of her complexion were such as absolutely to render
necessary the old comparison of the rose and the lily to do them
justice. To these were added a voluptuous figure, agreeable manners,
the graces and vivacity of wit, and the still more enduring
attractions of good humor, purity, and benevolence. A female like her
could not but be dear to all who enjoyed her intimacy, and a strong
friendship sprang up between her and Baron d'Holbach. Greatly pleased
with him at first, Marguerite was afterwards as greatly shocked. When
their intercourse had become so familiar as to permit that frankness
and freedom of conversation which prevails among intimate friends, she
discovered that the Baron was an unbeliever in the Christian dogmas
which she had learned at the convent, where, in consequence of her
mother's death, she had been educated. She had been taught that an
Infidel was a monster in all respects, and she was astounded to find
unbelievers in men so agreeable in manners and person, and so profound
in learning, as d'Holbach, Diderot, d'Alembert, and others. She could
deny neither their goodness nor their intellectual qualities, and
while she admired the individuals she shuddered at their incredulity.
Especially did she mourn over Baron d'Holbach. He had a wife as
charming as herself, formerly the lovely Mademoiselle d'Aïne, whose
beautiful features and seductive figure presented

    "A combination, and a form, indeed,
    Where every god did seem to set his seal."

Nothing was more natural than that two such women should imbibe the
deepest tenderness for each other. But alas! the Baron's wife was
tainted with her husband's heresies; and yet in their home did the
Marchioness see all the domestic virtues exemplified, and beheld that
sweet harmony and unchangeable affection for which the d'Holbachs
were eminently distinguished among their acquaintances, and which was
remarkable from its striking contrast with the courtly and Christian
habits of the day. At a loss what to do, the Marchioness consulted her
confessor, and was advised to withdraw entirely from the society of
the Baron and his wife, unless she was willing to sacrifice all her
hopes of heaven, and to plunge headlong down to hell. Her natural good
sense and love of her friends struggled with her monastic education
and reverence for the priests. The conflict rendered her miserable;
and unable to enjoy happiness, she brooded over her wishes and her
terrors. In this state of mind she at length wrote a touching letter
to the Baron, and laid open her situation, requesting him to comfort,
console, and enlighten her. Such was the origin of the book now
presented in an English dress to the reader. It accomplished its
purpose with the Marchioness de Vermandois, and afterwards its author
concluded to publish the work, in hopes it might be equally useful to
others.

The _Letters_ were _written_ in 1764, when d'Holbach was in the
forty-second year of his age. Twelve different works he had before
written and published, and all without the affix of his name. _Eleven_
were upon mineralogy, the arts and the sciences, and _one_ only upon
theology. That _one_ had been secretly printed in 1761, at Nancy, with
the imprint of London, and was _honored_ with a parliamentary statute
condemning its publication and forbidding its sale or circulation.
Christian hatred bestowed upon it the additional honor of causing it
to be burned in the streets of Paris by the public executioner. But
the prudence of the author protected his life. He attributed the book
to a dead man, who had been known to entertain sceptical views. It was
entitled CHRISTIANITY UNVEILED, and bore on its title page the name of
BOULANGER. This was d'Holbach's first contribution to Infidel
literature, and the second similar work written by him was the LETTERS
TO EUGENIA. These were the preludes to more than a quarter of a
hundred different productions numbering among them such books as _Good
Sense_, _The System of Nature_, _Ecce Homo_, _Priests Unmasked_, &c.,
&c., all printed anonymously or pseudonymously at his own expense,
without a possibility of pecuniary advantage, and with such
extraordinary secrecy as to show that he was actuated by no desire of
literary fame. It was love of truth alone that impelled d'Holbach to
write. Brilliant, profound, eloquent and excellent as were his
writings, attracting notice as they did from the civil and religious
powers, commented upon as they were by such men as Voltaire and
Frederick the Great, admired as they were by that class who felt and
combated the evils of tyranny as well as of religion, of kings as well
as of priests,--that class who almost drew their life from the books
of him and his compeers,--he was never seduced from the rule he
originally laid down for his literary conduct.

A very few persons he was obliged to trust in order to get his
writings printed, and but for that fact Baron d'Holbach would now only
be known as a gentleman of great wealth, extensive benevolence, and
uncommon liberality, as a man of profound learning and agreeable
colloquial powers, as the bountiful friend of men of letters, as the
soother of the distressed, as the protector of the miserable, and as
the affectionate husband and father. So much of him we should have
known; but that he was the author of those books which roused
intolerant priests and corrupt magistrates, consistories and
parliaments, monarchs and philosophers, the people and their
oppressors,--that he was the Archimedes that thus moved the
world,--would not have been known had he not employed another
philosopher, by the name of Naigeon, to carry his manuscripts to
Amsterdam, and to direct their printing by Marc-Michel Rey. It was
Naigeon who carried the manuscript of the LETTERS TO EUGENIA to
Holland, together with a number of others by the same author, which
also appeared during the year 1768,--an eventful year in the history
of Infidel progress. The _Letters_ were carefully revised by d'Holbach
before they were sent to press. All the passages of a purely personal
character were omitted, some new matter was incorporated, and some
sentences were added purposely to keep the author and the lady he
addressed in impenetrable obscurity. To raise the veil from a man of
so much worth and genius, as well as to carry out his idea of doing
good, is one of the reasons which have led to the present preparation
and publication of this book.

                                                A. C. M.



CONTENTS.


  LETTER I.

  Of the Sources of Credulity, and of the Motives which should
  lead to an Examination of Religion,                           Page 1


  LETTER II.

  Of the Ideas which Religion gives us of the Divinity,             29


  LETTER III.

  An Examination of the Holy Scriptures, of the Nature of the
  Christian Religion, and of the Proofs upon which Christianity is
  founded,                                                          46


  LETTER IV.

  Of the fundamental Dogmas of the Christian Religion,              76


  LETTER V.

  Of the Immortality of the Soul, and of the Dogma of another
  Life,                                                             91


  LETTER VI.

  Of the Mysteries, Sacraments, and Religious Ceremonies of
  Christianity,                                                    120


  LETTER VII.

  Of the pious Rites, Prayers, and Austerities of Christianity,    136


  LETTER VIII.

  Of Evangelical Virtues and Christian Perfection,                 154


  LETTER IX.

  Of the Advantages contributed to Government by Religion,         184


  LETTER X.

  Of the Advantages Religion confers on those who profess it,      211


  LETTER XI.

  Of Human or Natural Morality,                                    233


  LETTER XII.

  Of the small Consequence to be attached to Men's Speculations,
  and the Indulgence which should be extended to them,             255



LETTERS TO EUGENIA.



LETTER I.

  Of the Sources of Credulity, and of the Motives which should lead
  to an Examination of Religion.


I am unable, Madam, to express the grievous sentiments that the
perusal of your letter produced in my bosom. Did not a rigorous duty
retain me where I am, you would see me flying to your succor. Is it,
then, true that Eugenia is miserable? Is even she tormented with
chagrin, scruples, and inquietudes? In the midst of opulence and
grandeur; assured of the tenderness and esteem of a husband who adores
you; enjoying at court the advantage, so rare, of being sincerely
beloved by every one; surrounded by friends who render sincere homage
to your talents, your knowledge, and your tastes,--how can you suffer
the pains of melancholy and sorrow? Your pure and virtuous soul can
surely know neither shame nor remorse. Always so far removed from the
weaknesses of your sex, on what account can you blush? Agreeably
occupied with your duties, refreshed with useful reading and
entertaining conversation, and having within your reach every
diversity of virtuous pleasures, how happens it that fears, distastes,
and cares come to assail a heart for which every thing should procure
contentment and peace? Alas! even if your letter had not confirmed it
but too much, from the trouble which agitates you I should have
recognized without difficulty the work of superstition. This fiend
alone possesses the power of disturbing honest souls, without calming
the passions of the corrupt; and when once she gains possession of a
heart, she has the ability to annihilate its repose forever.

Yes, Madam, for a long time I have known the dangerous effects of
religious prejudices. I was myself formerly troubled with them. Like
you I have trembled under the yoke of religion; and if a careful and
deliberate examination had not fully undeceived me, instead of now
being in a state to console you and to reassure you against yourself,
you would see me at the present moment partaking your inquietudes, and
augmenting in your mind the lugubrious ideas with which I perceive you
to be tormented. Thanks to Reason and Philosophy, an unruffled
serenity long ago irradiated my understanding, and banished the
terrors with which I was formerly agitated. What happiness for me if
the peace which I enjoy should put it in my power to break the charm
which yet binds you with the chains of prejudice?

Nevertheless, without your express orders, I should never have dared
to point out to you a mode of thinking widely different from your
own, nor to combat the dangerous opinions to which you have been
persuaded your happiness is attached. But for your request I should
have continued to enclose in my own breast opinions odious to the most
part of men accustomed to see nothing except by the eyes of judges
visibly interested in deceiving them. Now, however, a sacred duty
obliges me to speak. Eugenia, unquiet and alarmed, wishes me to
explore her heart; she needs assistance; she wishes to fix her ideas
upon an object which interests her repose and her felicity. I owe her
the truth. It would be a crime longer to preserve silence. Although my
attachment for her did not impose the necessity of responding to her
confidence, the love of truth would oblige me to make efforts to
dissipate the chimeras which render her unhappy.

I shall proceed then, Madam, to address you with the most complete
frankness. Perhaps at the first glance my ideas may appear strange;
but on examining them with still further care and attention, they will
cease to shock you. Reason, good faith, and truth cannot do otherwise
than exert great influence over such an intellect as yours. I appeal,
therefore, from your alarmed imagination to your more tranquil
judgment; I appeal from custom and prejudice to reflection and reason.
Nature has given you a gentle and sensible soul, and has imparted an
exquisitely lively imagination, and a certain admixture of melancholy
which disposes to despondent revery. It is from this peculiar mental
constitution that arise the woes that now afflict you. Your goodness,
candor, and sincerity preclude your suspecting in others either fraud
or malignity. The gentleness of your character prevents your
contradicting notions that would appear revolting if you deigned to
examine them. You have chosen rather to defer to the judgment of
others, and to subscribe to their ideas, than to consult your own
reason and rely upon your own understanding. The vivacity of your
imagination causes you to embrace with avidity the dismal delineations
which are presented to you; certain men, interested in agitating your
mind, abuse your sensibility in order to produce alarm; they cause you
to shudder at the terrible words, _death_, _judgment_, _hell_,
_punishment_, and _eternity_; they lead you to turn pale at the very
name of an inflexible _judge_, whose absolute decrees nothing can
change; you fancy that you see around you those demons whom he has
made the ministers of his vengeance upon his weak creatures; thus is
your heart filled with affright; you fear that at every instant you
may offend, without being aware of it, a capricious God, always
threatening and always enraged. In consequence of such a state of
mind, all those moments of your life which should only be productive
of contentment and peace, are constantly poisoned by inquietudes,
scruples, and panic terrors, from which a soul as pure as yours ought
to be forever exempt. The agitation into which you are thrown by these
fatal ideas suspends the exercise of your faculties; your reason is
misled by a bewildered imagination, and you are afflicted with
perplexities, with despondency, and with suspicion of yourself. In
this manner you become the dupe of those men who, addressing the
imagination and stifling reason, long since subjugated the universe,
and have actually persuaded reasonable beings that their reason is
either useless or dangerous.

Such is, Madam, the constant language of the apostles of superstition,
whose design has always been, and will always continue to be, to
destroy human reason in order to exercise their power with impunity
over mankind. Throughout the globe the perfidious ministers of
religion have been either the concealed or the declared enemies of
reason, because they always see reason opposed to their views. Every
where do they decry it, because they truly fear that it will destroy
their empire by discovering their conspiracies and the futility of
their fables. Every where upon its ruins they struggle to erect the
empire of fanaticism and imagination. To attain this end with more
certainty, they have unceasingly terrified mortals with hideous
paintings, have astonished and seduced them by marvels and mysteries,
embarrassed them by enigmas and uncertainties, surcharged them with
observances and ceremonies, filled their minds with terrors and
scruples, and fixed their eyes upon a future, which, far from
rendering them more virtuous and happy here below, has only turned
them from the path of true happiness, and destroyed it completely and
forever in their bosoms.

Such are the artifices which the ministers of religion every where
employ to enslave the earth and to retain it under the yoke. The human
race, in all countries, has become the prey of the priests. The
priests have given the name of _religion_ to systems invented by them
to subjugate men, whose imagination they had seduced, whose
understanding they had confounded, and whose reason they had
endeavored to extinguish.

It is especially in infancy that the human mind is disposed to receive
whatever impression is made upon it. Thus our priests have prudently
seized upon the youth to inspire them with ideas that they could never
impose upon adults. It is during the most tender and susceptible age
of men that the priests have familiarized the understanding of our
race with monstrous fables, with extravagant and disjointed fancies,
and with ridiculous chimeras, which, by degrees, become objects that
are respected and that are feared during life.

We need only open our eyes to see the unworthy means employed by
_sacerdotal policy_ to stifle the dawning reason of men. During their
infancy they are taught tales which are ridiculous, impertinent,
contradictory, and criminal, and to these they are enjoined to pay
respect. They are gradually impregnated with inconceivable mysteries
that are announced as sacred truths, and they are accustomed to
contemplate phantoms before which they habitually tremble. In a word,
measures are taken which are the best calculated to render those
blind who do not consult their reason, and to render those base who
constantly shudder whenever they recall the ideas with which their
priests infected their minds at an age when they were unable to guard
against such snares.

Recall to mind, Madam, the dangerous cares which were taken in the
convent where you were educated, to sow in your mind the germs of
those inquietudes that now afflict you. It was there that they began
to speak to you of fables, prodigies, mysteries, and doctrines that
you actually revere, while, if these things were announced to-day for
the first time, you would regard them as ridiculous, and as entirely
unworthy of attention. I have often witnessed your laughter at the
simplicity with which you formerly credited those tales of sorcerers
and ghosts, that, during your childhood, were related by the nuns who
had charge of your education. When you entered society where for a
long time such chimeras have been disbelieved, you were insensibly
undeceived, and at present you blush at your former credulity. Why
have you not the courage to laugh, in a similar manner, at an infinity
of other chimeras with no better foundation, which torment you even
yet, and which only appear more respectable, because you have not
dared to examine them with your own eyes, or because you see them
respected by a public who have never explored them? If my Eugenia is
enlightened and reasonable upon all other topics, why does she
renounce her understanding and her judgment whenever religion is in
question? In the mean time, at this redoubtable word her soul is
disturbed, her strength abandons her, her ordinary penetration is at
fault, her imagination wanders, she only sees through a cloud, she is
unquiet and afflicted. On the watch against reason, she dares not call
that to her assistance. She persuades herself that the best course for
her to take is to allow herself to follow the opinions of a multitude
who never examine, and who always suffer themselves to be conducted by
blind or deceitful guides.

To reëstablish peace in your mind, dear Madam, cease to despise
yourself; entertain a just confidence in your own powers of mind, and
feel no chagrin at finding yourself infected with a general and
involuntary epidemic from which it did not depend on you to escape.
The good Abbé de St. Pierre had reason when he said that _devotion was
the small pox of the soul_. I will add that it is rare the disease
does not leave its pits for life. Indeed, see how often the most
enlightened persons persist forever in the prejudices of their
infancy! These notions are so early inculcated, and so many
precautions are continually taken to render them durable, that if any
thing may reasonably surprise us, it is to see any one have the
ability to rise superior to such influences. The most sublime geniuses
are often the playthings of superstition. The heat of their
imagination sometimes only serves to lead them the farther astray, and
to attach them to opinions which would cause them to blush did they
but consult their reason. Pascal constantly imagined that he saw hell
yawning under his feet; Mallebranche was extravagantly credulous;
Hobbes had a great terror of phantoms and demons;[3] and the immortal
Newton wrote a ridiculous commentary on the vials and visions of the
Apocalypse. In a word, every thing proves that there is nothing more
difficult than to efface the notions with which we are imbued during
our infancy. The most sensible persons, and those who reason with the
most correctness upon every other matter, relapse into their infancy
whenever religion is in question.

[3] On this subject see Bayle's _Dict. Crit._, art. _Hobbes_, Rem. N.

Thus, Madam, you need not blush for a weakness which you hold in
common with almost all the world, and from which the greatest men are
not always exempt. Let your courage then revive, and fear not to
examine with perfect composure the phantoms which alarm you. In a
matter which so greatly interests your repose, consult that
enlightened reason which places you as much above the vulgar, as it
elevates the human species above the other animals. Far from being
suspicious of your own understanding and intellectual faculties, turn
your just suspicion against those men, far less enlightened and honest
than you, who, to vanquish you, only address themselves to your lively
imagination; who have the cruelty to disturb the serenity of your
soul; who, under the pretext of attaching you only to heaven, insist
that you must sunder the most tender and endearing ties; and in fine,
who oblige you to proscribe the use of that beneficent reason whose
light guides your conduct so judiciously and so safely.

Leave inquietude and remorse to those corrupt women who have cause to
reproach themselves, or who have crimes to expiate. Leave superstition
to those silly and ignorant females whose narrow minds are incapable
of reasoning or reflection. Abandon the futile and trivial ceremonies
of an objectionable devotion to those idle and peevish women, for
whom, as soon as the transient reign of their personal charms is
finished, there remains no rational relaxation to fill the void of
their days, and who seek by slander and treachery to console
themselves for the loss of pleasures which they can no longer enjoy.
Resist that inclination which seems to impel you to gloomy meditation,
solitude, and melancholy. Devotion is only suited to inert and
listless souls, while yours is formed for action. You should pursue
the course I recommend for the sake of your husband, whose happiness
depends upon you; you owe it to the children, who will soon,
undoubtedly, need all your care and all your instructions for the
guidance of their hearts and understandings; you owe it to the friends
who honor you, and who will value your society when the beauty which
now adorns your person and the voluptuousness which graces your figure
have yielded to the inroads of time; you owe it to the circle in which
you move, and to the world which has a right to your example,
possessing as you do virtues that are far more rare to persons of your
rank than devotion. In fine, you owe happiness to yourself; for,
notwithstanding the promises of religion, you will never find
happiness in those agitations into which I perceive you cast by the
lurid ideas of superstition. In this path you will only encounter
doleful chimeras, frightful phantoms, embarrassments without end,
crushing uncertainties, inexplicable enigmas, and dangerous reveries,
which are only calculated to disturb your repose, to deprive you of
happiness, and to render you incapable of occupying yourself with that
of others. It is very difficult to make those around us happy when we
are ourselves miserable and deprived of peace.

If you will even slightly make observations upon those about you, you
will find abundant proofs of what I advance. The most religious
persons are rarely the most amiable or the most social. Even the most
sincere devotion, by subjecting those who embrace it to wearisome and
crippling ceremonies, by occupying their imaginations with lugubrious
and afflicting objects, by exciting their zeal, is but little
calculated to give to devotees that equality of temper, that sweetness
of an indulgent disposition, and that amenity of character, which
constitute the greatest charms of personal intercourse. A thousand
examples might be adduced to convince you that devotees who are the
most occupied in superstitious observances to please God are not
those women who succeed best in pleasing those by whom they are
surrounded. If there seems to be occasionally an exception to this
rule, it is on the part of those who have not all the zeal and fervor
which is exacted by their religion. Devotion is either a morose and
melancholy passion, or it is a violent and obstinate enthusiasm.
Religion imposes an exclusive and entire regard upon its slaves. All
that an acceptable Christian gives to a fellow-creature is a robbery
from the Creator. A soul filled with religious fervor fears to attach
itself to things of the earth, lest it should lose sight of its
jealous God, who wishes to engross constant attention, who lays it
down as a duty to his creatures that they should sacrifice to him
their most agreeable and most innocent inclinations, and who orders
that they should render themselves miserable here below, under the
idea of pleasing him. In accordance with such principles, we generally
see devotees executing with much fidelity the duty of tormenting
themselves and disturbing the repose of others. They actually believe
they acquire great merit with the Sovereign of heaven by rendering
themselves perfectly useless, or even a scourge to the inhabitants of
the earth.

I am aware, Madam, that devotion in you does not produce effects
injurious to others; but I fear that it is only more injurious to
yourself. The goodness of your heart, the sweetness of your
disposition, and the beneficence which displays itself in all your
conduct, are all so great that even religion does not impel you to
any dangerous excesses. Nevertheless, devotion often causes strange
metamorphoses. Unquiet, agitated, miserable within yourself, it is to
be feared that your temperament will change, that your disposition
will become acrimonious, and that the vexatious ideas over which you
have so long brooded will sooner or later produce a disastrous
influence upon those who approach you. Does not experience constantly
show us that religion effects changes of this kind? What are called
_conversions_, what devotees regard as special acts of divine grace,
are very often only lamentable revolutions by which real vices and
odious qualities are substituted for amiable and useful
characteristics. By a deplorable consequence of these pretended
miracles of grace we frequently see sorrow succeed to enjoyment, a
gloomy and unhappy state to one of innocent gayety, lassitude and
chagrin to activity and hilarity, and slander, intolerance, and zeal
to indulgence and gentleness; nay, what do I say? cruelty itself to
humanity. In a word, superstition is a dangerous leaven, that is
fitted to corrupt even the most honest hearts.

Do you not see, in fact, the excesses to which fanaticism and zeal
drive the wisest and best meaning men? Princes, magistrates, and
judges become inhuman and pitiless as soon as there is a question of
the interests of religion. Men of the gentlest disposition, the most
indulgent, and the most equitable, upon every other matter, religion
transforms to ferocious beasts. The most feeling and compassionate
persons believe themselves in conscience obliged to harden their
hearts, to do violence to their better instincts, and to stifle
nature, in order to show themselves cruel to those who are denounced
as enemies to their own manner of thinking. Recall to your mind,
Madam, the cruelties of nations and governments in alternate
persecutions of Catholics or Protestants, as either happened to be in
the ascendant. Can you find reason, equity, or humanity in the
vexations, imprisonments, and exiles that in our days are inflicted
upon the Jansenists? And these last, if ever they should attain in
their turn the power requisite for persecution, would not probably
treat their adversaries with more moderation or justice. Do you not
daily see individuals who pique themselves upon their sensibility
unblushingly express the joy they would feel at the extermination of
persons to whom they believe they owe neither benevolence nor
indulgence, and whose only crime is a disdain for prejudices that the
vulgar regard as sacred, or that an erroneous and false policy
considers useful to the state? Superstition has so greatly stifled all
sense of humanity in many persons otherwise truly estimable, that they
have no compunctions at sacrificing the most enlightened men of the
nation because they could not be the most credulous or the most
submissive to the authority of the priests.

In a word, devotion is only calculated to fill the heart with a bitter
rancor, that banishes peace and harmony from society. In the matter
of religion, every one believes himself obliged to show more or less
ardor and zeal. Have I not often seen you uncertain yourself whether
you ought to sigh or smile at the self-depreciation of devotees
ridiculously inflamed by that religious vanity which grows out of
sectarian conventionalities? You also see them participating in
theological quarrels, in which, without comprehending their nature or
purport, they believe themselves conscientiously obliged to mingle. I
have a hundred times seen you astounded with their clamors, indignant
at their animosity, scandalized at their cabals, and filled with
disdain at their obstinate ignorance. Yet nothing is more natural than
these outbreaks; ignorance has always been the mother of devotion. To
be a devotee has always been synonymous to having an imbecile
confidence in priests. It is to receive all impulsions from them; it
is to think and act only according to them; it is blindly to adopt
their passions and prejudices; it is faithfully to fulfil practices
which their caprice imposes.

Eugenia is not formed to follow such guides. They would terminate by
leading her widely astray, by dazzling her vivid imagination, by
infecting her gentle and amiable disposition with a deadly poison. To
master with more certainty her understanding, they would render her
austere, intolerant, and vindictive. In a word, by the magical power
of superstition and supernatural notions, they would succeed, perhaps,
in transforming to vices those happy dispositions that nature has
given you. Believe me, Madam, you would gain nothing by such a
metamorphosis. Rather be what you really are. Extricate yourself as
soon as possible from that state of incertitude and languor, from that
alternative of despondency and trouble, in which you are immersed. If
you will only take your reason and virtue for guides, you will soon
break the fetters whose dangerous effects you have begun to feel.

Assume the courage, then, I repeat it, to examine for yourself this
religion, which, far from procuring you the happiness it promised,
will only prove an inexhaustible source of inquietudes and alarms, and
which will deprive you, sooner or later, of those rare qualities which
render you so dear to society. Your interest exacts that you should
render peace to your mind. It is your duty carefully to preserve that
sweetness of temper, that indulgence, and that cheerfulness, by which
you are so much endeared to all those who approach you. You owe
happiness to yourself, and you owe it to those who surround you. Do
not, then, abandon yourself to superstitious reveries, but collect all
the strength of your judgment to combat the chimeras which torment
your imagination. They will disappear as soon as you have considered
them with your ordinary sagacity.

Do not tell me, Madam, that your understanding is too weak to sound
the depths of theology. Do not tell me, in the language of our
priests, that the truths of religion are mysteries that we must adopt
without comprehending them, and that it is necessary to adore in
silence. By expressing themselves in this manner, do you not see they
really proscribe and condemn the very religion to which they are so
solicitous you should adhere? Whatever is supernatural is unsuited to
man, and whatever is beyond his comprehension ought not to occupy his
attention. To adore what we are not able to know, is to adore nothing.
To believe in what we cannot conceive, is to believe in nothing. To
admit without examination every thing we are directed to admit, is to
be basely and stupidly credulous. To say that religion is above
reason, is to recognize the fact that it was not made for reasonable
beings; it is to avow that those who teach it have no more ability to
fathom its depths than ourselves; it is to confess that our reverend
doctors do not themselves understand the marvels with which they daily
entertain us.

If the truths of religion were, as they assure us, necessary to all
men, they would be clear and intelligible to all men. If the dogmas
which this religion teaches were as important as it is asserted, they
would not only be within the comprehension of the doctors who preach
them, but of all those who hear their lessons. Is it not strange that
the very persons whose profession it is to furnish themselves with
religions knowledge, in order to impart it to others, should recognize
their own dogmas as beyond their own understanding, and that they
should obstinately inculcate to the people what they acknowledge they
do not comprehend themselves? Should we have much confidence in a
physician, who, after confessing that he was utterly ignorant of his
art, should nevertheless boast of the excellence of his remedies?
This, however, is the constant practice of our spiritual quacks. By a
strange fatality, the most sensible people consent to be the dupes of
these empirics who are perpetually obliged to avow their own profound
ignorance.

But if the mysteries of religion are incomprehensible for even those
who inculcate it,--if among those who profess it there is no one who
knows precisely what he believes, or who can give an account of either
his conduct or belief,--this is not so in regard to the difficulties
with which we oppose this religion. These objections are simple,
within the comprehension of all persons of ordinary ability, and
capable of convincing every man who, renouncing the prejudices of his
infancy, will deign to consult the good sense that nature has bestowed
upon all beings of the human race.

For a long period of time, subtle theologians have, without
relaxation, been occupied in warding off the attacks of the
incredulous, and in repairing the breaches made in the ruinous edifice
of religion by adversaries who combated under the flag of reason. In
all times there have been people who felt the futility of the titles
upon which the priests have arrogated the right of enslaving the
understandings of men, and of subjugating and despoiling nations.
Notwithstanding all the efforts of the interested and frequently
hypocritical men who have taken up the defence of religion, from which
they and their confederates alone are profited, these apologists have
never been able to vindicate successfully their _divine_ system
against the attacks of incredulity. Without cessation they have
replied to the objections which have been made, but never have they
refuted or annihilated them. Almost in every instance the defenders of
Christianity have been sustained by oppressive laws on the part of the
government; and it has only been by injuries, by declamations, by
punishments and persecutions, that they have replied to the
allegations of reason. It is in this manner that they have apparently
remained masters of the field of battle which their adversaries could
not openly contest. Yet, in spite of the disadvantages of a combat so
unequal, and although the partisans of religion were accoutred with
every possible weapon, and could show themselves openly, in accordance
with _law_, while their adversaries had no arms but those of reason,
and could not appear personally but at the peril of fines,
imprisonment, torture, and death, and were restricted from bringing
all their arsenal into service, yet they have inflicted profound,
immedicable, and incurable wounds upon superstition. Still, if we
believe the mercenaries of religion, the excellence of their system
makes it absolutely invulnerable to every blow which can be inflicted
upon it; and they pretend they have a thousand times in a victorious
manner answered the objections which are continually renewed against
them. In spite of this great security, we see them excessively alarmed
every time a new combatant presents himself, and the latter may well
and successfully use the most common objections, and those which have
most frequently been urged, since it is evident that up to the present
moment the arguments have never been obviated or opposed with
satisfactory replies. To convince you, Madam, of what I here advance,
you need only compare the most simple and ordinary difficulties which
good sense opposes to religion, with the pretended solutions that have
been given. You will perceive that the difficulties, evident even to
the capacities of a child, have never been removed by divines the most
practised in dialectics. You will find in their replies only subtle
distinctions, metaphysical subterfuges, unintelligible verbiage, which
can never be the language of truth, and which demonstrates the
embarrassment, the impotence, and the bad faith of those who are
interested by their position in sustaining a desperate cause. In a
word, the difficulties which have been urged against religion are
clear, and within the comprehension of every one, while the answers
which have been given are obscure, entangled, and far from
satisfactory, even to persons most versed in such jargon, and plainly
indicating that the authors of these replies do not themselves
understand what they say.

If you consult the clergy, they will not fail to set forth the
antiquity of their doctrine, which has always maintained itself,
notwithstanding the continual attacks of the Heretics, the Mecreans,
and the Impious generally, and also in spite of the persecutions of
the Pagans. You have, Madam, too much good sense not to perceive at
once that the antiquity of an opinion proves nothing in its favor. If
antiquity was a proof of truth, Christianity must yield to Judaism,
and that in its turn to the religion of the Egyptians and Chaldeans,
or, in other words, to the idolatry which was greatly anterior to
Moses. For thousands of years it was universally believed that the sun
revolved round the earth, which remained immovable; and yet it is not
the less true that the sun is fixed, and the earth moves around that.
Besides, it is evident that the Christianity of to-day is not what it
formerly was. The continual attacks that this religion has suffered
from heretics, commencing with its earliest history, proves that there
never could have existed any harmony between the partisans of a
pretended divine system, which offended all rules of consistency and
logic in its very first principles. Some parts of this celestial
system were always denied by devotees who admitted other parts. If
infidels have often attacked religion without apparent effect, it is
because the best reasons become useless against the blindness of a
superstition sustained by the public authority, or against the torrent
of opinion and custom which sways the minds of most men. With regard
to the persecutions which the church suffered on the part of the
pagans, he is but slightly acquainted with the effects of fanaticism
and religious obstinacy who does not perceive that tyranny is
calculated to excite and extend what it persecutes most violently.

You are not formed to be the dupe of names and authorities. The
defenders of the popular superstition will endeavor to overwhelm you
by the multiplied testimony of many illustrious and learned men, who
not only admitted the Christian religion, but who were also its most
zealous supporters. They will adduce holy divines, great philosophers,
powerful reasoners, fathers of the church, and learned interpreters,
who have successively advocated the system. I will not contest the
understanding of the learned men who are cited, which, however, was
often faulty, but will content myself with repeating that frequently
the greatest geniuses are not more clear sighted in matters of
religion than the people themselves. They did not examine the
religious opinions they taught; it may be because they regarded them
as sacred, or it may be because they never went back to first
principles, which they would have found altogether unsound, if they
had considered them without prejudice. It may also have happened
because they were interested in defending a cause with which their own
position was allied. Thus their testimony is exceptionable, and their
authority carries no great weight.

With regard to the interpreters and commentators, who for so many
ages have painfully toiled to elucidate the divine laws, to explain
the sacred books, and to fix the dogmas of Christianity, their very
labors ought to inspire us with suspicion concerning a religion which
is founded upon such books and which preaches such dogmas. They prove
that works emanating from the Supreme Being are obscure,
unintelligible, and need human assistance in order to be understood by
those to whom the Divinity wished to reveal his will. The laws of a
wise God would be simple and clear. Defective laws alone need
interpreters.

It is not, then, Madam, upon these interpreters that you should rely;
it is upon yourself; it is your own reason that you should consult. It
is _your_ happiness, it is _your_ repose, that is in question; and
these objects are too serious to allow their decision to be delegated
to any others than yourself. If religion is as important as we are
assured, it undoubtedly merits the greatest attention. If it is upon
this religion that depends the happiness of men both in this world and
in another, there is no subject which interests us so strongly, and
which consequently demands a more thorough, careful, and considerate
examination. Can there be any thing, then, more strange than the
conduct of the great majority of men? Entirely convinced of the
necessity and importance of religion, they still never give themselves
the trouble to examine it thoroughly; they follow it in a spirit of
routine and from habit; they never give any reason for its dogmas;
they revere it, they submit to it, and they groan under its weight,
without ever inquiring wherefore. In fine, they rely upon others to
examine it; and they whose judgment they so blindly receive are
precisely those persons upon whose opinions they should look with the
most suspicion. The priests arrogate the possession of judging
exclusively and without appeal of a system evidently invented for
their own utility. And what is the language of these priests? Visibly
interested in maintaining the received opinions, they exhibit them as
necessary to the public good, as useful and consoling for us all, as
intimately connected with morality, as indispensable to society, and,
in a word, as of the very greatest importance. After having thus
prepossessed our minds, they next prohibit our examining the things so
important to be known. What must be thought of such conduct? You can
only conclude that they desire to deceive you, that they fear
examination only because religion cannot sustain it, and that they
dread reason because it is able to unveil the incalculably dangerous
projects of the priesthood against the human race.

For these reasons, Madam, as I cannot too often repeat, examine for
yourself; make use of your own understanding; seek the truth in the
sincerity of your heart; reduce prejudice to silence; throw off the
base servitude of custom; be suspicious of imagination; and with these
precautions, in good faith with yourself, you can weigh with an
impartial hand the various opinions concerning religion. From
whatever source an opinion may come, acquiesce only in that which
shall be convincing to your understanding, satisfactory to your heart,
conformable to a healthy morality, and approved by virtue. Reject with
disdain whatever shocks your reason, and repulse with horror those
notions so criminal and injurious to morality which religion endeavors
to palm off for supernatural and divine virtues.

What do I say? Amiable and wise Eugenia, examine rigorously the ideas
that, by your own desire, I shall hereafter present you. Let not your
confidence in me, or your deference to my weak understanding, blind
you in regard to my opinions. I submit them to your judgment. Discuss
them, combat them, and never give them your assent until you are
convinced that in them you recognize the truth. My sentiments are
neither divine oracles nor theological opinions which it is not
permitted to canvass. If what I say is true, adopt my ideas. If I am
deceived, point out my errors, and I am ready to recognize them and to
subscribe my own condemnation. It will be very pleasant, Madam, to
learn truths of you which, up to the present time, I have vainly
sought in the writings of our divines. If I have at this moment any
advantage over you, it is due entirely to that tranquillity which I
enjoy, and of which at present you are unhappily deprived. The
agitations of your mind, the inquietudes of your body, and the
attacks of an exacting and ceremonious devotion, with which your soul
is perplexed, prevent you, for the moment, from seeing things coolly,
and hinder you from making use of your own understanding; but I have
no doubt that soon your intellect, strengthened by reason against vain
chimeras, will regain its natural vigor and the superiority which
belongs to it. In awaiting this moment that I foresee and so much
desire, I shall esteem myself extremely happy if my reflections shall
contribute to render you that tranquillity of spirit so necessary to
judge wisely of things, and without which there can be no true
happiness.

I perceive, Madam, though rather tardily, the length of this letter;
but I hope you will pardon it, as well as my frankness. They will at
least prove the lively interest I take in your painful situation, the
sincere desire I feel to bring it to a termination, and the strong
inclination which actuates me to restore you to your accustomed
serenity. Less pressing motives would never have been sufficient to
make me break silence. Your own positive orders were necessary to lead
me to speak of objects which, once thoroughly examined, give no
uneasiness to a healthy mind. It has been a law with me never to
explain myself upon the subject of religion. Experience has often
convinced me that the most useless of enterprises is to seek to
undeceive a prejudiced mind. I was very far from believing that I
ought ever to write upon these subjects. You alone, Madam, had the
power to conquer my indolence, and to impel me to change my
resolution. Eugenia afflicted, tormented with scruples, and ready to
plunge herself into gloomy austerities and superstitions, calculated
to render her unamiable to others, without contributing happiness to
herself, honored me with her confidence, and requested counsel of her
friend. She exacted that I should speak. "It is enough," I said; "let
me write for Eugenia; let me endeavor to restore the repose she has
lost; let me labor with ardor for her upon whose happiness that of so
many others is dependent."

Such, Madam, are the motives which induce me to take my pen in hand.
In looking forward to the time when you will be undeceived, I shall
dare at least to flatter myself that you will not regard me with the
same eyes with which priests and devotees look upon every one who has
the temerity to contradict their ideas. To believe them, every man who
declares himself against religion is a bad citizen, a madman armed to
justify his passions, a perturbator of the public repose, and an enemy
of his fellow-citizens, that cannot be punished with too much rigor.
My conduct is known to you; and the confidence with which you honor me
is sufficient for my apology. It is for you alone that I write. It is
to dissipate the clouds that obscure your mental horizon that I
communicate reflections which, but for reasons so pressing, I should
have always enclosed in my own bosom. If by chance they shall
hereafter fall into other hands than yours, and be found of some
utility, I shall felicitate myself for having contributed to the
establishment of happiness by leading back to reason minds which had
wandered from it, by making truth to be felt and known, and by
unmasking impostures which have caused so many misfortunes upon the
earth.

In a word, I submit my reasoning to your judgment, I confide fully in
your discretion, and I allow myself to conclude that my ideas, after
you are disabused of the vain terrors with which you are now
oppressed, will fully convince you that this religion, which is
exhibited to men as a concern the most important, the most true, the
most interesting, and the most useful, is only a tissue of
absurdities, is calculated to confound reason, to disturb the
understanding, and can be advantageous to none save those who make use
of it to govern the human race. I shall acknowledge myself in the
wrong if I do not prove, in the clearest manner, that religion is
false, useless, and dangerous, and that morality, in its stead, should
occupy the spirits and animate the souls of all men.

I shall enter more particularly into the subject in my next letter. I
shall go back to first principles, and in the course of this
correspondence I flatter myself I shall completely demonstrate that
these objects, which theology endeavors to render intricate, and to
envelop with clouds, in order to make them more respectable and
sacred, are not only entirely susceptible of being understood by you,
but that they are likewise within the comprehension of every one who
possesses even an ordinary share of good sense. If my frankness shall
appear too undisguised, I beg you to consider, Madam, that it is
necessary I should address you explicitly and clearly. I now consider
it my duty to administer an energetic and prompt remedy for the malady
with which I perceive you to be attacked. Besides, I venture to hope
that in a short time you will feel gratified that I have shown you the
truth in all its integrity and brilliancy. You will pardon me for
having dissipated the unreal and yet harassing phantoms which infested
your mind. But let my success be what it may, my efforts to confer
tranquillity upon you will at least be evidences of the interest I
take in your happiness, of my zeal to serve you, and of the respect
with which I am your sincere and attached friend.



LETTER II.

  Of the Ideas which Religion gives us of the Divinity.


Every religion is a system of opinions and conduct founded upon the
notions, true or false, that we entertain of the Divinity. To judge of
the truth of any system, it is requisite to examine its principles, to
see if they accord, and to satisfy ourselves whether all its parts
lend a mutual support to each other. A religion, to be _true_, should
give us _true_ ideas of God; and it is by our reason alone that we are
able to decide whether what theology asserts concerning this being and
his attributes is true or otherwise. Truth for men is only conformity
to reason; and thus the same reason which the clergy proscribe is, in
the last resort, our only means of judging the system that religion
proposes for our assent. That God can only be the true God who is most
conformable to our reason, and the true worship can be no other than
that which reason approves.

Religion is only important in accordance with the advantages it
bestows upon mankind. The best religion must be that which procures
its disciples the most real, the most extensive, and the most durable
advantages. A false religion must necessarily bestow upon those who
practise it only a false, chimerical, and transient utility. Reason
must be the judge whether the benefits derived are real or imaginary.
Thus, as we constantly see, it belongs to reason to decide whether a
religion, a mode of worship, or a system of conduct is advantageous or
injurious to the human race.

It is in accordance with these incontestable principles that I shall
examine the religion of the Christians. I shall commence by analyzing
the ideas which their system gives us of the Divinity, which it boasts
of presenting to us in a more perfect manner than all other religions
in the world. I shall examine whether these ideas accord with each
other, whether the dogmas taught by this religion are conformable to
those fundamental principles which are every where acknowledged,
whether they are consonant with them, and whether the conduct which
Christianity prescribes answers to the notions which itself gives us
of the Divinity. I shall conclude the inquiry by investigating the
advantages that the Christian religion procures the human
race--advantages, according to its partisans, that infinitely surpass
those which result from all the other religions of the earth.

The Christian religion, as the basis of its belief, sets forth an only
God, which it defines as a pure spirit, as an eternal intelligence, as
independent and immutable, who has infinite power, who is the cause of
all things, who foresees all things, who fills immensity, who created
from nothing the world and all it encloses, and who preserves and
governs it according to the laws of his infinite wisdom, and the
perfections of his infinite goodness and justice, which are all so
evident in his works.

Such are the ideas that Christianity gives us of the Divinity. Let us
now see whether they accord with the other notions presented to us by
this religious system, and which it pretends were revealed by God
himself; or, in other words, that these truths were received directly
from the Deity, who concealed them from the remainder of mankind, and
deprived them of a knowledge of his essence. Thus the Christian
religion is founded upon a special revelation. And to whom was the
revelation made? At first to Abraham, and then to his posterity. The
God of the universe, then, the Father of all men, was only willing to
be known to the descendants of a Chaldean, who for a long series of
years were the exclusive possessors of the knowledge of the true God.
By an effect of his special kindness, the Jewish people was for a long
time the only race favored with a revelation equally necessary for all
men. This was the only people which understood the relations between
man and the Supreme Being. All other nations wandered in darkness, or
possessed no ideas of the Sovereign of nature but such as were crude,
ridiculous, or criminal.

Thus, at the very first step, do we not see that Christianity impairs
the goodness and justice of its God? A revelation to a particular
people only announces a partial God, who favors a portion of his
children, to the prejudice of all the others; who consults only his
caprice, and not real merit; who, incapable of conferring happiness
upon all men, shows his tenderness solely to some individuals, who
have, however, no titles upon his consideration not possessed by the
others. What would you say of a father who, placed at the head of a
numerous family, had no eyes but for a single one of his children, and
who never allowed himself to be seen by any of them except that
favored one? What would you say if he was displeased with the rest for
not being acquainted with his features, notwithstanding he would never
allow them to approach his person? Would you not accuse such a father
of caprice, cruelty, folly, and a want of reason, if he visited with
his anger the children whom he had himself excluded from his presence?
Would you not impute to him an injustice of which none but the most
brutal of our species could be guilty if he actually punished them for
not having executed orders which he was never pleased to give them?

Conclude, then, with me, Madam, that the revelation of a religion to
only a single tribe or nation sets forth a God neither good,
impartial, nor equitable, but an unjust and capricious tyrant, who,
though he may show kindness and preference to some of his creatures,
at any rate acts with the greatest cruelty towards all the others.
This admitted, revelation does not prove the goodness, but the caprice
and partiality of the God that religion represents to us as full of
sagacity, benevolence, and equity, and that it describes as the common
father of all the inhabitants of the earth. If the interest and
self-love of those whom he favors makes them admire the profound views
of a God because he has loaded them with benefits to the prejudice of
their brethren, he must appear very unjust, on the other hand, to all
those who are the victims of his partiality. A hateful pride alone
could induce a few persons to believe that they were, to the exclusion
of all others, the cherished children of Providence. Blinded by their
vanity, they do not perceive that it is to give the lie to universal
and infinite goodness to suppose that God was capable of favoring with
his preference some men or nations, to the exclusion of others. All
ought to be equal in his eyes if it is true they are all equally the
work of his hands.

It is, nevertheless, upon partial revelations that are founded all the
religions of the world. In the same manner that every individual
believes himself the most important being in the universe, every
nation entertains the idea that it ought to enjoy the peculiar
tenderness of the Sovereign of nature, to the exclusion of all the
others. If the inhabitants of Hindostan imagine that it was for them
alone that Brama spoke, the Jews and the Christians have persuaded
themselves that it was only for them that the world was created, and
that it is solely for them that God was revealed.

But let us suppose for a moment that God has really made himself
known. How could a pure spirit render himself sensible? What form did
he take? Of what material organs did he make use in order to speak?
How can an infinite Being communicate with those which are finite? I
may be assured that, to accommodate himself to the weakness of his
creatures, he made use of the agency of some chosen men to announce
his wishes to all the rest, and that he filled these agents with his
spirit, and spoke by their mouths. But can we possibly conceive that
an infinite Being could unite himself with the finite nature of man?
How can I be certain that he who professes to be inspired by the
Divinity does not promulgate his own reveries or impostures as the
oracles of heaven? What means have I of recognizing whether God really
speaks by his voice? The immediate reply will be, that God, to give
weight to the declarations of those whom he has chosen to be his
interpreters, endowed them with a portion of his own omnipotence, and
that they wrought miracles to prove their divine mission.

I therefore inquire, What is a miracle? I am told that it is an
operation contrary to the laws of nature, which God himself has fixed;
to which I reply, that, according to the ideas I have formed of the
divine wisdom, it appears to me impossible that an immutable God can
change the wise laws which he himself has established. I thence
conclude that miracles are impossible, seeing they are incompatible
with our ideas of the wisdom and immutability of the Creator of the
universe. Besides, these miracles would be useless to God. If he be
omnipotent, can he not modify the minds of his creatures according to
his own will?

To convince and to persuade them, he has only to will that they shall
be convinced and persuaded. He has only to tell them things that are
clear and sensible, things that may be demonstrated; and to evidence
of such a kind they will not fail to give their assent. To do this, he
will have no need either of miracles or interpreters; truth alone is
sufficient to win mankind.

Supposing, nevertheless, the utility and possibility of these
miracles, how shall I ascertain whether the wonderful operation which
I see performed by the interpreter of the Deity be conformable or
contrary to the laws of nature? Am I acquainted with all these laws?
May not he who speaks to me in the name of the Lord execute by natural
means, though to me unknown, those works which appear altogether
extraordinary? How shall I assure myself that he does not deceive me?
Does not my ignorance of the secrets and shifts of his art expose me
to be the dupe of an able impostor, who might make use of the name of
God to inspire me with respect, and to screen his deception? Thus his
pretended miracles ought to make me suspect him, even though I were a
witness of them; but how would the case stand, were these miracles
said to have been performed some thousands of years before my
existence? I shall be told that they were attested by a multitude of
witnesses; but if I cannot trust to myself when a miracle is
performing, how shall I have confidence in others, who may be either
more ignorant or more stupid than myself, or who perhaps thought
themselves interested in supporting by their testimony tales entirely
destitute of reality?

If, on the contrary, I admit these miracles, what do they prove to me?
Will they furnish me with a belief that God has made use of his
omnipotence to convince me of things which are in direct opposition
to the ideas I have formed of his essence, his nature, and his divine
perfections? If I be persuaded that God is immutable, a miracle will
not force me to believe that he is subject to change. If I be
convinced that God is just and good, a miracle will never be
sufficient to persuade me that he is unjust and wicked. If I possess
an idea of his wisdom, all the miracles in the world would not
persuade me that God would act like a madman. Shall I be told that he
would consent to perform miracles that destroy his divinity, or that
are proper only to erase from the minds of men the ideas which they
ought to entertain of his infinite perfections? This, however, is what
would happen were God himself to perform, or to grant the power of
performing, miracles in favor of a particular revelation. He would, in
that case, derange the course of nature, to teach the world that he is
capricious, partial, unjust, and cruel; he would make use of his
omnipotence purposely to convince us that his goodness was
insufficient for the welfare of his creatures; he would make a vain
parade of his power, to hide his inability to convince mankind by a
single act of his will. In short, he would interfere with the eternal
and immutable laws of nature, to show us that he is subject to change,
and to announce to mankind some important news, which they had
hitherto been destitute of, notwithstanding all his goodness.

Thus, under whatever point of view we regard revelation, by whatever
miracles we may suppose it attested, it will always be in
contradiction to the ideas we have of the Deity. They will show us
that he acts in an unjust and an arbitrary manner, consulting only his
own whims in the favors he bestows, and continually changing his
conduct; that he was unable to communicate all at once to mankind the
knowledge necessary to their existence, and to give them that degree
of perfection of which their natures were susceptible. Hence, Madam,
you may see that the supposition of a revelation can never be
reconciled with the infinite goodness, justice, omnipotence, and
immutability of the Sovereign of the universe.

They will not fail to tell you that the Creator of all things, the
independent Monarch of nature is the master of his favors; that he
owes nothing to his creatures; that he can dispose of them as he
pleases, without any injustice, and without their having any right of
complaint; that man is incapable of sounding the profundity of his
decrees; and that his justice is not the justice of men. But all these
answers, which divines have continually in their mouths, serve only to
accelerate the destruction of those sublime ideas which they have
given us of the Deity. The result appears to be, that God conducts
himself according to the maxims of a fantastic sovereign, who,
satisfied in having rewarded some of his favorites, thinks himself
justified in neglecting the rest of his subjects, and to leave them
groaning in the most deplorable misery.

You must acknowledge, Madam, it is not on such a model that we can
form a powerful, equitable, and beneficent God, whose omnipotence
ought to enable him to procure happiness to all his subjects, without
fear of exhausting the treasures of his goodness.

If we are told that divine justice bears no resemblance to the justice
of men, I reply, that in this case we are not authorized to say that
God is _just_; seeing that by justice it is not possible for us to
conceive any thing except a similar quality to that called justice by
the beings of our own species. If divine justice bears no resemblance
to human justice,--if, on the contrary, this justice resembles what we
call injustice,--then all our ideas confound themselves, and we know
not either what we mean or what we say when we affirm that God is
just. According to human ideas, (which are, however, the only ones
that men are possessed of,) justice will always exclude caprice and
partiality; and never can we prevent ourselves from regarding as
iniquitous and vicious a sovereign who, being both able and willing to
occupy himself with the happiness of his subjects, should plunge the
greatest number of them into misfortune, and reserve his kindness for
those to whom his whims have given the preference.

With respect to telling us that _God owes nothing to his creatures_,
such an atrocious principle is destructive of every idea of justice
and goodness, and tends visibly to sap the foundation of all religion.
A God that is just and good owes happiness to every being to whom he
has given existence; he ceases to be just and good if he produce them
only to render them miserable; and he would be destitute of both
wisdom and reason were he to give them birth only to be the victims of
his caprice. What should we think of a father bringing children into
the world for the sole purpose of putting their eyes out and
tormenting them at his ease?

On the other hand, all religions are entirely founded upon the
reciprocal engagements which are supposed to exist between God and his
creatures. If God owes nothing to the latter, if he is not under an
obligation to fulfil his engagements to them when they have fulfilled
theirs to him, of what use is religion? What motives can men have to
offer their homage and worship to the Divinity? Why should they feel
much desire to love or serve a master who can absolve himself of all
duty towards those who entered his service with an expectation of the
recompense promised under such circumstances?

It is easy to see that the destructive ideas of divine justice which
are inculcated are only founded upon a fatal prejudice prevalent among
the generality of men, leading them to suppose that unlimited power
must inevitably exempt its possessor from an accordance with the laws
of equity; that force can confer the right of committing bad actions;
and that no one could properly demand an account of his conduct of a
man sufficiently powerful to carry out all his caprices. These ideas
are evidently borrowed from the conduct of tyrants, who no sooner
find themselves possessed of absolute power than they cease to
recognize any other rules than their own fantasies, and imagine that
justice has no claims upon potentates like them.

It is upon this frightful model that theologians have formed that God
whom they, notwithstanding, assert to be a just being, while, if the
conduct they attribute to him was true, we should be constrained to
regard him as the most unjust of tyrants, as the most partial of
fathers, as the most fantastic of princes, and, in a word, as a being
the most to be feared and the least worthy of love that the
imagination could devise. We are informed that the God who created all
men has been unwilling to be known except to a very small number of
them, and that while this favored portion exclusively enjoyed the
benefits of his kindness, all the others were objects of his anger,
and were only created by him to be left in blindness for the very
purpose of punishing them in the most cruel manner. We see these
pernicious characteristics of the Divinity penetrating the entire
economy of the Christian religion; we find them in the books which are
pretended to be inspired, and we discover them in the dogmas of
predestination and grace. In a word, every thing in religion announces
a despotic God, whom his disciples vainly attempt to represent to us
as just, while all that they declare of him only proves his injustice,
his tyrannical caprices, his extravagances, so frequently cruel, and
his partiality, so pernicious to the greater portion of the human
race. When we exclaim against conduct which, in the eyes of all
reasonable men, must appear so excessively capricious, it is expected
that our mouths will be closed by the assertion that God is
omnipotent, that it is for him to determine how he will bestow
benefits, and that he is under no obligations to any of his creatures.
His apologists end by endeavoring to intimidate us with the frightful
and iniquitous punishments that he reserves for those who are so
audacious as to murmur.

It is easy to perceive the futility of these arguments. Power, I do
contend, can never confer the right of violating equity. Let a
sovereign be as powerful as he may, he is not on that account less
blamable when in rewards and punishments he follows only his caprice.
It is true, we may fear him, we may flatter him, we may pay him
servile homage; but never shall we love him sincerely; never shall we
serve him faithfully; never shall we look up to him as the model of
justice and goodness. If those who receive his kindness believe him to
be just and good, those who are the objects of his folly and rigor
cannot prevent themselves from detesting his monstrous iniquity in
their hearts.

If we be told that we are only as worms of earth relatively to God, or
that we are only like a vase in the hands of a potter, I reply in this
case, that there can neither be connection nor moral duty between the
creature and his Creator; and I shall hence conclude that religion is
useless, seeing that a worm of earth can owe nothing to a man who
crushes it, and that the vase can owe nothing to the potter that has
formed it. In the supposition that man is only a worm or an earthen
vessel in the eyes of the Deity, he would be incapable either of
serving him, glorifying him, honoring him, or offending him. We are,
however, continually told that man is capable of merit and demerit in
the sight of his God, whom he is ordered to love, serve, and worship.
We are likewise assured that it was man alone whom the Deity had in
view in all his works; that it is for him alone the universe was
created; for him alone that the course of nature was so often
deranged; and, in short, it was with a view of being honored,
cherished, and glorified by man that God has revealed himself to us.
According to the principles of the Christian religion, God does not
cease, for a single instant, his occupations for man, this _worm of
earth_, this _earthen vessel_, which he has formed. Nay, more: man is
sufficiently powerful to influence the honor, the felicity, and the
glory of his God; it rests with man to please him or to irritate him,
to deserve his favor or his hatred, to appease him or to kindle his
wrath.

Do you not perceive, Madam, the striking contradictions of those
principles which, nevertheless, form the basis of all revealed
religions? Indeed, we cannot find one of them that is not erected on
the reciprocal influence between God and man, and between man and God.
Our own species, which are annihilated (if I may use the expression)
every time that it becomes necessary to whitewash the Deity from some
reproachful stain of injustice and partiality,--these miserable
beings, to whom it is pretended that God owes nothing, and who, we are
assured, are unnecessary to him for his own felicity,--the human race,
which is nothing in his eyes, becomes all at once the principal
performer on the stage of nature. We find that mankind are necessary
to support the glory of their Creator; we see them become the sole
objects of his care; we behold in them the power to gladden or afflict
him; we see them meriting his favor and provoking his wrath. According
to these contradictory notions concerning the God of the universe, the
source of all felicity, is he not really the most wretched of beings?
We behold him perpetually exposed to the insults of men, who offend
him by their thoughts, their words, their actions, and their neglect
of duty. They incommode him, they irritate him, by the capriciousness
of their minds, by their actions, their desires, and even by their
ignorance. If we admit those Christian principles which suppose that
the greater portion of the human race excites the fury of the Eternal,
and that very few of them live in a manner conformable to his views,
will it not necessarily result therefrom, that in the immense crowd of
beings whom God has created for his glory, only a very small number of
them glorify and please him; while all the rest are occupied in vexing
him, exciting his wrath, troubling his felicity, deranging the order
that he loves, frustrating his designs, and forcing him to change his
immutable intentions?

You are, undoubtedly, surprised at the contradictions to be
encountered at the very first step we take in examining this religion;
and I take upon myself to predict that your embarrassment will
increase as you proceed therein. If you coolly examine the ideas
presented to us in the revelation common both to Jews and Christians,
and contained in the books which they tell us are _sacred_, you will
find that the Deity who speaks is always in contradiction with
himself; that he becomes his own destroyer, and is perpetually
occupied in undoing what he has just done, and in repairing his own
workmanship, to which, in the first instance, he was incapable of
giving that degree of perfection he wished it to possess. He is never
satisfied with his own works, and cannot, in spite of his omnipotence,
bring the human race to the point of perfection he intended. The books
containing the revelation, on which Christianity is founded, every
where display to us a God of goodness in the commission of wickedness;
an omnipotent God, whose projects unceasingly miscarry; an immutable
God, changing his maxims and his conduct; an omniscient God,
continually deceived unawares; a resolute God, yet repenting of his
most important actions; a God of wisdom, whose arrangements never
attain success. He is a great God, who occupies himself with the most
puerile trifles; an all-sufficient God, yet subject to jealousy; a
powerful God, yet suspicious, vindictive, and cruel; and a just God,
yet permitting and prescribing the most atrocious iniquities. In a
word, he is a perfect God, yet displaying at the same time such
imperfections and vices that the most despicable of men would blush to
resemble him.

Behold, Madam, the God whom this religion orders you to adore _in
spirit and in truth_. I reserve for another letter an analysis of the
holy books which you are taught to respect as the oracles of heaven. I
now perceive for the first time that I have perhaps made too long a
dissertation; and I doubt not you have already perceived that a system
built on a basis possessing so little solidity as that of the God whom
his devotees raise with one hand and destroy with the other, can have
no stability attached to it, and can only be regarded as a long tissue
of errors and contradictions.

                                                I am, &c.



LETTER III.

  An Examination of the Holy Scriptures, of the Nature of the
  Christian Religion, and of the Proofs upon which Christianity is
  founded.


You have seen, Madam, in my preceding letter, the incompatible and
contradictory ideas which this religion gives us of the Deity. You
will have seen that the revelation which is announced to us, instead
of being the offspring of his goodness and tenderness for the human
race, is really only a proof of injustice and partiality, of which a
God who is equally just and good would be entirely incapable. Let us
now examine whether the ideas suggested to us by these books,
containing the divine oracles, are more rational, more consistent, or
more conformable to the divine perfections. Let us see whether the
statements related in the Bible, whether the commands prescribed to us
in the name of God himself, are really worthy of God, and display to
us the characters of infinite wisdom, goodness, power, and justice.

These inspired books go back to the origin of the world. Moses, the
confidant, the interpreter, the historian of the Deity, makes us (if
we may use such an expression) witnesses of the formation of the
universe. He tells us that the Eternal, tired of his inaction, one
fine day took it into his head to create a world that was necessary to
his glory. To effect this, he forms matter out of nothing; a pure
spirit produces a substance which has no affinity to himself; although
this God fills all space with his immensity, yet still he found room
enough in it to admit the universe, as well as all the material bodies
contained therein.

These, at least, are the ideas which divines wish us to form
respecting the creation, if such a thing were possible as that of
possessing a clear idea of a pure spirit producing matter. But this
discussion is throwing us into metaphysical researches, which I wish
to avoid. It will be sufficient to you that you may console yourself
for not being able to comprehend it, seeing that the most profound
thinkers, who talk about the creation or the eduction of the world
from nothing, have no ideas on the subject more precise than those
which you form to yourself. As soon, Madam, as you take the trouble to
reflect thereon, you will find that divines, instead of explaining
things, have done nothing but invent words, in order to render them
dubious, and to confound all our natural conceptions.

I will not, however, tire you by a fastidious display of the blunders
which fill the narrative of Moses, which they announce to us as being
dictated by the Deity. If we read it with a little attention, we shall
perceive in every page philosophical and astronomical errors,
unpardonable in an inspired author, and such as we should consider
ridiculous in any man, who, in the most superficial manner, should
have studied and contemplated nature.

You will find, for example, light created before the sun, although
this star is visibly the source of light which communicates itself to
our globe. You will find the evening and the morning established
before the formation of this same sun, whose presence alone produces
day, whose absence produces night, and whose different aspects
constitute morning and evening. You will there find that the moon is
spoken of as a body possessing its own light, in a similar manner as
the sun possesses it, although this planet is a dark body, and
receives its light from the sun. These ignorant blunders are
sufficient to show you that the Deity who revealed himself to Moses
was quite unacquainted with the nature of those substances which he
had created out of nothing, and that you at present possess more
information respecting them than was once possessed by the Creator of
the world.

I am not ignorant that our divines have an answer always ready to
those difficulties which would attack their divine science, and place
their knowledge far below that of Galileo, Descartes, Newton, and even
below that of young people who have scarcely studied the first
elements of natural philosophy. They will tell us that God, in order
to render himself intelligible to the savage and ignorant Jews, spoke
in conformity to their imperfect notions, in the false and incorrect
language of the vulgar. We must not be imposed upon by this solution,
which our doctors regard as triumphant, and which they so frequently
employ when it becomes necessary to justify the Bible against the
ignorance and vulgarities contained therein. We answer them, that a
God who knows every thing, and can perform every thing, might by a
single word have rectified the false notions of the people he wished
to enlighten, and enabled them to know the nature of bodies more
perfectly than the most able men who have since appeared. If it be
replied that revelation is not intended to render men learned, but to
make them pious, I answer that revelation was not sent to establish
false notions; that it would be unworthy of God to borrow the language
of falsehood and ignorance; that the knowledge of nature, so far from
being an injury to piety, is, by the avowal of divines, the most
proper study to display the greatness of God. They tell us that
religion would be unmovable, were it conformable to true knowledge;
that we should have no objections to make to the recital of Moses, nor
to the philosophy of the Holy Scriptures, if we found nothing but what
was continually confirmed by experience, astronomy, and the
demonstrations of geometry.

To maintain a contrary opinion, and to say that God is pleased in
confounding the knowledge of men and in rendering it useless, is to
pretend that he is pleased with making us ignorant and changeable, and
that he condemns the progress of the human mind, although we ought to
suppose him the author of it. To pretend that God was obliged in the
Scriptures to conform himself to the language of men, is to pretend
that he withdrew his assistance from those he wished to enlighten, and
that he was unable of rendering them susceptible of comprehending the
language of truth. This is an observation not to be lost sight of in
the examination of revelation, where we find in each page that God
expresses himself in a manner quite unworthy of the Deity. Could not
an omnipotent God, instead of degrading himself, instead of
condescending to speak the language of ignorance, so far enlighten
them as to make them understand a language more true, more noble, and
more conformable to the ideas which are given us of the Deity? An
experienced master by degrees enables his scholars to understand what
he wishes to teach them, and a God ought to be able to communicate to
them immediately all the knowledge he intended to give them.

However, according to Genesis, God, after creating the world, produced
man from the dust of the earth. In the mean while we are assured that
he created him _in his own image_; but what was the image of God? How
could man, who is at least partly material, represent a pure spirit,
which excludes all matter?

How could his imperfect mind be formed on the model of a mind
possessing all perfection, like that which we suppose in the Creator
of the universe? What resemblance, what proportion, what affinity
could there be between a finite mind united to a body, and the
infinite spirit of the Creator? These, doubtless, are great
difficulties; hitherto it has been thought impossible to decide them;
and they will probably for a long time employ the minds of those who
strive to understand the incomprehensible meaning of a book which God
provided for our instruction.

But why did God create man? Because he wished to people the universe
with intelligent beings, who would render him homage, who should
witness his wonders, who should glorify him, who should meditate and
contemplate his works, and merit his favors by their submission to his
laws.

Here we behold man becoming necessary to the dignity of his God, who
without him would live without being glorified, who would receive no
homage, and who would be the melancholy Sovereign of an empire without
subjects--a condition not suited to his vanity. I think it useless to
remark to you what little conformity we find between those ideas and
such as are given us of a self-sufficient being, who, without the
assistance of any other, is supremely happy. All the characters in
which the Bible portrays the Deity are always borrowed from man, or
from a proud monarch; and we every where find that instead of having
made man after his own image, it is man that has always made God after
the image of himself, that has conferred on him his own way of
thinking, his own virtues, and his own vices.

But did this man whom the Deity has created for his glory faithfully
fulfil the wishes of his Creator? This subject that he has just
acquired--will he be obedient? will he render homage to his power?
will he execute his will? He has done nothing of the kind. Scarcely is
he created when he becomes rebellious to the orders of his Sovereign;
he eats a forbidden fruit which God has placed in his way in order to
tempt him, and by this act draws the divine wrath not only on himself,
but on all his posterity. Thus it is that he annihilates at one blow
the great projects of the Omnipotent, who had no sooner made man for
his glory than he becomes offended with that conduct which he ought to
have foreseen.

Here he finds himself obliged to change his projects with regard to
mankind; he becomes their enemy, and condemns them and the whole of
the race (who had not yet the power of sinning) to innumerable
penalties, to cruel calamities, and to death! What do I say? To
punishments which death itself shall not terminate! Thus God, who
wished to be glorified, is not glorified; he seems to have created man
only to offend him, that he might afterwards punish the offender.

In this recital, which is founded on the Bible, can you recognize,
Madam, an omnipotent God, whose orders are always accomplished, and
whose projects are all necessarily executed? In a God who tempts us,
or who permits us to be tempted, do you behold a being of beneficence
and sincerity? In a God who punishes the being he has tempted, or
subjected to temptation, do you perceive any equity? In a God who
extends his vengeance even to those who have not sinned, do you behold
any shadow of justice? In a God who is irritated at what he knew must
necessarily happen, can you imagine any foresight? In the rigorous
punishments by which this God is destined to avenge himself of his
feeble creatures, both in this world and the next, can you perceive
the least appearance of goodness?

It is, however, this history, or rather this fable, on which is
founded the whole edifice of the Christian religion.

If the first man had not been disobedient, the human race had not been
the object of the divine wrath, and would have had no need of a
Redeemer. If this God, who knows all things, foresees all things, and
possesses all power, had prevented or foreseen the fault of Adam, it
would not have been necessary for God to sacrifice his own innocent
Son to appease his fury. Mankind, for whom he created the universe,
would then have been always happy; they would not have incurred the
displeasure of that Deity who demanded their adoration. In a word, if
this apple had not been imprudently eaten by Adam and his spouse,
mankind would not have suffered so much misery, man would have enjoyed
without interruption the immortal happiness to which God had destined
him, and the views of Providence towards his creatures would not have
been frustrated.

It would be useless to make reflections on notions so whimsical, so
contrary to the wisdom, the power, and the justice of the Deity. It is
doing quite enough to compare the different objects which the Bible
presents to us, to perceive their inutility, absurdities, and
contradictions. We there see, continually, a wise God conducting
himself like a madman. He defeats his own projects that he may
afterwards repair them, repents of what he has done, acts as if he had
foreseen nothing, and is forced to permit proceedings which his
omnipotence could not prevent. In the writings revealed by this God,
he appears occupied only in blackening his own character, degrading
himself, vilifying himself, even in the eyes of men whom he would
excite to worship him and pay him homage; overturning and confounding
the minds of those whom he had designed to enlighten. What has just
been said might suffice to undeceive us with respect to a book which
would pass better as being intended to destroy the idea of a Deity,
than as one containing the oracles dictated and revealed by him.
Nothing but a heap of absurdities could possibly result from
principles so false and irrational; nevertheless, let us take another
glance at the principal objects which this divine work continually
offers to our consideration. Let us pass on to the Deluge. The holy
books tell us, that in spite of the will of the Almighty, the whole
human race, who had already been punished by infirmities, accidents,
and death, continued to give themselves up to the most unaccountable
depravity. God becomes irritated, and repents having created them.
Doubtless he could not have foreseen this depravity; yet, rather than
change the wicked disposition of their hearts, which he holds in his
own hands, he performs the most surprising, the most impossible of
miracles. He at once drowns all the inhabitants, with the exception of
some favorites, whom he destines to re-people the earth with a chosen
race, that will render themselves more agreeable to their God. But
does the Almighty succeed in this new project? The chosen race, saved
from the waters of the deluge, on the wreck of the earth's
destruction, begin again to offend the Sovereign of nature, abandon
themselves to new crimes, give themselves up to idolatry, and
forgetting the recent effects of celestial vengeance, seem intent only
on provoking heaven by their wickedness. In order to provide a remedy,
God chooses for his favorite the idolater Abraham. To him he discovers
himself; he orders him to renounce the worship of his fathers, and
embrace a new religion. To guarantee this covenant, the Sovereign of
nature prescribes a melancholy, ridiculous, and whimsical ceremony, to
the observance of which a God of wisdom attaches his favors. The
posterity of this chosen man are consequently to enjoy, for
everlasting, the greatest advantages; they will always be the most
partial objects of tenderness, with the Almighty; they will be happier
than all other nations, whom the Deity will abandon to occupy himself
only for them.

These solemn promises, however, have not prevented the race of Abraham
from becoming the slaves of a vile nation, that was detested by the
Eternal; his dear friends experienced the most cruel treatment on the
part of the Egyptians. God could not guarantee them from the
misfortune that had befallen them; but in order to free them again, he
raised up to them a liberator, a chief, who performed the most
astonishing miracles. At the voice of Moses all nature is confounded;
God employs him to declare his will; yet he who could create and
annihilate the world could not subdue Pharaoh. The obstinacy of this
prince defeats, in ten successive trials, the divine omnipotence, of
which Moses is the depositary. After having vainly attempted to
overcome a monarch whose heart God had been pleased to harden, God has
recourse to the most ordinary method of rescuing his people; he tells
them to run off, after having first counselled them to rob the
Egyptians. The fugitives are pursued; but God, who protects these
robbers, orders the sea to swallow up the miserable people who had the
temerity to run after their property.

The Deity would, doubtless, have reason to be satisfied with the
conduct of a people that he had just delivered by such a great number
of miracles. Alas! neither Moses nor the Almighty could succeed in
persuading this obstinate people to abandon the false gods of that
country where they had been so miserable; they preferred them to the
living God who had just saved them. All the miracles which the Eternal
was daily performing in favor of Israel could not overcome their
stubbornness, which was still more inconceivable and wonderful than
the greatest miracles. These wonders, which are now extolled as
convincing proofs of the divine mission of Moses, were by the
confession of this same Moses, who has himself transmitted us the
accounts, incapable of convincing the people who were witnesses of
them, and never produced the good effects which the Deity proposed to
himself in performing them.

The credulity, the obstinacy, the continual depravity of the Jews,
Madam, are the most indubitable proofs of the falsity of the miracles
of Moses, as well as those of all his successors, to whom the
Scriptures attribute a supernatural power. If, in the face of these
facts, it be pretended that these miracles are attested, we shall be
compelled, at least, to agree that, according to the Bible account,
they have been entirely useless, that the Deity has been constantly
baffled in all his projects, and that he could never make of the
Hebrews a people submissive to his will.

We find, however, God continues obstinately employed to render his
people worthy of him; he does not lose sight of them for a moment; he
sacrifices whole nations to them, and sanctions their rapine,
violence, treason, murder, and usurpation. In a word, he permits them
to do any thing to obtain his ends. He is continually sending them
chiefs, prophets, and wonderful men, who try in vain to bring them to
their duty. The whole history of the Old Testament displays nothing
but the vain efforts of God to vanquish the obstinacy of his people.
To succeed in this, he employs kindnesses, miracles, and severity.
Sometimes he delivers up to them whole nations, to be hated, pillaged,
and exterminated; at other times he permits these same nations to
exercise over his favorite people the greatest of cruelties. He
delivers them into the hands of their enemies, who are likewise the
enemies of God himself. Idolatrous nations become masters of the Jews,
who are left to feel the insults, the contempt, and the most
unheard-of severities, and are sometimes compelled to sacrifice to
idols, and to violate the law of their God. The race of Abraham
becomes the prey of impious nations. The Assyrians, Persians, Greeks,
and Romans make them successively undergo the most cruel treatment and
suffer the most bloody outrages, and God even permits his temple to be
polluted in order to punish the Jews.

To terminate, at length, the troubles of his cherished people, the
pure Spirit that created the universe sends his own Son. It is said
that he had already been announced by his prophets, though this was
certainly done in a manner admirably adapted to prevent his being
known on his arrival. This Son of God becomes a man through his
kindness for the Jews, whom he came to liberate, to enlighten, and to
render the most happy of mortals. Being clothed with divine
omnipotence, he performs the most astonishing miracles, which do not,
however, convince the Jews. He can do every thing but convert them.
Instead of converting and liberating the Jews, he is himself
compelled, notwithstanding all his miracles, to undergo the most
infamous of punishments, and to terminate his life like a common
malefactor. God is condemned to death by the people he came to save.
The Eternal hardened and blinded those among whom he sent his own
Son; he did not foresee that this Son would be rejected. What do I
say? He managed matters in such a way as not to be recognized, and
took such steps that his favorite people derived no benefit from the
coming of the Messiah. In a word, the Deity seems to have taken the
greatest care that his projects, so favorable to the Jews, should be
nullified and rendered unprofitable!

When we expostulate against a conduct so strange and so unworthy of
the Deity, we are told it was necessary for every thing to take place
in such a manner, for the accomplishment of prophecies which had
announced that the Messiah should be disowned, rejected, and put to
death. But why did God, who knows all, and who foresaw the fate of his
dear Son, form the project of sending him among the Jews, to whom he
must have known that his mission would be useless? Would it not have
been easier neither to announce him nor send him? Would it not have
been more conformable to divine omnipotence to spare himself the
trouble of so many miracles, so many prophecies, so much useless
labor, so much wrath, and so many sufferings to his own Son, by giving
at once to the human race that degree of perfection he intended for
them?

We are told it was necessary that the Deity should have a victim; that
to repair the fault of the first man, no expedient would be sufficient
but the death of another God; that the only God of the universe could
not be appeased but by the blood of his own Son. I reply, in the first
place, that God had only to prevent the first man from committing a
fault; that this would have spared him much chagrin and sorrow, and
saved the life of his dear Son. I reply, likewise, that man is
incapable of offending God unless God either permitted it or consented
to it. I shall not examine how it is possible for God to have a Son,
who, being as much a God as himself, can be subject to death. I reply,
also, that it is impossible to perceive such a grave fault and sin in
taking an apple, and that we can find very little proportion between
the crime committed against the Deity by eating an apple and his Son's
death.

I know well enough I shall be told that these are all mysteries; but
I, in my turn, shall reply, that mysteries are imposing words,
imagined by men who know not how to get themselves out of the
labyrinth into which their false reasonings and senseless principles
have once plunged them.

Be this as it may, we are assured that the Messiah, or the deliverer
of the Jews, had been clearly predicted and described by the
prophecies contained in the Old Testament. In this case, I demand why
the Jews have disowned this wonderful man, this God whom God sent to
them. They answer me, that the incredulity of the Jews was likewise
predicted, and that divers inspired writers had announced the death of
the Son of God. To which I reply, that a sensible God ought not to
have sent him under such circumstances, that an omnipotent God ought
to have adopted measures more efficacious and certain to bring his
people into the way in which he wished them to go. If he wished not to
convert and liberate the Jews, it was quite useless to send his Son
among them, and thereby expose him to a death that was both certain
and foreseen.

They will not fail to tell me, that in the end the divine patience
became tired of the excesses of the Jews; that the immutable God, who
had sworn an eternal alliance with the race of Abraham, wished at
length to break the treaty, which he had, however, assured them should
last forever. It is pretended that God had determined to reject the
Hebrew nation, in order to adopt the Gentiles, whom he had hated and
despised nearly four thousand years. I reply, that this discourse is
very little conformable to the ideas we ought to have of a God who
_changes not_, whose mercy is _infinite_, and whose goodness is
_inexhaustible_. I shall tell them, that in this case the Messiah
announced by the Jewish prophets was destined for the Jews, and that
he ought to have been their liberator, instead of destroying their
worship and their religion. If it be possible to unravel any thing in
these obscure, enigmatical, and symbolical oracles of the prophets of
Judea, as we find them in the Bible,--if there be any means of
guessing the meaning of the obscure riddles, which have been decorated
with the pompous name of prophecies, we shall perceive that the
inspired writers, when they are in a good humor, always promised the
Jews a man that will redress their grievances, restore the kingdom of
Judah, and not one that should destroy the religion of Moses. If it
were for the Gentiles that the Messiah should come, he is no longer
the Messiah promised to the Jews and announced by their prophets. If
Jesus be the Messiah of the Jews, he could not be the destroyer of
their nation.

Should I be told that Jesus himself declared that he came to fulfil
the law of Moses, and not to abolish it, I ask why Christians do not
observe the law of the Jews?

Thus, in whatever light we regard Jesus Christ, we perceive that he
could not be the man whom the prophets have predicted, since it is
evident that he came only to destroy the religion of the Jews, which,
though instituted by God himself, had nevertheless become disagreeable
to him. If this inconstant God, who was wearied with the worship of
the Jews, had at length repented of his injustice towards the
Gentiles, it was to them that he ought to have sent his Son. By acting
in this way he would at least have saved his old friends from a
frightful _deicide_, which he forced them to commit, because they were
not able to recognize the God he sent amongst them. Besides, the Jews
were very pardonable in not acknowledging their expected Messiah in an
artisan of Galilee, who was destitute of all the characteristics which
the prophets had related, and during whose lifetime his
fellow-citizens were neither liberated nor happy.

We are told that he performed miracles. He healed the sick, caused the
lame to walk, gave sight to the blind, and raised the dead. At length
he accomplished his own resurrection. It might be so believed; yet he
has visibly failed in that miracle for which alone he came upon earth.
He was never able either to persuade or to convert the Jews, who
witnessed all the daily wonders that he performed. Notwithstanding
those prodigies, they placed him ignominiously on the cross. In spite
of his divine power, he was incapable of escaping punishment. He
wished to die, to render the Jews culpable, and to have the pleasure
of rising again the third day, in order to confound the ingratitude
and obstinacy of his fellow-citizens. What is the result? Did his
fellow-citizens concede to this great miracle, and have they at length
acknowledged him? Far from it; they never saw him. The Son of God, who
arose from the dead in secrecy, showed himself only to his adherents.
They alone pretend to have conversed with him; they alone have
furnished us with the particulars of his life and miracles; and yet by
such suspicious testimony they wish to convince us of the divinity of
his mission eighteen hundred years after the event, although he could
not convince his contemporaries, the Jews.

We are then told that many Jews have been converted to Jesus Christ;
that after his death many others were converted; that the witnesses
of the life and miracles of the Son of God have sealed their testimony
with their blood; that men will not die to attest falsehood; that by a
visible effect of the divine power, the people of a great part of the
earth have adopted Christianity, and still persist in the belief of
this divine religion.

In all this I perceive nothing like a miracle. I see nothing but what
is conformable to the ordinary progress of the human mind. An
enthusiast, a dexterous impostor, a crafty juggler, can easily find
adherents in a stupid, ignorant, and superstitious populace. These
followers, captivated by counsels, or seduced by promises, consent to
quit a painful and laborious life, to follow a man who gives them to
understand that he will make them _fishers of men_; that is to say, he
will enable them to subsist by his cunning tricks, at the expense of
the multitude who are always credulous. The juggler, with the
assistance of his remedies, can perform cures which seem miraculous to
ignorant spectators. These simple creatures immediately regard him as
a supernatural being. He adopts this opinion himself, and confirms the
high notions which his partisans have formed respecting him. He feels
himself interested in maintaining this opinion among his sectaries,
and finds out the secret of exciting their enthusiasm. To accomplish
this point, our empiric becomes a preacher; he makes use of riddles,
obscure sentences, and parables to the multitude, that always admire
what they do not understand. To render himself more agreeable to the
people, he declaims among poor, ignorant, foolish men, against the
rich, the great, the learned; but above all, against the _priests_,
who in all ages have been _avaricious_, _imperious_, _uncharitable_,
and _burdensome_ to the people. If these discourses be eagerly
received among the vulgar, who are always morose, envious, and
jealous, they displease all those who see themselves the objects of
the invective and satire of the popular preacher.

They consequently wish to check his progress, they lay snares for him,
they seek to surprise him in a fault, in order that they may unmask
him and have their revenge. By dint of imposture, he outwits them;
yet, in consequence of his miracles and illusions, he at length
discovers himself. He is then seized and punished, and none of his
adherents abide by him, except a few idiots, that nothing can
undeceive; none but partisans, accustomed to lead with him a life of
idleness; none but dexterous knaves, who wish to continue their
impositions on the public, by deceptions similar to those of their old
master, by obscure, unconnected, confused, and fanatical harangues,
and by declamations against _magistrates_ and _priests_. These, who
have the power in their own hands, finish by persecuting them,
imprisoning them, flogging them, chastising them, and putting them to
death. Poor wretches, habituated to poverty, undergo all these
sufferings with a fortitude which we frequently meet with in
malefactors. In some we find their courage fortified by the zeal of
fanaticism. This fortitude surprises, agitates, excites pity, and
irritates the spectators against those who torment men whose constancy
makes them looked upon as being innocent, who, it is supposed, may
possibly be right, and for whom compassion likewise interests itself.
It is thus that enthusiasm is propagated, and that persecution always
augments the number of the partisans of those who are persecuted.

I shall leave to you, Madam, the trouble of applying the history of
our juggler, and his adherents, to that of the founder, the apostles,
and the martyrs of the Christian religion.

With whatever art they have written the life of Jesus Christ, which we
hold only from his apostles, or their disciples, it furnishes a
sufficiency of materials on which to found our conjectures. I shall
only observe to you, that the Jewish nation was remarkable for its
credulity; that the companions of Jesus were chosen from among the
dregs of the people; that Jesus always gave a preference to the
populace, with whom he wished, undoubtedly, to form a rampart against
the _priests_; and that, at last, Jesus was seized immediately after
the most splendid of his miracles. We see him put to death immediately
after the resurrection of Lazarus, which, even according to the gospel
account, bears the most evident characters of fraud, which are visible
to every one who examines it without prejudice.

I imagine, Madam, that what I have just stated will suffice to show
you what opinion you ought to entertain respecting the founder of
Christianity and his first sectaries. These have been either dupes or
fanatics, who permitted themselves to be seduced by deceptions, and by
discourses conformable to their desires, or by dexterous impostors,
who knew how to make the best of the tricks of their old master, to
whom they have become such able successors. In this way did they
establish a religion which enabled them to live at the people's
expense, and which still maintains in abundance those we pay, at such
a high rate, for transmitting from father to son the fables, visions,
and wonders which were born and nursed in Judea. The propagation of
the Christian faith, and the constancy of their martyrs, have nothing
surprising in them. The people flock after all those that show them
wonders, and receive without reasoning on it every thing that is told
them. They transmit to their children the tales they have heard
related, and by degrees these opinions are adopted by kings, by the
great, and even by the learned.

As for the martyrs, their constancy has nothing supernatural in it.
The first Christians, as well as all new sectaries, were treated, by
the Jews and pagans, as disturbers of the public peace. They were
already sufficiently intoxicated with the fanaticism with which their
religion inspired them, and were persuaded that God held himself in
readiness to crown them, and to receive them into his eternal
dwelling. In a word, seeing the heavens opened, and being convinced
that the end of the world was approaching, it is not surprising that
they had courage to set punishment at defiance, to endure it with
constancy, and to despise death. To these motives, founded on their
religious opinions, many others were added, which are always of such a
nature as to operate strongly upon the minds of men. Those who, as
Christians, were imprisoned and ill-treated on account of their faith,
were visited, consoled, encouraged, honored, and loaded with
kindnesses by their brethren, who took care of and succored them
during their detention, and who almost adored them after their death.
Those, on the other hand, who displayed weakness, were despised and
detested, and when they gave way to repentance, they were compelled to
undergo a rigorous penitence, which lasted as long as they lived. Thus
were the most powerful motives united to inspire the martyrs with
courage; and this courage has nothing more supernatural about it than
that which determines us daily to encounter the most perilous dangers,
through the fear of dishonoring ourselves in the eyes of our
fellow-citizens. Cowardice would expose us to infamy all the rest of
our days. There is nothing miraculous in the constancy of a man to
whom an offer is made, on the one hand, of eternal happiness and the
highest honors, and who, on the other hand, sees himself menaced with
hatred, contempt, and the most lasting regret.

You perceive, then, Madam, that nothing can be easier than to
overthrow the proofs by which Christian doctors establish the
revelation which they pretend is so well authenticated. Miracles,
martyrs, and prophecies prove nothing.

Were all the wonders true that are related in the Old and New
Testament, they would afford no proof in favor of divine omnipotence,
but, on the contrary, would prove the inability under which the Deity
has continually labored, of convincing mankind of the truths he wished
to announce to them. On the other hand, supposing these miracles to
have produced all the effects which the Deity had a right to expect
from them, we have no longer any reason to believe them, except on the
tradition and recitals of others, which are often suspicious, faulty,
and exaggerated. The miracles of Moses are attested only by Moses, or
by Jewish writers interested in making them believed by the people
they wished to govern. The miracles of Jesus are attested only by his
disciples, who sought to obtain adherents, in relating to a credulous
people prodigies to which they pretended to have been witnesses, or
which some of them, perhaps, believed they had really seen. All those
who deceive mankind are not always cheats; they are frequently
deceived by those who are knaves in reality. Besides, I believe I have
sufficiently proved, that miracles are repugnant to the essence of an
immutable God, as well as to his wisdom, which will not permit him to
alter the wise laws he has himself established. In short, miracles are
useless, since those related in Scripture have not produced the
effects which God expected from them.

The proof of the Christian religion taken from prophecy has no better
foundation. Whoever will examine without prejudice these oracles
pretended to be divine will find only an ambiguous, unintelligible,
absurd, and unconnected jargon, entirely unworthy of a God who
intended to display his prescience, and to instruct his people with
regard to future events. There does not exist in the Holy Scriptures a
single prophecy sufficiently precise to be literally applied to Jesus
Christ. To convince yourself of this truth, ask the most learned of
our doctors which are the formal prophecies wherein they have the
happiness to discover the Messiah. You will then perceive that it is
only by the aid of forced explanations, figures, parables, and
mystical interpretations, by which they are enabled to bring forward
any thing sensible and applicable to the _god-made-man_ whom they tell
us to adore. It would seem as if the Deity had made predictions only
that we might understand nothing about them.

In these equivocal oracles, whose meaning it is impossible to
penetrate, we find nothing but the language of intoxication,
fanaticism, and delirium. When we fancy we have found something
intelligible, it is easy to perceive that the prophets intended to
speak of events that took place in their own age, or of personages who
had preceded them. It is thus that our doctors apply gratuitously to
Christ prophecies or rather narratives of what happened respecting
David, Solomon, Cyrus, &c.

We imagine we see the chastisement of the Jewish people announced in
recitals where it is evident the only matter in question was the
Babylonish captivity. In this event, so long prior to Jesus Christ,
they have imagined finding a prediction of the dispersion of the Jews,
supposed to be a visible punishment for their _deicide_, and which
they now wish to pass off as an indubitable proof of the truth of
Christianity.

It is not, then, astonishing that the ancient and modern Jews do not
see in the prophets what our doctors teach us, and what they
themselves imagine they have seen. Jesus himself has not been more
happy in his predictions than his predecessors. In the gospel he
announces to his disciples in the most formal manner the destruction
of the world and the last judgment, as events that were at hand, and
which must take place before the existing generation had passed away.
Yet the world still endures, and appears in no danger of finishing. It
is true, our doctors pretend that, in the prediction of Jesus Christ,
he spoke of the ruin of Jerusalem by Vespasian and Titus; but none but
those who have not read the gospel would submit to such a change, or
satisfy themselves with such an evasion. Besides, in adopting it we
must confess at least that the Son of God himself was unable to
prophesy with greater precision than his obscure predecessors.

Indeed, at every page of these sacred books, which we are assured were
inspired by God himself, this God seems to have made a revelation only
to conceal himself. He does not speak but to be misunderstood. He
announces his oracles in such a way only that we can neither
comprehend them nor make any application of them. He performs miracles
only to make unbelievers. He manifests himself to mankind only to
stupefy their judgment and bewilder the reason he has bestowed on
them. The Bible continually represents God to us as a seducer, an
enticer, a suspicious tyrant, who knows not what kind of conduct to
observe with respect to his subjects; who amuses himself by laying
snares for his creatures, and who tries them that he may have the
pleasure of inflicting a punishment for yielding to his temptations.
This God is occupied only in building to destroy, in demolishing to
rebuild. Like a child disgusted with its playthings, he is continually
undoing what he has done, and breaking what was the object of his
desires. We find no foresight, no constancy, no consistency in his
conduct; no connection, no clearness in his discourses. When he
performs any thing, he sometimes approves what he has done, and at
other times repents of it. He irritates and vexes himself with what he
has permitted to be done, and, in spite of his infinite power, he
suffers man to offend him, and consents to let Satan, his creature,
derange all his projects. In a word, the revelations of the Christians
and Jews seem to have been imagined only to render uncertain and to
annihilate the qualities attributed to the Deity, and which are
declared to constitute his essence. The whole Scripture, the entire
system of the Christian religion, appears to be founded only on the
incapability of God, who was unable to render the human race as wise,
as good, and as happy as he wished them. The death of his innocent
Son, who was immolated to his vengeance, is entirely useless for the
most numerous portion of the earth's inhabitants; almost the whole
human race, in spite of the continual efforts of the Deity, continue
to offend him, to frustrate his designs, resist his will, and to
persevere in their wickedness.

It is on notions so fatal, so contradictory, and so unworthy of a God
who is just, wise, and good, of a God that is rational, independent,
immutable, and omnipotent, on whom the Christian religion is founded,
and which religion is said to be established forever by God, who,
nevertheless, became disgusted with the religion of the Jews, with
whom he had made and sworn an eternal covenant.

Time must prove whether God be more constant and faithful in
fulfilling his engagements with the Christians than he has been to
fulfil those he made with Abraham and his posterity. I confess, Madam,
that his past conduct alarms me as to what he may finally perform. If
he himself acknowledged by the mouth of Ezekiel that the laws he had
given to the Jews _were not good_, he may very possibly, some day or
other, find fault with those which he has given to Christians.

Our priests themselves seem to partake of my suspicions, and to fear
that God will be wearied of that protection which he has so long
granted to his church. The inquietudes which they evince, the efforts
which they make to hinder the civilization of the world, the
persecutions which they raise against all those who contradict them,
seem to prove that they mistrust the promises of Jesus Christ, and
that they are not certainly convinced of the eternal durability of a
religion which does not appear to them divine, but because it gives
them the right to command like gods over their fellow-citizens. They
would undoubtedly consider the destruction of their empire a very
grievous thing; but yet if the sovereigns of the earth and their
people should once grow weary of the sacerdotal yoke, we may be sure
the Sovereign of heaven would not require a longer time to become
equally disgusted.

However this may be, Madam, I venture to hope the perusal of this
letter will fully undeceive you of a blind veneration for books which
are called _divine_, although they appear as if invented to degrade
and destroy the God who is asserted to be their author. My first
letter, I feel confident, enabled you to perceive that the dogmas
established by these same books, or subsequently fabricated to justify
the ideas thus given of God, are not less contrary to all notions of a
Deity infinitely perfect. A system which in the outset is based upon
false principles can never become any thing else than a mass of
falsehoods.

                                                I am, &c.



LETTER IV.

  Of the fundamental Dogmas of the Christian Religion.


You are aware, Madam, that our theological doctors pretend these
revealed books, which I summarily examined in my preceding letter, do
not include a single word that was not inspired by the Spirit of God.
What I have already said to you is sufficient to show that in setting
out with this supposition, the Divinity has formed a work the most
shapeless, imperfect, contradictory, and unintelligible which ever
existed; a work, in a word, of which any man of sense would blush with
shame to be the author. If any prophecy hath verified itself for the
Christians, it is that of Isaiah, which saith, "Hearing ye shall hear,
but shall not understand." But in this case we reply that it was
sufficiently useless to speak not to be comprehended; to reveal _that_
which cannot be comprehended is to reveal _nothing_.

We need not, then, be surprised if the Christians, notwithstanding the
revelation of which they assure us they have been the favorites, have
no precise ideas either of the Divinity, or of his will, or the way in
which his oracles are to be interpreted. The book from which they
should be able to do so serves only to confound the simplest notions,
to throw them into the greatest incertitude, and create eternal
disputations. If it was the project of the Divinity, it would,
without doubt, be attended with perfect success. The teachers of
Christianity never agree on the manner in which they are to understand
the truths that God has given himself the trouble to reveal; all the
efforts which they have employed to this time have not yet been
capable of making any thing clear, and the dogmas which they have
successively invented have been insufficient to justify to the
understanding of one man of good sense the conduct of an infinitely
perfect Being.

Hence, many among them, perceiving the inconveniences which would
result from the reading of the holy books, have carefully kept them
out of the hands of the vulgar and illiterate; for they plainly
foresaw that if they were read by such they would necessarily bring on
themselves reproach, since it would never fail that every honest man
of good sense would discover in those books only a crowd of
absurdities. Thus the oracles of God are not even made for those for
whom they are addressed; it is requisite to be initiated in the
mysteries of a priesthood, to have the privilege of discerning in the
holy writings the light which the Divinity destined to all his dear
children. But are the theologians themselves able to make plain the
difficulties which the sacred books present in every page? By
meditating on the mysteries which they contain, have they given us
ideas more plain of the intentions of the Divinity? No; without doubt
they explain one mystery by citing another; they scatter new
obscurities on previous obscurities; rarely do they agree among
themselves; and when by chance their opinions coincide, _we_ are not
more enlightened, nor is our judgment more convinced; on the other
hand, our reason is the more confounded.

If they do agree on some point, it is only to tell us that human
reason, of which God is the author, is depraved; but what is the
purport of this coincidence in their opinions, if it be not to tax the
Deity with imbecility, injustice, and malignity? For why should God,
in creating a reasonable being, not have given him an understanding
which nothing could corrupt? They reply to us by saying "that the
reason of man is necessarily limited; that perfection could not be the
portion of a _creature_; that the designs of God are not like those of
man." But, in this case, why should the Divinity be offended by the
necessary imperfections which he discovers in his creatures? How can a
just God require that our mind must admit what it was not made to
comprehend? Can he who is above our reason be understood by us, whose
reason is so limited? If God be infinite, how can a finite creature
reason respecting him? If the mysteries and hidden designs of the
Divinity are of such a nature as not to be comprehended by man, what
good can we derive from their investigation? Had God designed that we
should occupy our thoughts with his purposes, would he not have given
us an understanding proportionate to the things he wished us to
penetrate?

You see, then, Madam, that in depressing our reason, in supposing it
corrupted, our priests, at the same time, annihilate even the
necessity of religion, which cannot be either useful or important to
us, if above our comprehension. They do more in supposing human reason
depraved; they accuse God of injustice, in requiring that our reason
should conceive what cannot be conceived. They accuse him of
imbecility in not rendering this reason more perfect. In a word, in
degrading man they degrade God, and rob him of those attributes which
compose his essence. Would you call him a just and good parent, who,
wishing that his children should walk by an obscure route, filled with
difficulties, would only give them for their conduct a light too weak
to find their way, and to avoid the continual dangers by which they
are surrounded? Should you consider that the father had adequately
provided for their security by giving them in writing unintelligible
instructions, which they could not decipher by the weak light he had
given them?

Our spiritual directors will not fail to tell us that the corruption
of reason and the weakness of the human understanding are the
consequences of sin. But why has man become sinful? How has the good
God permitted his dear children, for whom he created the universe, and
of whom he exacts obedience, to offend him, and thereby extinguish,
or, at least, weaken the light he had given them? On the other hand,
the reason of Adam ought to be, without doubt, completely perfect
before his fall. In this case, why did it not prevent that fall and
its consequences? Was the reason of Adam corrupted even beforehand by
incurring the wrath of his God? Was it depraved before he had done any
thing to deprave it?

To justify this strange conduct of Providence, to clear him from
passing as the author of sin, to save him the ridicule of being the
cause or the accomplice of offences which he did against himself, the
theologians have imagined a _being_ subordinate to the divine power.
It is the secondary being they make the author of all the evil which
is committed in the universe. In the impossibility of reconciling the
continual disorders of which the world is the theatre with the
purposes of a Deity replete with goodness, the Creator and Preserver
of the universe, who delights in order, and who seeks only the
happiness of his creatures, they have trumped up a destructive genius,
imbued with wickedness, who conspires to render men miserable, and to
overthrow the beneficent views of the Eternal. This bad and perverse
being they call _Satan_, the _Devil_, the _Evil One_; and we see him
play a great game in all the religions of the world, the founders of
which have found in the impotence of Deity the sources of both good
and evil. By the aid of this imaginary being they have been enabled to
resolve all their difficulties; yet they could not foresee that this
invention, which went to annihilate or abridge the power of Deity, was
a system filled with palpable contradictions, and that if the Devil
were really the author of sin, it would be he, in all justice, who
ought to undergo all its punishment.

If God is the author of all, it is he who created the Devil; if the
Devil is wicked, if he strives to counteract the projects of the
Divinity, it is the Divinity who has allowed the overthrow of his
projects, or who has not had sufficient authority to prevent the Devil
from exercising his power. If God had wished that the Devil should not
have existed, the Devil would not have existed. God could annihilate
him at one word, or, at least, God could change his disposition if
injurious to us, and contrary to the projects of a beneficent
Providence. Since, then, the Devil does exist, and does such
marvellous things as are attributed to him, we are compelled to
conclude that the Divinity has found it good that he should exist and
agitate, as he does, all his works by a perpetual interruption and
perversion of his designs.

Thus, Madam, the invention of the Devil does not remedy the evil; on
the contrary, it but entangles the priests more and more. By placing
to Satan's account all the evil which he commits in the world, they
exculpate the Deity of nothing; all the power with which they have
supposed the Devil invested is taken from that assigned to the
Divinity; and you know very well that according to the notions of the
Christian religion, the Devil has more adherents than God himself;
they are always stirring their fellow-creatures up to revolt against
God; without ceasing, in despite of God, Satan leads them into
perdition, except one man only, who refused to follow him, and who
found grace in the eyes of the Lord. You are not ignorant that the
millions that follow the standard of Beelzebub are to be plunged with
him into eternal misery.

But then has Satan himself incurred the disgrace of the All-powerful?
By what forfeit has he merited becoming the eternal object of the
anger of that God who created him? The Christian religion will explain
all. It informs us that the Devil was in his origin an angel; that is
to say, a pure spirit, full of perfections, created by the Divinity to
occupy a distinguishing situation in the celestial court, destined,
like the other ministers of the Eternal, to receive his orders, and to
enjoy perpetual blessedness. But he lost himself through ambition; his
pride blinded him, and he dared to revolt against his Creator; he
engaged other spirits, as pure as himself, in the same senseless
enterprise; in consequence of his rashness, he was hurled headlong out
of heaven, his miserable adherents were involved in his fall, and,
having been hardened by the divine pleasure in their foolish
dispositions, they have no other occupation assigned them in the
universe than to tempt mankind, and endeavor to augment the number of
the enemies of God, and the victims of his wrath.

It is by the assistance of this fable that the Christian doctors
perceive the fall of Adam, prepared by the Almighty himself anterior
to the creation of the world. Was it necessary that the Divinity
should entertain a great desire that man might sin, since he would
thereby have an opportunity of providing the means of making him
sinful? In effect, it was the Devil who, in process of time, covered
with the skin of a serpent, solicited the mother of the human race to
disobey God, and involve her husband in her rebellion. But the
difficulty is not removed by these inventions. If Satan, in the time
he was an angel, lived in innocence, and merited the good will of his
Maker, how came God to suffer him to entertain ideas of pride,
ambition, and rebellion? How came this angel of light so blind as not
to see the folly of such an enterprise? Did he not know that his
Creator was all-powerful? Who was it that tempted Satan? What reason
had the Divinity for selecting him to be the object of his fury, the
destroyer of his projects, the enemy of his power? If pride be a sin,
if the idea itself of rebellion is the greatest of crimes, _sin was,
then, anterior to sin_, and Lucifer offended God, even in his state of
purity; for, in fine, a being pure, innocent, agreeable to his God,
who had all the perfections of which a creature could be susceptible,
ought to be exempt from ambition, pride, and folly. We ought, also, to
say as much for our first parent, who, notwithstanding his wisdom, his
innocence, and the knowledge infused into him by God himself, could
not prevent himself from falling into the temptation of a demon.

Hence, in every shift, the priests invariably make God the author of
sin. It was God who tempted Lucifer before the creation of the world;
Lucifer, in his turn, became the tempter of man and the cause of all
the evil our race suffers. It appears, therefore, that God created
both angels and men to give them an opportunity of sinning.

It is easy to perceive the absurdity of this system, to save which the
theologians have invented another still more absurd, that it might
become the foundation of all their religious revelations, and by means
of which they idly imagine they can fully justify the divine
providence. The system of truth supposes the _free will_ of man--that
he is his own master, capable of doing good or ill, and of directing
his own plans. At the words _free will_, I already perceive, Madam,
that you tremble, and doubtless anticipate a metaphysical
dissertation. Rest assured of the contrary; for I flatter myself that
the question will be simplified and rendered clear, I shall not merely
say for you, but for all your sex who are not resolved to be wilfully
blind.

To say that man is a free agent is to detract from the power of the
Supreme Being; it is to pretend that God is not the master of his own
will; it is to advance that a weak creature can, when it pleases him,
revolt against his Creator, derange his projects, disturb the order
which he loves, render his labors useless, afflict him with chagrin,
cause him sorrow, act with effect against him, and arouse his anger
and his passions. Thus, at the first glance, you perceive that this
principle gives rise to a crowd of absurdities. If God is the friend
of order, every thing performed by his creatures would necessarily
conduce to the maintenance of this order, because otherwise the divine
will would fail to have its effect. If God has plans, they must of
necessity be always executed; if man can afflict his God, man is the
master of this God's happiness, and the league he has formed with the
Devil is potent enough to thwart the plans of the Divinity. In a word,
if man is free to sin, God is no longer Omnipotent.

In reply, we are told that God, without detriment to his Omnipotence,
might make man a free agent, and that this liberty is a benefit by
which God places man in a situation where he may merit the heavenly
bounty; but, on the other hand, this liberty likewise exposes him to
encounter God's hatred, to offend him, and to be overwhelmed by
infinite sufferings. From this I conclude that this liberty is _not_ a
benefit, and that it evidently is inconsistent with divine goodness.
This goodness would be more real if men had always sufficient
resolution to do what is pleasing to God, conformably to order, and
conducive to the happiness of their fellow-creatures. If men, in
virtue of their liberty, do things contrary to the will of God, God,
who is supposed to have the prescience of foreseeing all, ought to
have taken measures to prevent men from abusing their liberty; if he
foresaw they would sin, he ought to have given them the means of
avoiding it; if he could not prevent them from doing ill, he has
consented to the ill they have done; if he has consented, he should
not be offended; if he is offended, or if he punish them for the evil
they have done with his permission, he is unjust and cruel; if he
suffer them to rush on to their destruction, he is bound afterwards to
take them to himself; and he cannot with reason find fault with them
for the abuse of their liberty, in being deceived or seduced by the
objects which he himself had placed in their way to seduce them, to
tempt them, and to determine their wills to do evil.[4]

[4] See what Bayle says, _Dict. Crit._, art. _Origène_, Rem. E., art.
_Pauliciens_, Rem. E., F., M., and tom. iij. of the _Réponses aux
Questions d'un Provincial_.

What would you say of a father who should give to his children, in the
infancy of age, and when they were without experience, the liberty of
satisfying their disordered appetites, till they should convince
themselves of their evil tendency? Would not such a parent be in the
right to feel uneasy at the abuse which they should make of their
liberty which he had given them? Would it not be accounted malice in
this parent, who should have foreseen what was to happen, not to have
furnished his children with the capacity of directing their own
conduct so as to avoid the evils they might be assailed with? Would it
not show in him the height of madness were he to punish them for the
evil which he had done, and the chagrin which they occasioned him?
Would it not be to himself that we should ascribe the sottishness and
wickedness of his children?

You see, then, the points of view under which this system of men's
free will shows us the Deity. This free will becomes a present the
most dangerous, since it puts man in the condition of doing evil that
is truly frightful. We may thence conclude that this system, far from
justifying God, makes him capable of malice, imprudence, and
injustice. But this is to overturn all our ideas of a being perfectly,
nay, infinitely wise and good, consenting to punish his creatures for
sins which he gave them the power of committing, or, which is the
same, suffering the Devil to inspire them with evil. All the
subtilties of theology have really only a tendency to destroy the very
notions itself inculcates concerning the Divinity. This theology is
evidently the tub of the Danaides.

It is a fact, however, that our theologians have imagined expedients
to support their ruinous suppositions. You have often heard mention
made of _predestination_ and _grace_--terrible words, which constantly
excite disputes among us, for which reason would be forced to blush if
Christians did not make it a duty to renounce reason, and which
contests are attended with consequences very dangerous to society. But
let not this surprise you; these false and obscure principles have
even among the theologians produced dissensions; and their quarrels
would be indifferent if they did not attach more importance to them
than they really deserve.

But to proceed. The system of predestination supposes that God, in his
eternal secrets, has resolved that some men should be elected, and,
being thus his favorites, receive special grace. By this grace they
are supposed to be made agreeable to God, and meet for eternal
happiness. But then an infinite number of others are destined to
perdition, and receive not the grace necessary to eternal salvation.
These contradictory and opposite propositions make it pretty evident
that the system is absurd. It makes God, a being infinitely perfect
and good, a partial tyrant, who has created a vast number of human
beings to be the sport of his caprice and the victims of his
vengeance. It supposes that God will punish his creatures for not
having received that grace which he did not deign to give them; it
presents this God to us under traits so revolting that the theologians
are forced to avow that the whole is a profound mystery, into which
the human mind cannot penetrate. But if man is not made to lift his
inquisitive eye on this frightful mystery, that is to say, on this
astonishing absurdity, which our teachers have idly endeavored to
square to their views of Deity, or to reconcile the atrocious
injustice of their God with his infinite goodness, by what right do
they wish us to adore this mystery which they would compel us to
believe, and to subscribe to an opinion that saps the divine goodness
to its very foundation? How do they reason upon a dogma, and quarrel
with acrimony about a system of which even themselves can comprehend
nothing?

The more you examine religion, the more occasion you will have to be
convinced that those things which our divines call _mysteries_ are
nothing else but the difficulties with which they are themselves
embarrassed, when they are unable to avoid the absurdities into which
their own false principles necessarily involve them. Nevertheless,
this word is not enough to impose upon us; the reverend doctors do not
themselves understand the things about which they incessantly speak.
They invent words from an inability to explain things, and they give
the name of _mysteries_ to what they comprehend no better than
ourselves.

All the religions in the world are founded upon predestination, and
all the pretended revelations among men, as has been already pointed
out to you, inculcate this odious dogma, which makes Providence an
unjust mother-in-law, who shows a blind preference for some of her
children to the prejudice of all the others. They make God a tyrant,
who punishes the inevitable faults to which he has impelled them, or
into which he has allowed them to be seduced. This dogma, which served
as the foundation of Paganism, is now the grand pivot of the Christian
religion, whose God should excite no less hatred than the most wicked
divinities of idolatrous people. With such notions, is it not
astonishing that this God should appear, to those who meditate on his
attributes, an object sufficiently terrible to agitate the
imagination, and to lead some to indulge in dangerous follies?

The dogma of another life serves also to exculpate the Deity from
these apparent injustices or aberrations, with which he might
naturally be accused. It is pretended that it has pleased him to
distinguish his friends on earth, seeing he has amply provided for
their future happiness in an abode prepared for their souls. But, as I
believe I have already hinted, these proofs that God makes some good,
and leaves others wicked, either evince injustice on his part, at
least temporary, or they contradict his omnipotence. If God can do all
things, if he is privy to all the thoughts and actions of men, what
need has he of any proofs? If he has resolved to give them grace
necessary to save them, has he not assured them they will not perish?
If he is unjust and cruel, this God is not immutable, and belies his
character; at least for a time he derogates from the perfections which
we should expect to find in him. What would you think of a king, who,
during a particular time, would discover to his favorites traits the
most frightful, in order that they might incur his disgrace, and who
should afterwards insist on their believing him a very good and
amiable man, to obtain his favor again? Would not such a prince be
pronounced wicked, fanciful, and tyrannical? Nevertheless, this
supposed prince might be pardoned by some, if for his own interest,
and the better to assure himself of the attachment of his friends, he
might give them some smiles of his favor. It is not so God, who knows
all, who can do all, who has nothing to fear from the dispositions of
his creatures. From all these reasonings, we may see that the Deity,
whom the priests have conjured up, plays a great game, very
ridiculous, very unjust, on the supposition that he tries his
servants, and that he allows them to suffer in this world, to prepare
them for another. The theologians have not failed to discover motives
in this conduct of God which they can as readily justify; but these
pretended motives are borrowed from the omnipotence of this being, by
his absolute power over his creatures, to whom he is not obliged to
render an account of his actions; but especially in this theology,
which professes to justify God, do we not see it make him a despot and
tyrant more hateful than any of his creatures?

                                                I am, &c.



LETTER V.

  Of the Immortality of the Soul, and of the Dogma of another Life.


We, have now, Madam, come to the examination of the dogma of a future
life, in which it is supposed that the Divinity, after causing men to
pass through the temptations, the trials, and the difficulties of
this life, for the purpose of satisfying himself whether they are
worthy of his love or his hatred, will bestow the recompenses or
inflict the chastisements which they deserved. This dogma, which is
one of the capital points of the Christian religion, is founded on a
great many hypotheses or suppositions, which we have already glanced
at, and which we have shown to be absurd and incompatible with the
notions which the same religion gives us of the Deity. In effect, it
supposes us capable of offending or pleasing the Author of Nature, of
influencing his humor, or exciting his passions; afflicting,
tormenting, resisting, and thwarting the plans of Deity. It supposes,
moreover, the free-will of man--a system which we have seen
incompatible with the goodness, justice, and omnipotence of the Deity.
It supposes, further, that God has occasion of proving his creatures,
and making them, if I may so speak, pass a novitiate to know what they
are worth when he shall square accounts with them. It supposes in God,
who has created men for happiness only, the inability to put, by one
grand effort, all men in the road, whence they may infallibly arrive
at permanent felicity. It supposes that man will survive himself, or
that the same being, after death, will continue to think, to feel, and
act as he did in this life. In a word, it supposes the immortality of
the soul--an opinion unknown to the Jewish lawgiver, who is totally
silent on this topic to the people to whom God had manifested himself;
an opinion which even in the time of Jesus Christ one sect at
Jerusalem admitted, while another sect rejected; an opinion about
which the Messiah, who came to instruct them, deigned to fix the ideas
of those who might deceive themselves in this respect; an opinion
which appears to have been engendered in Egypt, or in India, anterior
to the Jewish religion, but which was unknown among the Hebrews till
they took occasion to instruct themselves in the Pagan philosophy of
the Greeks, and doctrines of Plato.

Whatever might be the origin of this doctrine, it was eagerly adopted
by the Christians, who judged it very convenient to their system of
religion, all the parts of which are founded on the marvellous, and
which made it a crime to admit any truths agreeable to reason and
common sense. Thus, without going back to the inventors of this
inconceivable dogma, let us examine dispassionately what this opinion
really is; let us endeavor to penetrate to the principles on which it
is supported; let us adopt it, if we shall find it an idea conformable
to reason; let us reject it, if it shall appear destitute of proof,
and at variance with common sense, even though it had been received as
an established truth in all antiquity, though it may have been adopted
by many millions of mankind.

Those who maintain the opinion of the soul's immortality, regard
it--that is, the soul--as a being distinct from the body, as a
substance, or essence, totally different from the corporeal frame, and
they designate it by the name of _spirit_. If we ask them what a
spirit is, they tell us it is not matter; and if we ask them what they
understand by that which is not matter, which is the only thing of
which we cannot form an idea, they tell us it is a spirit. In general,
it is easy to see that men the most savage, as well as the most subtle
thinkers, make use of the word _spirit_ to designate all the causes of
which they cannot form clear notions; hence the word spirit hath been
used to designate a being of which none can form any idea.

Notwithstanding, the divines pretend that this unknown being, entirely
different from the body, of a substance which has nothing conformable
with itself, is, nevertheless, capable of setting the body in motion;
and this, doubtless, is a mystery very inconceivable. We have noticed
the alliance between this spiritual substance and the material body,
whose functions it regulates. As the divines have supposed that matter
could neither think, nor will, nor perceive, they have believed that
it might conceive much better those operations attributed to a being
of which they had ideas less clear than they can form of matter. In
consequence, they have imagined many gratuitous suppositions to
explain the union of the soul with the body. In fine, in the
impossibility of overcoming the insurmountable barriers which oppose
them, the priests have made man twofold, by supposing that he contains
something distinct from himself; they have cut through all
difficulties by saying that this union is a great mystery, which man
cannot understand; and they have everlasting recourse to the
omnipotence of God, to his supreme will, to the miracles which he has
always wrought; and those last are never-failing, final resources,
which the theologians reserve for every case wherein they can find no
other mode of escaping gracefully from the argument of their
adversaries.

You see, then, to what we reduce all the jargon of the metaphysicians,
all the profound reveries which for so many ages have been so
industriously hawked about in defence of the soul of man; an
immaterial substance, of which no living being can form an idea; a
spirit, that is to say, a being totally different from any thing we
know. All the theological verbiage ends here, by telling us, in a
round of pompous terms,--fooleries that impose on the ignorant,--that
we do not know what essence the soul is of; but we call it a spirit
because of its nature, and because we feel ourselves agitated by some
unknown agent; we cannot comprehend the mechanism of the soul; yet can
we feel ourselves moved, as it were, by an effect of the power of God,
whose essence is far removed from ours, and more concealed from us
than the human soul itself. By the aid of this language, from which
you cannot possibly learn any thing, you will be as wise, Madam, as
all the theologians in the world.

If you would desire to form ideas the most precise of yourself, banish
from you the prejudices of a vain theology, which only consists in
repeating words without attaching any new ideas to them, and which
are insufficient to distinguish the soul from the body, which appear
only capable of multiplying beings without reason, of rendering more
incomprehensible and more obscure, notions less distinct than we
already have of ourselves. These notions should be at least the most
simple and the most exact, if we consult our nature, experience, and
reason. They prove that man knows nothing but by his material sensible
organs, that he sees only by his eyes, that he feels by his touch,
that he hears by his ears; and that when either of these organs is
actually deranged, or has been previously wanting, or imperfect, man
can have none of the ideas that organ is capable of furnishing him
with,--neither thoughts, memory, reflection, judgment, desire, nor
will. Experience shows us that corporeal and material beings are alone
capable of being moved and acted upon, and that without those organs
we have enumerated the soul thinks not, feels not, wills not, nor is
moved. Every thing shows us that the soul undergoes always the same
vicissitudes as the body; it grows to maturity, gains strength,
becomes weak, and puts on old age, like the body; in fine, every thing
we can understand of it goes to prove that it perishes with the body.
It is indeed folly to pretend that man will feel when he has no organs
appropriate for that sentiment; that he will see and hear without eyes
or ears; that he will have ideas without having senses to receive
impressions from physical objects, or to give rise to perceptions in
his understanding; in fine, that he will enjoy or suffer when he has
no longer either nerves or sensibility.

Thus every thing conspires to prove that the soul is the same thing as
the body, viewed relatively to some of its functions, which are more
obscure than others. Every thing serves to convince us that without
the body the soul is nothing, and that all the operations which are
attributed to the soul cannot be exercised any longer when the body is
destroyed. Our body is a machine, which, so long as we live, is
susceptible of producing the effects which have been designated under
different names, one from another; sentiment is one of these effects,
thought is another, reflection a third. This last passes sometimes by
other names, and our brain appears to be the seat of all our organs;
it is that which is the most susceptible. This organic machine once
destroyed or deranged, is no longer capable of producing the same
effects, or of exercising the same functions. It is with our body as
it is with a watch which indicates the hours, and which goes not if
the spring or a pinion be broken.

Cease, Eugenia, cease to torment yourself about the fate which shall
attend you when death will have separated you from all that is dear on
earth. After the dissolution of this life, the soul shall cease to
exist; those devouring flames with which you have been threatened by
the priests will have no effect upon the soul, which can neither be
susceptible then of pleasures nor pains, of agreeable or sorrowful
ideas, of lively or doleful reflections.

It is only by means of the bodily organs that we feel, think, and are
merry or sad, happy or miserable; this body once reduced to dust, we
will have neither perceptions nor sensations, and, by consequence,
neither memory nor ideas; the dispersed particles will no longer have
the same qualities they possessed when united; nor will they any
longer conspire to produce the same effects. In a word, the body being
destroyed, the soul, which is merely a result of all the parts of the
body in action, will cease to be what it is; it will be reduced to
nothing with the life's breath.

Our teachers pretend to understand the soul well; they profess to be
able to distinguish it from the body; in short, they can do nothing
without it; and therefore, to keep up the farce, they have been
compelled to admit the ridiculous dogma of the Persians, known by the
name of the _resurrection_. This system supposes that the particles of
the body which have been scattered at death will be collected at the
last day, to be replaced in their primitive condition. But that this
strange phenomenon may take place, it is necessary that the particles
of our destroyed bodies, of which some, have been converted into
earth, others have passed into plants, others into animals, some of
one species, others of another, even of our own; it is requisite, I
say, that these particles, of which some have been mixed with the
waters of the deep, others have been carried on the wings of the wind,
and which have successively belonged to many different men, should be
reunited to reproduce the individual to whom they formerly belonged.
If you cannot get over this impossibility, the theologians will
explain it to you by saying, very briefly, "Ah! it is a profound
mystery, which we cannot comprehend." They will inform you that the
resurrection is a miracle, a supernatural effect, which is to result
from the divine power. It is thus they overcome all the difficulties
which the good sense of a few opposes to their rhapsodies.

If, perchance, Madam, you do not wish to remain content with these
sublime reasons, against which your good sense will naturally revolt,
the clergy will endeavor to seduce your imagination by vague pictures
of the ineffable delights which will be enjoyed in Paradise by the
souls and bodies of those who have adopted their reveries; they will
aver that you cannot refuse to believe them upon their mere word
without encountering the eternal indignation of a God of pity; and
they will attempt to alarm your fancy by frightful delineations of the
cruel torments which a God of goodness has prepared for the greater
number of his creatures.

But if you consider the thing coolly, you will perceive the futility
of their flattering promises and of their puny threatenings, which are
uttered merely to catch the unwary. You may easily discover that if it
could be true that man shall survive himself, God, in recompensing
him, would only recompense himself for the grace which he had granted;
and when he punished him, he punished him for not receiving the grace
which he had hardened him against receiving. This line of conduct, so
cruel and barbarous, appears equally unworthy of a wise God as it is
of a being perfectly good.

If your mind, proof against the terrors with which the Christian
religion penetrates its sectaries, is capable of contemplating these
frightful circumstances, which it is imagined will accompany the
carefully-invented punishments which God has destined for the victims
of his vengeance, you will find that they are impossible, and totally
incompatible with the ideas which they themselves have put forth of
the Divinity. In a word, you will perceive that the chastisements of
another life are but a crowd of chimeras, invented to disturb human
reason, to subjugate it beneath the feet of imposture, to annihilate
forever the repose of slaves whom the priesthood would inthrall and
retain under its yoke.

In short, Eugenia, the priests would make you believe that these
torments will be horrible,--a thing which accords not with our ideas
of God's goodness; they tell you they will be eternal,--a thing which
accords not with our ideas of the justice of God, who, one would very
naturally suppose, will proportion chastisements to faults, and who,
by consequence, will not punish without end the beings whose actions
are bounded by time. They tell us that the offences against God are
infinite, and, by consequence, that the Divinity, without doing
violence to his justice, may avenge himself as God, that is to say,
avenge himself to infinity. In this case I shall say that this God is
not good; that he is vindictive, a character which always announces
fear and weakness. In fine, I shall say that among the imperfect
beings who compose the human species, there is not, perhaps, a single
one who, without some advantage to himself, without personal fear, in
a word, without folly, would consent to punish everlastingly the
wretch who might have the misfortune to offend him, but who no longer
had either the ability or the inclination to commit another offence.
Caligula found, at least, some little amusement to forsake for a time
the cares of government, and enjoy the spectacle of punishment which
he inflicted on those unfortunate men whom he had an interest in
destroying. But what advantage can it be to God to heap on the damned
everlasting torments? Will this amuse him? Will their frightful
punishments correct their faults? Can these examples of the divine
severity be of any service to those on earth, who witness not their
friends in hell? Will it not be the most astonishing of all the
miracles of Deity to make the bodies of the damned invulnerable, to
resist, through the ceaseless ages of eternity, the frightful torments
destined for them?

You see, then, Madam, that the ideas which the priests give us of hell
make of God a being infinitely more insensible, more wicked and cruel
than the most barbarous of men. They add to all this that it will be
the Devil and the apostate angels, that is to say, the enemies of
God, whom he will employ as the ministers of his implacable vengeance.
These wicked spirits, then, will execute the commands which this
severe judge will pronounce against men at the last judgment. For you
must know, Madam, that a God who knows all will at some future time
take an account of what he already knows. So, then, not content with
judging men at death, he will assemble the whole human race with great
pomp at the last or general judgment, in which he will confirm his
sentence in the view of the whole human race, assembled to receive
their doom. Thus on the wreck of the world will he pronounce a
definitive judgment, from which there will be no appeal. But, in
attending this memorable judgment, what will become of the souls of
men, separated from their bodies, which have not yet been
resuscitated? The souls of the just will go directly to enjoy the
blessings of Paradise; but what is to become of the immense crowd of
souls imbued with faults or crimes, and on whom the infallible
parsons, who are so well instructed in what is passing in another
world, cannot speak with certainty as to their fate? According to some
of these wiseacres, God will place the souls of such as are not wholly
displeasing to him in a place of punishment, where, by rigorous
torments, they shall have the merit of expiating the faults with which
they may stand chargeable at death. According to this fine system, so
profitable to our spiritual guides, God has found it the most simple
method to build a fiery furnace for the special purpose of tormenting
a certain proportion of souls who have not been sufficiently purified
at death to enter Paradise, but who, after leaving them some years
united with the body, and giving them time necessary to arrive at that
amendment of life by which they may become partakers of the supreme
felicity of heaven, ordains that they shall expiate their offences in
torment. It is on this ridiculous notion that our priests have
bottomed the doctrine of _purgatory_, which every good Catholic is
obliged to believe for the benefit of the priests, who reserve to
themselves, as is very reasonable, the power of compelling by their
prayers a just and immutable God to relax in his sternness, and
liberate the captive souls, which he had only condemned to undergo
this purgation in order that they might be made meet for the joys of
Paradise.

With respect to the Protestants, who are, as every one knows, heretics
and impious, you will observe that they pretend not to those lucrative
views of the Roman doctors. On the contrary, they think that, at the
instant of death, every man is irrevocably judged; that he goes
directly to glory or into a place of punishment, to suffer the award
of evil by the enduring of punishments for which God had eternally
prepared both the sufferer and his torments! Even before the reunion
of soul and body at the final judgment, they fancy that the soul of
the wicked (which, on the principle of all souls being _spirits_,
must be the same in essence as the soul of the elect,) will, though
deprived of those organs by which it felt, and thought, and acted, be
capable of undergoing the agency or action of a fire! It is true that
some Protestant theologians tell us that the fire of hell is a
spiritual fire, and, by consequence, very different from the material
fire vomited out of Vesuvius, and Ætna, and Hecla. Nor ought we to
doubt that these informed doctors of the Protestant faith know very
well what they say, and that they have as precise and clear ideas of a
spiritual fire as they have of the ineffable joys of Paradise, which
may be as spiritual as the punishment of the damned in hell.

Such are, Madam, in a few words, the absurdities, not less revolting
than ridiculous, which the dogmas of a future life and of the
immortality of the soul have engendered in the minds of men. Such are
the phantoms which have been invented and propagated, to seduce and
alarm mortals, to excite their hopes and their fears; such the
illusions that so powerfully operate on weak and feeling beings. But
as melancholy ideas have more effect upon the imagination than those
which are agreeable, the priests have always insisted more forcibly on
what men have to fear on the part of a terrible God than on what they
have to hope from the mercy of a forgiving Deity, full of goodness.
Princes the most wicked are infinitely more respected than those who
are famed for indulgence and humanity. The priests have had the art
to throw us into uncertainty and mistrust by the twofold character
which they have given the Divinity. If they promise us salvation, they
tell us that we must work it out for ourselves, "with fear and
trembling." It is thus that they have contrived to inspire the minds
of the most honest men with dismay and doubt, repeating without
ceasing that time only must disclose who are worthy of the divine
love, or who are to be the objects of the divine wrath. Terror has
been and always will be the most certain means of corrupting and
enslaving the mind of man.

They will tell us, doubtless, that the terrors which religion inspires
are salutary terrors; that the dogma of another life is a bridle
sufficiently powerful to prevent the commission of crimes and restrain
men within the path of duty. To undeceive one's self of this maxim, so
often thundered in our ears, and so generally adopted on the authority
of the priests, we have only to open our eyes. Nevertheless, we see
some Christians thoroughly persuaded of another life, who,
notwithstanding, conduct themselves as if they had nothing to fear on
the part of a God of vengeance, nor any thing to hope from a God of
mercy. When any of these are engaged in some great project, at all
times they are tempted by some strong passion or by some bad habit,
they shut their eyes on another life, they see not the enraged judge,
they suffer themselves to sin, and when it is committed, they comfort
themselves by saying, that God is good. Besides, they console
themselves by the same contradictory religion which shows them also
this same God, whom it represents so susceptible of wrath, as full of
mercy, bestowing his grace on all those who are sensible of their
evils and repent. In a word, I see none whom the fears of hell will
restrain when passion or interest solicit obedience. The very priests
who make so many efforts to convince us of their dogmas too often
evince more wickedness of conduct than we find in those who have never
heard one word about another life. Those who from infancy have been
taught these terrifying lessons are neither less debauched, nor less
proud, nor less passionate, nor less unjust, nor less avaricious than
others who have lived and died ignorant of Christian purgatory and
Paradise. In fine, the dogma of another life has little or no
influence on them; it annihilates none of their passions; it is a
bridle merely with some few timid souls, who, without its knowledge,
would never have the hardihood to be guilty of any great excesses.
This dogma is very fit to disturb the quiet of some honest, timorous
persons, and the credulous, whose imagination it inflames, without
ever staying the hand of great rogues, without imposing on them more
than the decency of civilization and a specious morality of life,
restrained chiefly by the coercion of public laws.

In short, to sum all up in one thought, I behold a religion gloomy and
formidable to make impressions very lively, very deep, and very
dangerous on a mind such as yours, although it makes but very
momentary impressions on the minds of such as are hardened in crime,
or whose dissipation destroys constantly the effects of its threats.
More lively affected than others by your principles, you have been but
too often and too seriously occupied for your happiness by gloomy and
harassing objects, which have powerfully affected your sensible
imagination, though the same phantoms that have pursued you have been
altogether banished from the mind of those who have had neither your
virtues, your understanding, nor your sensibility.

According to his principles, a Christian must always live in fear; he
can never know with certainty whether he pleases or displeases God;
the least movement of pride or of covetousness, the least desire, will
suffice to merit the divine anger, and lose in one moment the fruits
of years of devotion. It is not surprising that, with these frightful
principles before them, many Christians should endeavor to find in
solitude employment for their lugubrious reflections, where they may
avoid the occasions that solicit them to do wrong, and embrace such
means as are most likely, according to their notions of the likelihood
of the thing, to expiate the faults which they fancy might incur the
eternal vengeance of God.

Thus the dark notions of a future life leave those only in peace who
think slightly upon it; and they are very disconsolate to all those
whose temperament determines them to contemplate it. They are but the
atrocious ideas, however, which the priests study to give us of the
Deity, and by which they have compelled so many worthy people to throw
themselves into the arms of incredulity. If some libertines, incapable
of reasoning, abjure a religion troublesome to their passions, or
which abridges their pleasures, there are very many who have maturely
examined it, that have been disgusted with it, because they could not
consent to live in the fears it engendered, nor to nourish the despair
it created. They have then abjured this religion, fit only to fill the
soul with inquietudes, that they might find in the bosom of reason the
repose which it insures to good sense.

Times of the greatest crimes are always times of the greatest
ignorance. It is in these times, or usually so, that the greatest
noise is made about religion. Men then follow mechanically, and
without examination, the tenets which their priests impose on them,
without ever diving to the bottom of their doctrines. In proportion as
mankind become enlightened, great crimes become more rare, the manners
of men are more polished, the sciences are cultivated, and the
religion which they have coolly and carefully examined loses sensibly
its credit. It is thus that we see so many incredulous people in the
bosom of society become more agreeable and complacent now than
formerly, when it depended on the caprice of a priest to involve them
in troubles, and to invite the people to crimes in the hope of thereby
meriting heaven.

Religion is consoling only to those who have no embarrassment about
it; the indefinite and vague recompense which it promises, without
giving ideas of it, is made to deceive those who make no reflections
on the impatient, variable, false, and cruel character which this
religion gives of its God. But how can it make any promises on the
part of a God whom it represents as a tempter, a seducer--who appears,
moreover, to take pleasure in laying the most dangerous snares for his
weak creatures? How can it reckon on the favors of a God full of
caprice, who it alternately informs us is replete with tenderness or
with hatred? By what right does it hold out to us the rewards of a
despotic and tyrannical God, who does or does not choose men for
happiness, and who consults only his own fantasy to destine some of
his creatures to bliss and others to perdition? Nothing, doubtless,
but the blindest enthusiasm could induce mortals to place confidence
in such a God as the priests have feigned; it is to folly alone we
must attribute the love some well-meaning people profess to the God of
the parsons; it is matchless extravagance alone that could prevail on
men to reckon on the unknown rewards which are promised them by this
religion, at the same time that it assures us that God is the author
of grace, but that we have no right to expect any thing from him.

In a word, Madam, the notions of another life, far from consoling, are
fit only to imbitter all the sweets of the present life. After the sad
and gloomy ideas which Christianity, always at variance with itself,
presents us with of its God, it then affirms, that we are much more
likely to incur his terrible chastisements, than possessed of power by
which we may merit ineffable rewards; and it proceeds to inform us,
that God will give grace to whomsoever he pleases, yet it remains with
themselves whether they escape damnation; and a life the most spotless
cannot warrant them to presume that they are worthy of his favor. In
good truth, would not total annihilation be preferable to such beings,
rather than falling into the hands of a Deity so hard-hearted? Would
not every man of sense prefer the idea of complete annihilation to
that of a future existence, in order to be the sport of the eternal
caprice of a Deity, so cruel as to damn and torment, without end, the
unfortunate beings whom he created so weak, that he might punish them
for faults inseparable from their nature? If God is good, as we are
assured, notwithstanding the cruelties of which the priests suppose
him capable, is it not more consonant to all our ideas of a being
perfectly good, to believe that he did not create them to sport with
them in a state of eternal damnation, which they had not the power of
choosing, or of rejecting and shunning? Has not God treated the beasts
of the field more favorably than he has treated man, since he has
exempted them from sin, and by consequence has not exposed them to
suffer an eternal unhappiness?

The dogma of the immortality of the soul, or of a future life,
presents nothing consoling in the Christian religion. On the contrary,
it is calculated expressly to fill the heart of the Christian,
following out his principles, with bitterness and continual alarm. I
appeal to yourself, Madam, whether these sublime notions have any
thing consoling in them? Whenever this uncertain idea has presented
itself to your mind, has it not filled you with a cold and secret
horror? Has the consciousness of a life so virtuous and so spotless as
yours, secured you against those fears which are inspired by the idea
of a being jealous, severe, capricious, whose eternal disgrace the
least fault is sure of incurring, and in whose eyes the smallest
weakness, or freedom the most involuntary, is sufficient to cancel
years of strict observance of all the rules of religion?

I know very well what you will advance to support yourself in your
prejudices. The ministers of religion possess the secret of tempering
the alarms which they have the art to excite. They strive to inspire
confidence in those minds which they discover accessible to fear. They
balance, thus, one passion against another. They hold in suspense the
minds of their slaves, in the apprehension that too much confidence
would only render them less pliable, or that despair would force them
to throw off the yoke. To persons terribly frightened about their
state after death, they speak only of the hopes which we may entertain
of the goodness of God. To those who have too much confidence, they
preach up the terrors of the Lord, and the judgments of a severe God.
By this chicanery they contrive to subject or retain under their yoke
all those who are weak enough to be led by the contradictory doctrines
of these blind guides.

They tell you, besides, that the sentiment of the immortality of the
soul is inherent in man; that the soul is consumed by boundless
desires, and that since there is nothing on this earth capable of
satisfying it, these are indubitable proofs that it is destined to
subsist eternally. In a word, that as we naturally desire to exist
always, we may naturally conclude that we shall always exist. But what
think you, Madam, of such reasonings? To what do they lead? Do we
desire the continuation of this existence, because it may be blessed
and happy, or because we know not what may become of us? But we cannot
desire a miserable existence, or, at least, one in which it is more
than probable we may be miserable rather than happy. If, as the
Christian religion so often repeats, the number of the elect is very
small, and salvation very difficult, the number of the reprobate very
great, and damnation very easily obtained, who is he who would desire
to exist always with so evident a risk of being eternally damned?
Would it not have been better for us not to have been born, than to
have been compelled against our nature to play a game so fraught with
peril? Does not annihilation itself present to us an idea preferable
to that of an existence which may very easily lead us to eternal
tortures? Suffer me, Madam, to appeal to yourself. If, before you had
come into this world, you had had your choice of being born, or of not
seeing the light of this fair sun, and you could have been made to
comprehend, but for one moment, the hundred thousandth part of the
risks you run to be eternally unhappy, would you not have determined
never to enjoy life?

It is an easy matter, then, to perceive the proofs on which the
priests pretend to found this dogma of the immortality of the soul and
a future life. The desire which we might have of it could only be
founded on the hope of enjoying eternal happiness. But does religion
give us this assurance? Yes, say the clergy, if you submit faithfully
to the rules it prescribes. But to conform one's self to these rules,
is it not necessary to have grace from Heaven? And, are we then sure
we shall obtain that grace, or if we do, merit Heaven? Do the priests
not repeat to us, without ceasing, that God is the author of grace,
and that he only gives it to a small number of the elect? Do they not
daily tell us that, except one man, who rendered himself worthy of
this eternal happiness, there are millions going the high road to
damnation? This being admitted, every Christian, who reasons, would be
a fool to desire a future existence which he has so many motives to
fear, or to reckon on a happiness which every thing conspires to show
him is as uncertain, as difficult to be obtained, as it is
unequivocally dependent on the fantasies of a capricious Deity, who
sports with the misfortunes of his creatures.

Under every point of view in which we regard the dogma of the soul's
immortality, we are compelled to consider it as a chimera invented by
men who have realized their wishes, or who have not been able to
justify Providence from the transitory injustices of this world. This
dogma was received with avidity, because it flattered the desires, and
especially the vanity of man, who arrogated to himself a superiority
above all the beings that enjoy existence, and which he would pass by
and reduce to mere clay; who believed himself the favorite of God,
without ever taxing his attention with this other fact--that God makes
him every instant experience vicissitudes, calamities, and trials, as
all sentient natures experience; that God made him, in fine, to
undergo death, or dissolution, which is an invariable law that all
that exists must find verified. This haughty creature, who fancies
himself a privileged being, alone agreeable to his Maker, does not
perceive that there are stages in his life when his existence is more
uncertain and much more weak than that of the other animals, or even
of some inanimate things. Man is unwilling to admit that he possesses
not the strength of the lion, nor the swiftness of the stag, nor the
durability of an oak, nor the solidity of marble or metal. He believes
himself the greatest favorite, the most sublime, the most noble; he
believes himself superior to all other animals because he possesses
the faculties of thinking, judging, and reasoning. But his thoughts
only render him more wretched than all the animals whom he supposes
deprived of this faculty, or who, at least, he believes, do not enjoy
it in the same degree with himself. Do not the faculties of thinking,
of remembering, of foresight, too often render him unhappy by the very
idea of the past, the present, and the future? Do not his passions
drive him to excesses unknown to the other animals? Are his judgments
always reasonable and wise? Is reason so largely developed in the
great mass of men that the priests should interdict its use as
dangerous? Are mankind sufficiently advanced in knowledge to be able
to overcome the prejudices and chimeras which render them unhappy
during the greatest part of their lives? In fine, have the beasts some
species of religious impressions, which inspire continual terrors in
their breast, making them look upon some awful event, which imbitters
their softest pleasures, which enjoins them to torment themselves, and
which threatens them with eternal damnation? No!

In truth, Madam, if you weigh in an equitable balance the pretended
advantages of man above the other animals, you will soon see how
evanescent is this fictitious superiority which he has arrogated to
himself. We find that all the productions of nature are submitted to
the same laws; that all beings are only born to die; they produce
their like to destroy themselves; that all sentient beings are
compelled to undergo pleasures and pains; they appear and they
disappear; they are and they cease to be; they evince under one form
that they will quit it to produce another. Such are the continual
vicissitudes to which every thing that exists is evidently subjected,
and from which man is not exempt, any more than the other beings and
productions that he appropriates to his use as _lord of the creation_.
Even our globe itself undergoes change; the seas change their place;
the mountains are gathered in heaps or levelled into plains; every
thing that breathes is destroyed at last, and man alone pretends to an
eternal duration.

It is unnecessary to tell me that we degrade man when we compare him
with the beasts, deprived of souls and intelligence; this is no
levelling doctrine, but one which places him exactly where nature
places him, but from which his puerile vanity has unfortunately driven
him. All beings are equals; under various and different forms they act
differently; they are governed in their appetites and passions by laws
which are invariably the same for all of the same species; every thing
which is composed of parts will be dissolved; every thing which has
life must part with it at death; all men are equally compelled to
submit to this fate; they are equal at death, although during life
their power, their talents, and especially their virtues, establish a
marked difference, which, though real, is only momentary. What will
they be after death? They will be exactly what they were ten years
before they were born.

Banish, then, Eugenia, from your mind forever the terrors which death
has hitherto filled you with. It is for the wretched a safe haven
against the misfortunes of this life. If it appears a cruel
alternative to those who enjoy the good things of this world, why do
they not console themselves with the idea of what they do actually
enjoy? Let them call reason to their aid; it will calm the inquietudes
of their imagination, but too greatly alarmed; it will disperse the
clouds which religion spreads over their minds; it will teach them
that this death, so terrible in apprehension, is really nothing, and
that it will neither be accompanied with remembrance of past pleasures
nor of sorrow now no more.

Live, then, happy and tranquil, amiable Eugenia! Preserve carefully an
existence so interesting and so necessary to all those with whom you
live. Allow not your health to be injured, nor trouble your quiet with
melancholy ideas. Without being teased by the prospect of an event
which has no right to disturb your repose, cultivate virtue, which has
always been your favorite, so necessary to your internal peace, and
which has rendered you so dear to all those who have the happiness of
being your friends. Let your rank, your credit, your riches, your
talents be employed to make others happy, to support the oppressed, to
succor the unfortunate, to dry up the tears of those whom you may have
an opportunity of comforting! Let your mind be occupied about such
agreeable and profitable employments as are likely to please you!
Call in the aid of your reason to dissipate the phantoms which alarm
you, to efface the prejudices which you have imbibed in early life! In
a word, comfort yourself, and remember that in practising virtue, as
you do, you cannot become an object of hatred to God, who, if he has
reserved in eternity rigorous punishments for the social virtues, will
be the strangest, the most cruel, and the most insensible of beings!

You demand of me, perhaps, "In destroying the idea of another world,
what is to become of the remorse, those chastisements so useful to
mankind, and so well calculated to restrain them within the bounds of
propriety?" I reply, that remorse will always subsist as long as we
shall be capable of feeling its pangs, even when we cease to fear the
distant and uncertain vengeance of the Divinity. In the commission of
crimes, in allowing one's self to be the sport of passion, in injuring
our species, in refusing to do them good, in stifling pity, every man
whose reason is not totally deranged perceives clearly that he will
render himself odious to others, that he ought to fear their enmity.
He will blush, then, if he thinks he has rendered himself hateful and
detestable in their eyes. He knows the continual need he has of their
esteem and assistance. Experience proves to him that vices the most
concealed are injurious to himself. He lives in perpetual fear lest
some mishap should unfold his weaknesses and secret faults. It is from
all these ideas that we are to look for regret and remorse, even in
those who do not believe in the chimeras of another world. With regard
to those whose reason is deranged, those who are enervated by their
passions, or perhaps linked to vice by the chains of habit, even with
the prospect of hell open before them, they will neither live less
vicious nor less wicked. An avenging God will never inflict on any man
such a total want of reason as may make him regardless of public
opinion, trample decency under foot, brave the laws, and expose
himself to derision and human chastisements. Every man of sense easily
understands that in this world the esteem and affection of others are
necessary for his happiness, and that life is but a burden to those
who by their vices injure themselves, and render themselves
reprehensible in the eyes of society.

The true means, Madam, of living happy in this world is to do good to
your fellow-creatures; to labor for the happiness of your species is
to have virtue, and with virtue we can peaceably and without remorse
approach the term which nature has fixed equally for all beings--a
term that your youth causes you now to see only at a distance--a term
that you ought not to accelerate by your fears--a term, in fine, that
the cares and desires of all those who know you will seek to put off
till, full of days and contented with the part you have played in the
scene of the world, you shall yourself desire to gently reënter the
bosom of nature.

                                                I am, &c.



LETTER VI.

  Of the Mysteries, Sacraments, and Religious Ceremonies of
  Christianity.


The reflections, Madam, which I have already offered you in these
letters ought, I conceive, to have sufficed to undeceive you, in a
great measure, of the lugubrious and afflicting notions with which you
have been inspired by religious prejudices. However, to fulfil the
task which you have imposed on me, and to assist you in freeing
yourself from the unfavorable ideas you may have imbibed from a system
replete with irrelevancies and contradictions, I shall continue to
examine the strange mysteries with which Christianity is garnished.
They are founded on ideas so odd and so contrary to reason, that if
from infancy we had not been familiarized with them, we should blush
at our species in having for one instant believed and adopted them.

The Christians, scarcely content with the crowd of enigmas with which
the books of the Jews are filled, have besides fancied they must add
to them a great many incomprehensible mysteries, for which they have
the most profound veneration. Their impenetrable obscurity appears to
be a sufficient motive among them for adding these. Their priests,
encouraged by their credulity, which nothing can outdo, seem to be
studious to multiply the articles of their faith, and the number of
inconceivable objects which they have said must be received with
submission, and adored even if not understood.

The first of these mysteries is the _Trinity_, which supposes that one
God, self-existent, who is a pure spirit, is, nevertheless, composed
of three Divinities, which have obtained the names of _persons_. These
three Gods, who are designated under the respective names of the
_Father_, the _Son_, and the _Holy Ghost_, are, nevertheless, but one
God only. These three persons are equal in power, in wisdom, in
perfections; yet the second is subordinate to the first, in
consequence of which he was compelled to become a man, and be the
victim of the wrath of his Father. This is what the priests call the
mystery of the _incarnation_. Notwithstanding his innocence, his
perfection, his purity, the Son of God became the object of the
vengeance of a just God, who is the same as the Son in question, but
who would not consent to appease himself but by the death of his own
Son, who is a portion of himself. The Son of God, not content with
becoming man, died without having sinned, for the salvation of men who
had sinned. God preferred to the punishment of imperfect beings, whom
he did not choose to amend, the punishment of his only Son, full of
divine perfections. The death of God became necessary to reclaim the
human kind from the slavery of Satan, who without that would not have
quitted his prey, and who has been found sufficiently powerful against
the Omnipotent to oblige him to sacrifice his Son. This is what the
priests designate by the name of the mystery of _redemption_.

It is assuredly sufficient to expose such opinions to demonstrate
their absurdity. It is evident, if there exists only a single God,
there cannot be three. We may, it is true, contemplate the Deity after
the manner of Plato, who, before the birth of Christianity, exhibited
him under three different points of view, that is to say, as all-wise,
as all-powerful, as full of reason, and as infinite in goodness; but
it was verily the excess of delirium to personify these three divine
qualities, or transform them into real beings. We can readily imagine
these moral attributes to be united in the same God, but it is
egregious folly to fashion them into three different Gods; nor will it
remedy this metaphysical polytheism to assert that these three are
one. Besides, this revery never entered the head of the Hebrew
legislator. The Eternal, in revealing himself to Moses, did not
announce himself as triple. There is not one syllable in the Old
Testament about this Trinity, although a notion so _bizarre_, so
marvellous, and so little consonant with our ideas of a divine being,
deserved to have been formally announced, especially as it is the
foundation and corner stone of the Christian religion, which was from
all eternity an object of the divine solicitude, and on the
establishment of which, if we may credit our sapient priests, God
seems to have entertained serious thoughts long before the creation of
the world.

Nevertheless, the second person, or the second God of the Trinity, is
revealed in flesh; the Son of God is made man. But how could the pure
Spirit who presides over the universe beget a son? How could this son,
who before his incarnation was only a pure spirit, combine that
ethereal essence with a material body, and envelop himself with it?
How could the divine nature amalgamate itself with the imperfect
nature of man, and how could an immense and infinite being, as the
Deity is represented, be formed in the womb of a virgin? After what
manner could a pure spirit fecundate this favorite virgin? Did the Son
of God enjoy in the womb of his mother the faculties of omnipotence,
or was he like other children during his infancy,--weak, liable to
infirmities, sickness, and intellectual imbecility, so conspicuous in
the years of childhood; and if so, what, during this period, became of
the divine wisdom and power? In fine, how could God suffer and die?
How could a just God consent that a God exempt from all sin should
endure the chastisements which are due to sinners? Why did he not
appease himself without immolating a victim so precious and so
innocent? What would you think of that sovereign who, in the event of
his subjects rebelling against him, should forgive them all, or a
select number of them, by putting to death his only and beloved son,
who had not rebelled?

The priests tell us that it was out of tenderness for the human kind
that God wished to accomplish this sacrifice. But I still ask if it
would not have been more simple, more conformable to all our ideas of
Deity, for God to pardon the iniquities of the human race, or to have
prevented them committing transgressions, by placing them in a
condition in which, by their own will, they should never have sinned?
According to the entire system of the Christian religion, it is
evident that God did only create the world to have an opportunity of
immolating his Son for the rebellious beings he might have formed and
preserved immaculate. The fall of the rebellious angels had no visible
end to serve but to effect and hasten the fall of Adam. It appears
from this system that God permitted the first man to sin that he might
have the pleasure of showing his goodness in sacrificing his "only
begotten Son" to reclaim men from the thraldom of Satan. He intrusted
to Satan as much power as might enable him to work the ruin of our
race, with the view of afterwards changing the projects of the great
mass of mankind, by making one God to die, and thereby destroy the
power of the Devil on the earth.

But has God succeeded in these projects to the end he proposed? Are
men entirely rescued from the dominion of Satan? Are they not still
the slaves of sin? Do they find themselves in the happy impossibility
of kindling the divine wrath? Has the blood of the Son of God washed
away the sins of the whole world? Do those who are reclaimed, those to
whom he has made himself known, those who believe, offend not against
heaven? Has the Deity, who ought, without doubt, to be perfectly
satisfied with so memorable a sacrifice, remitted to them the
punishment of sin? Is it not necessary to do something more for them?
And since the death of his Son, do we find the Christians exempt from
disease and from death? Nothing of all this has happened. The measures
taken from all eternity by the wisdom and prescience of a God who
should find against his plans no obstacles have been overthrown. The
death of God himself has been of no utility to the world. All the
divine projects have militated against the free-will of man, but they
have not destroyed the power of Satan. Man continues to sin and to
die; the Devil keeps possession of the field of battle; and it is for
a very small number of the elect that the Deity consented to die.

You do indeed smile, Madam, at my being obliged seriously to combat
such chimeras. If they have something of the marvellous in them, it is
quite adapted to the heads of children, not of men, and ought not to
be admitted by reasonable beings. All the notions we can form of those
things must be mysterious; yet there is no subject more demonstrable,
according to those whose interest it is to have it believed, though
they are as incapable as ourselves to comprehend the matter. For the
priests to say that they believe such absurdities, is to be guilty of
manifest falsehood; because a proposition to be believed must
necessarily be understood. To believe what they do not comprehend is
to adhere sottishly to the absurdities of others; to believe things
which are not comprehended by those who gossip about them is the
height of folly; to believe blindly the mysteries of the Christian
religion is to admit contradictions of which they who declare them are
not convinced. In fine, is it necessary to abandon one's reason among
absurdities that have been received without examination from ancient
priests, who were either the dupes of more knowing men, or themselves
the impostors who fabricated the tales in question?

If you ask of me how men have not long ago been shocked by such absurd
and unintelligible reveries, I shall proceed, in my turn, to explain
to you this secret of the church, this mystery of our priests. It is
not necessary, in doing this, to pay any attention to those general
dispositions of man, especially when he is ignorant and incapable of
reasoning. All men are curious, inquisitive; their curiosity spurs
them on to inquiry, and their imagination busies itself to clothe with
mystery every thing the fancy conjures up as important to happiness.
The vulgar mistake even what they have the means of knowing, or, which
is the same thing, what they are least practised in they are dazzled
with; they proclaim it, accordingly, marvellous, prodigious,
extraordinary; it is a phenomenon. They neither admire nor respect
much what is always visible to their eyes; but whatever strikes their
imagination, whatever gives scope to the mind, becomes itself the
fruitful source of other ideas far more extravagant. The priests have
had the art to prevail on the people to believe in their secret
correspondence with the Deity; they have been thence much respected,
and in all countries their professed intercourse with an unseen
Divinity has given room for their announcement of things the most
marvellous and mysterious.

Besides, the Divinity being a being whose impenetrable essence is
veiled from mortal sight, it has been commonly admitted by the
ignorant, that what could not be seen by mortal eye must necessarily
be divine. Hence _sacred_, _mysterious_, and _divine_, are synonymous
terms; and these imposing words have sufficed to place the human race
on their knees to adore what seeks not their inflated devotion.

The three mysteries which I have examined are received unanimously by
all sects of Christians; but there are others on which the theologians
are not agreed. In fine, we see men, who, after they have admitted,
without repugnance, a certain number of absurdities, stop all of a
sudden in the way, and refuse to admit more. The Christian Protestants
are in this case. They reject, with disdain, the mysteries for which
the Church of Rome shows the greatest respect; and yet, in the matter
of mysteries, it is indeed difficult to designate the point where the
mind ought to stop.

Seeing, then, that our doctors, better advised, undoubtedly, than
those of the Protestants, have adroitly multiplied mysteries, one is
naturally led to conclude, they despaired of governing the mind of
man, if there was any thing in their religion that was clear,
intelligible, and natural. More mysterious than the priests of Egypt
itself, they have found means to change every thing into mystery; the
very movements of the body, usages the most indifferent, ceremonies
the most frivolous, have become, in the powerful hands of the priests,
sublime and divine mysteries. In the Roman religion all is magic, all
is prodigy, all is supernatural. In the decisions of our theologians,
the side which they espouse is almost always that which is the most
abhorrent to reason, the most calculated to confound and overthrow
common sense. In consequence, our priests are by far the most rich,
powerful, and considerable. The continual want which we have of their
aid to obtain from Heaven that grace which it is their province to
bring down for us, places us in continual dependence on those
marvellous men who have received their commission to treat with the
Deity, and become the ambassadors between Heaven and us.

Each of our sacraments envelops a great mystery. They are ceremonies
to which the Divinity, they say, attaches some secret virtue, by
unseen views, of which we can form no ideas. In _baptism_, without
which no man can be saved, the water sprinkled on the head of the
child washes his spiritual soul, and carries away the defilement which
is a consequence of the sin committed in the person of Adam, who
sinned for all men. By the mysterious virtue of this water, and of
some words equally unintelligible, the infant finds itself reconciled
to God, as his first father had made him guilty without his knowledge
and consent. In all this, Madam, you cannot, by possibility,
comprehend the complication of these mysteries, with which no
Christian can dispense, though, assuredly, there is not one believer
who knows what the virtue of the marvellous water consists in, which
is necessary for his regeneration. Nor can you conceive how the
supreme and equitable Governor of the universe could impute faults to
those who have never been guilty of transgressions. Nor can you
comprehend how a wise Deity can attach his favor to a futile ceremony,
which, without changing the nature of the being who has derived an
existence it neither commenced nor was consulted in, must, if
administered in winter, be attended with serious consequences to the
health of the child.

In _Confirmation_, a sacrament or ceremony, which, to have any value,
ought to be administered by a bishop, the laying of the hands on the
head of the young confirmant makes the Holy Spirit descend upon him,
and procures the grace of God to uphold him in the faith. You see,
Madam, that the efficacy of this sacrament is unfortunately lost in my
person; for, although in my youth I had been duly confirmed, I have
not been preserved against smiling at this faith, nor have I been kept
invulnerable in the credence of my priests and forefathers.

In the sacrament of _Penitence_, or confession, a ceremony which
consists in putting a priest in possession of all one's faults, public
or private, you will discover mysteries equally marvellous. In favor
of this submission, to which every good Catholic is necessarily
obliged to submit, a priest, _himself a sinner_, charged with full
powers by the Deity, pardons and remits, in His name, the sins against
which God is enraged. God reconciles himself with every man who
humbles himself before the priest, and in accordance with the orders
of the latter, he opens heaven to the wretch whom he had before
determined to exclude. If this sacrament doth not always procure
grace, very distinguishing to those who use it, it has, at all events,
the advantage of rendering them pliable to the clergy, who, by its
means, find an easy sway in their spiritual empire over the human
mind, an empire that enables them, not unfrequently, to disturb
society, and more often the repose of families, and the very
conscience of the person confessing.

There is among the Catholics another sacrament, which contains the
most strange mysteries. It is that of the _Eucharist_. Our teachers,
under pain of being damned, enjoin us to believe that the Son of God
is compelled by a priest to quit the abodes of glory, and to come and
mask himself under the appearance of bread! This bread becomes
forthwith the body of God--this God multiplies himself in all places,
and at all times, when and where the priests, scattered over the face
of the earth, find it necessary to command his presence in the shape
of bread--yet we see only one and the same God, who receives the
homage and adoration of all those good people who find it very
ridiculous in the Egyptians to adore lupines and onions. But the
Catholics are not simply content with worshipping a bit of bread,
which they consider by the conjurations of a priest as divine; they
eat this bread, and then persuade themselves that they are nourished
by the body or substance of God himself. The Protestants, it is true,
do not admit a mystery so very odd, and regard those who do as real
idolaters. What then? This marvellous dogma is, without doubt, of the
greatest utility to the priests. In the eyes of those who admit it,
they become very important gentlemen, who have the power of disposing
of the Deity, whom they make to descend between their hands; and thus
a Catholic priest is, in fact, the creator of his God!

There is, also, _Extreme Unction_, a sacrament which consists in
anointing with oil those sick persons who are about to depart into the
other world, and which not only soothes their bodily pains, but also
takes away the sins of their souls. If it produces these good effects,
it is an invisible and mysterious method of manifesting obvious
results; for we frequently behold sick persons have their fears of
death allayed, though the operation may but too often accelerate their
dissolution. But our priests are so full of charity, and they interest
themselves so greatly in the salvation of souls, that they like rather
to risk their own health beside the sick bed of persons afflicted with
the most contagious diseases, than lose the opportunity of
administering their salutary ointment.

_Ordination_ is another very mysterious ceremony, by which the Deity
secretly bestows his invisible grace on those whom he has selected to
fill the office of the holy priesthood. According to the Catholic
religion, God gives to the priests the power of making God himself, as
we have shown above; a privilege which without doubt cannot be
sufficiently admired. With respect to the sensible effects of this
sacrament, and of the visible grace which it confers, they are
enabled, by the help of some words and certain ceremonies, to change a
profane man into one that is sacred; that is to say, who is not
profane any longer. By this spiritual metamorphosis, this man becomes
capable of enjoying considerable revenues without being obliged to do
any thing useful for society. On the contrary, heaven itself confers
on him the right of deceiving, of annoying, and of pillaging the
profane citizens, who labor for his ease and luxury.

Finally, _Marriage_ is a sacrament that confers mysterious and
invisible graces, of which we in truth have no very precise ideas.
Protestants and Infidels, who look upon marriage as a civil contract,
and not as a sacrament, receive neither more nor less of its visible
grace than the good Catholics. The former see not that those who are
married enjoy by this sacrament any secret virtue, whence they may
become more constant and faithful to the engagements they have
contracted. And I believe both you and I, Madam, have known many
people on whom it has only conferred the grace of cordially detesting
each other.

I will not now enter upon the consideration of a multitude of other
magic ceremonies, admitted by some Christian sectaries and rejected by
others, but to which the devotees who embrace them, attach the most
lofty ideas, in the firm persuasion, that God will, on that account,
visit them with his invisible grace. All these ceremonies, doubtless,
contain great mysteries, and the method of handling or speaking of
them is exceedingly mysterious. It is thus that the water on which a
priest has pronounced a few words, contained in his conjuring book,
acquires the invisible virtue of chasing away wicked spirits, who are
invisible by their nature. It is thus that the oil, on which a bishop
has muttered some certain formula, becomes capable of communicating to
men, and even to some inanimate substances, such as wood, stone,
metals, and walls, those invisible virtues which they did not
previously possess. In fine, in all the ceremonies of the church, we
discover mysteries, and the vulgar, who comprehend nothing of them,
are not the less disposed to admire, to be fascinated with, and to
respect with a blind devotion. But soon would they cease to have this
veneration for these fooleries, if they comprehended the design and
end the priests have in view by enforcing their observance.

The priests of all nations have begun by being charlatans, castle
builders, divines, and sorcerers. We find men of these characters in
nations the most ignorant and savage, where they live by the
ignorance and credulity of others. They are regarded by their ignorant
countrymen as superior beings, endowed with supernatural gifts,
favorites of the very Gods, because the uninquiring multitude see them
perform things which they take to be mighty marvellous, or which the
ignorant have always considered marvellous. In nations the most
polished, the people are always the same; persons the most sensible
are not often of the same ideas, especially on the subject of
religion; and the priests, authorized by the ancient folly of the
multitude, continue their old tricks, and receive universal applause.

You are not, then, to be surprised, Madam, if you still behold our
pontiffs and our priests exercise their magical rites, or rear castles
before the eyes of people prejudiced in favor of their ancient
illusions, and who attach to these mysteries a degree of consequence,
seeing they are not in a condition to comprehend the motives of the
fabricators. Every thing that is mysterious has charms for the
ignorant; the marvellous captivates all men; persons the most
enlightened find it difficult to defend themselves against these
illusions. Hence you may discover that the priests are always
opinionatively attached to these rites and ceremonies of their
worship; and it has never been without some violent revolution that
they have been diminished or abrogated. The annihilation of a trifling
ceremony has often caused rivers of blood to flow. The people have
believed themselves lost and undone when one bolder than the rest
wished to innovate in matters of religion; they have fancied that they
were to be deprived of inestimable advantages and invisible but saving
grace, which they have supposed to be attached by the Divinity himself
to some movements of the body. Priests the most adroit have
overcharged religion with ceremonies, and practices, and mysteries.
They fancied that all these were so many cords to bind the people to
their interest, to allure them by enthusiasm, and render them
necessary to their idle and luxurious existence, which is not spent
without much money extracted from the hard earnings of the people, and
much of that respect which is but the homage of slaves to spiritual
tyrants.

You cannot any longer, I persuade myself, Madam, be made the dupe of
these holy jugglers, who impose on the vulgar by their marvellous
tales. You must now be convinced that the things which I have touched
upon as mysteries are profound absurdities, of which their inventors
can render no reasonable account either to themselves or to others.
You must now be certified that the movements of the body and other
religious ceremonies must be matters perfectly indifferent to the wise
Being whom they describe to us as the great mover of all things. You
conclude, then, that all these marvellous rites, in which our priests
announce so much mystery, and in which the people are taught to
consider the whole of religion as consisting, are nothing more than
puerilities, to which people of understanding ought never to submit.
That they are usages calculated principally to alarm the minds of the
weak, and keep in bondage those who have not the courage to throw off
the yoke of priests. I am, &c.



LETTER VII.

  Of the pious Rites, Prayers, and Austerities of Christianity.


You now know, Madam, what you ought to attach to the mysteries and
ceremonies of that religion you propose to meditate on, and adore in
silence. I proceed now to examine some of those practices to which the
priests tell us the Deity attaches his complaisance and his favors. In
consequence of the false, sinister, contradictory, and incompatible
ideas, which all revealed religions give us of the Deity, the priests
have invented a crowd of unreasonable usages, but which are
conformable to these erroneous notions that they have framed of this
Being. God is always regarded as a man full of passion, sensible to
presents, to flatteries, and marks of submission; or rather as a
fantastic and punctilious sovereign, who is very seriously angry when
we neglect to show him that respect and obeisance which the vanity of
earthly potentates exacts from their vassals.

It is after these notions so little agreeable to the Deity, that the
priests have conjured up a crowd of practices and strange inventions,
ridiculous, inconvenient, and often cruel; but by which they inform us
we shall merit the good favor of God, or disarm the wrath of the
Universal Lord. With some, all consists in prayers, offerings, and
sacrifices, with which they fancy God is well pleased. They forget
that a God who is good, who knows all things, has no need to be
solicited; that a God who is the author of all things has no need to
be presented with any part of his workmanship; that a God who knows
his power has no need of either flatteries or submissions, to remind
him of his grandeur, his power, or his rights; that a God who is Lord
of all has no need of offerings which belong to himself; that a God
who has no need of any thing cannot be won by presents, nor grudge to
his creatures the goods which they have received from his divine
bounty.

For the want of making these reflections, simple as they are, all the
religions in the world are filled with an infinite number of frivolous
practices, by which men have long strove to render themselves
acceptable to the Deity. The priests who are always declared to be the
ministers, the favorites, the interpreters of God's will, have
discovered how they might most easily profit by the errors of mankind,
and the presents which they offer to the Deity. They are thence
interested to enter into the false ideas of the people, and even to
redouble the darkness of their minds. They have invented means to
please unknown powers who dispose of their fate--to excite their
devotion and their zeal for those invisible beings of whom they were
themselves the visible representatives. These priests soon perceived
that in laboring for the Gods they labored for themselves, and that
they could appropriate the major part of the presents, sacrifices, and
offerings, which were made to beings who never showed themselves in
order to claim what their devotees intended for them.

You thus perceive, Madam, how the priests have made common cause with
the Divinity. Their policy thence obliged them to favor and increase
the errors of the human kind. They talk of this ineffable Being as of
an interested monarch, jealous, full of vanity, who gives that it may
be restored to him again; who exacts continual signs of submission and
respect; who desires, without ceasing, that men may reiterate their
marks of respect for him; who wishes to be solicited; who bestows no
grace unless it be accorded to importunity for the purpose of making
it more valuable; and, above all, who allows himself to be appeased
and propitiated by gifts from which his ministers derive the greatest
advantage.

It is evident that it is upon these ideas borrowed from monarchical
courts here below that are founded all the practices, ceremonies, and
rites that we see established in all the religions of the earth. Each
sect has endeavored to make its God a monarch the most redoubtable,
the greatest, the most despotic, and the most selfish. The people
acquainted simply with human opinions, and full of debasement, have
adopted without examination the inventions which the Deity has shown
them as the fittest to obtain his favor and soften his wrath. The
priests fail not to adapt these practices, which they have invented,
to their own system of religion and personal interest; and the
ignorant and vulgar have allowed themselves to be blindly led by these
guides. Habit has familiarized them with things upon which they never
reason, and they make a duty of the routine which has been transmitted
to them from age to age, and from father to child.

The infant, as soon as it can be made to understand any thing, is
taught mechanically to join its little hands in prayer. His tongue is
forced to lisp a formula which it does not comprehend, addressed to a
God which its understanding can never conceive. In the arms of its
nurse it is carried into the temple or church, where its eyes are
habituated to contemplate spectacles, ceremonies, and pretended
mysteries, of which, even when it shall have arrived at mature age, it
will still understand nothing. If at this latter period any one should
ask the reason of his conduct, or desire to know why he made this
conduct a sacred and important duty, he could give no explanation,
except that he was instructed in his tender years to respectfully
observe certain usages, which he must regard as sacred, as they were
unintelligible to him. If an attempt was made to undeceive him in
regard to these habitual futilities, either he would not listen, or
he would be irritated against whoever denied the notions rooted in
his brain. Any man who wished to lead him to good sense, and who
reasoned against the habits he had contracted, would be regarded by
him as ridiculous and extravagant, or he would repulse him as an
infidel and blasphemer, because his instructions lead him thus to
designate every man who fails to pursue the same routine as himself,
or who does not attach the same ideas as the devotee to things which
the latter has never examined.

What horror does it not fill the Christian devotee with if you tell
him that his priest is unnecessary! What would be his surprise if you
were to prove to him, even on the principles of his religion, that the
prayers which in his infancy he had been taught to consider as the
most agreeable to his God, are unworthy and unnecessary to this Deity!
For if God knows all, what need is there to remind him of the wants of
his creatures whom he loves? If God is a father full of tenderness and
goodness, is it necessary to ask him to "give us day by day our daily
bread"? If this God, so good, foresaw the wants of his children, and
knew much better than they what they could not know of themselves,
whence is it he bids them importune him to grant them their requests?
If this God is immutable and wise, how can his creatures change the
fixed resolution of the Deity? If this God is just and good, how can
he injure us, or place us in a situation to require the use of that
prayer which entreats the Deity _not to lead us into temptation_?

You see by this, Madam, that there is but a very small portion of what
the Christians pretend they understand and consider absolutely
necessary that accords at all with what they tell us has been dictated
by God himself. You see that the Lord's prayer itself contains many
absurdities and ideas totally contrary to those which every Christian
ought to have of his God. If you ask a Christian why he repeats
without ceasing this vain formula, on which he never reflects, he can
assign little other reason than that he was taught in his infancy to
clasp his hands, repeat words the meaning of which his priest, not
himself, is alone bound to understand. He may probably add that he has
ever been taught to consider this formula requisite, as it was the
most sacred and the most proper to merit the favor of Heaven.

We should, without doubt, form the same judgment of that multitude of
prayers which our teachers recommend to us daily. And if we believe
them, man, to please God, ought to pass a large portion of his
existence in supplicating Heaven to pour down its blessings on him.
But if God is good, if he cherishes his creatures, if he knows their
wants, it seems superfluous to pray to him. If God changes not, he has
never promised to alter his secret decrees, or, if he has, he is
variable in his fancies, like man; to what purpose are all our
petitions to him? If God is offended with us, will he not reject
prayers which insult his goodness, his justice, and infinite wisdom?

What motives, then, have our priests to inculcate constantly the
necessity of prayer? It is that they may thereby hold the minds of
mankind in opinions more advantageous to themselves. They represent
God to us under the traits of a monarch difficult of access, who
cannot be easily pacified, but of whom they are the ministers, the
favorites, and servants. They become intercessors between this
invisible Sovereign and his subjects of this nether world. They sell
to the ignorant their intercession with the All-powerful; they pray
for the people, and by society they are recompensed with real
advantages, with riches, honors, and ease. It is on the necessity of
prayer that our priests, our monks, and all religious men establish
their lazy existence; that they profess to win a place in heaven for
their followers and paymasters, who, without this intercession, could
neither obtain the favor of God, nor avert his chastisements and the
calamities the world is so often visited with. The prayers of the
priests are regarded as a universal remedy for all evils. All the
misfortunes of nations are laid before these spiritual guides, who
generally find public calamities a source of profit to themselves, as
it is then they are amply paid for their supposed mediation between
the Deity and his suffering creatures. They never teach the people
that these things spring from the course of nature and of laws they
cannot control. O, no. They make the world believe they are the
judgments of an angry God. The evils for which they can find no
remedy are pronounced marks of the divine wrath; they are
supernatural, and the priests must be applied to. God, whom they call
so good, appears sometimes obstinately deaf to their entreaties. Their
common Parent, so tender, appears to derange the order of nature to
manifest his anger. The God who is so just, sometimes punishes men who
cannot divine the cause of his vengeance. Then, in their distress,
they flee to the priests, who never fail to find motives for the
divine wrath. They tell them that God has been offended; that he has
been neglected; that he exacts prayers, offerings, and sacrifices;
that he requires, in order to be appeased, that his ministers should
receive more consideration, should be heard more attentively, and
should be more enriched. Without this, they announce to the vulgar
that their harvests will fail, that their fields will be inundated,
that pestilence, famine, war, and contagion will visit the earth; and
when these misfortunes have arrived, they declare they may be removed
by means of prayers.

If fear and terror permitted men to reason, they would discover that
all the evils, as well as the good things of this life, are necessary
consequences of the order of nature. They would perceive that a wise
God, immutable in his conduct, cannot allow any thing to transpire but
according to those laws of which he is regarded as the author. They
would discover that the calamities, sterility, maladies, contagions,
and even death itself are effects as necessary as happiness,
abundance, health, and life itself. They would find that wars, wants,
and famine are often the effects of human imprudence; that they would
submit to accidents which they could not prevent, and guard against
those they could foresee; they would remedy by simple and natural
means those against which they possessed resources; and they would
undeceive themselves in regard to those supernatural means and those
useless prayers of which the experience of so many ages ought to have
disabused men, if they were capable of correcting their religious
prejudices.

This would not, indeed, redound to the advantage of the priests, since
they would become useless if men perceived the inefficacy of their
prayers, the futility of their practices, and the absence of all
rational foundation for those exercises of piety which place the human
race upon their knees. They compel their votaries always to run down
those who discredit their pretensions. They terrify the weak minded by
frightful ideas which they hold out to them of the Deity. They forbid
them to reason; they make them deaf to reason, by conforming them to
ordinances the most out of the way, the most unreasonable, and the
most contradictory to the very principles on which they pretend to
establish them. They change practices, arbitrary in themselves, or, at
most, indifferent and useless, into important duties, which they
proclaim the most essential of all duties, and the most sacred and
moral. They know that man ceases to reason in proportion as he
suffers or is wretched. Hence, if he experiences real misfortunes, the
priests make sure of him; if he is not unfortunate they menace him;
they create imaginary fears and troubles.

In fine, Madam, when you wish to examine with your own eyes, and not
by the help of the pretensions set up and imposed on you by the
ministers of religion, you will be compelled to acknowledge the things
we have been considering as useful to the priests alone; they are
useless to the Deity, and to society they are often very obviously
pernicious. Of what utility can it be in any family to behold an
excess of devotion in the mother of that family? One would suppose it
is not necessary for a lady to pass all her time in prayers and in
meditations, to the neglect of other duties. Much less is it the part
of a Catholic mother to be closeted in mystic conversation with her
priest. Will her husband, her children, and her friends applaud her
who loses most of her time in prayers, and meditations, and practices,
which can tend only to render her sour, unhappy, and discontented?
Would it not be much better that a father or a mother of a family
should be occupied with what belonged to their domestic affairs than
to spend their time in masses, in hearing sermons, in meditating on
mysterious and unintelligible dogmas, or boasting about exercises of
piety that tend to nothing?

Madam, do you not find in the country you inhabit a great many
devotees who are sunk in debt, whose fortune is squandered away on
priests, and who are incapable of retrieving it? Content to put their
conscience to rights on religious matters, they neither trouble
themselves about the education of their children, nor the arrangement
of their fortune, nor the discharge of their debts. Such men as would
be thrown into despair did they omit one mass, will consent to leave
their creditors without their money, ruined by their negligence as
much as by their principles. In truth, Madam, on what side soever you
survey this religion, you will find it good for nothing.

What shall we say of those fêtes which are so multiplied amongst us?
Are they not evidently pernicious to society? Are not all days the
same to the Eternal? Are there _gala_ days in heaven? Can God be
honored by the business of an artisan or a merchant, who, in place of
earning bread on which his family may subsist, squanders away his time
in the church, and afterwards goes to spend his money in the public
house? It is necessary, the priests will tell you, for man to have
repose. But will he not seek repose when he is fatigued by the labor
of his hands? Is it not more necessary that every man should labor in
his vocation than go to a temple to chant over a service which
benefits only the priests, or hear a sermon of which he can understand
nothing? And do not such as find great scruple in doing a necessary
labor on Sunday frequently sit down and get drunk on that day,
consuming in a few hours the receipts of their week's labor? But it
is for the interest of the clergy that all other shops should be shut
when theirs are open. We may thence easily discover why fêtes are
necessary.

Is it not contrary to all the notions which we can form of the
goodness and wisdom of the Divinity, that religion should form into
duties both abstinence and privations, or that penitences and
austerities should be the sole proofs of virtue? What should be said
of a father who should place his children at a table loaded with the
fruits of the earth, but who, nevertheless, should debar them from
touching certain of them, though both nature and reason dictated their
use and nutriment? Can we, then, suppose that a Deity wise and good
interdicts to his creatures the enjoyment of innocent pleasures, which
may contribute to render life agreeable, or that a God who has created
all things, every object the most desirable to the nourishment and
health of man, should nevertheless forbid him their use? The Christian
religion appears to doom its votaries to the punishment of Tantalus.
The most part of the superstitions in the world have made of God a
capricious and jealous sovereign, who amuses himself by tempting the
passions and exciting the desires of his slaves, without permitting
them the gratification of the one or the enjoyment of the other. We
see among all sects the portraiture of a chagrined Deity, the enemy of
innocent amusements, and offended at the well being of his creatures.
We see in all countries many men so foolish as to imagine they will
merit heaven by fighting against their nature, refusing the goods of
fortune, and tormenting themselves under an idea that they will
thereby render themselves agreeable to God. Especially do they believe
that they will by these means disarm the fury of God, and prevent the
inflictions of his chastisements, if they immolate themselves to a
being who always requires victims.

We find these atrocious, fanatical, and senseless ideas in the
Christian religion, which supposes its God as cruel to exact
sufferings from men as death from his only Son. If a God exempt from
all sin is himself also the sufferer for the sins of all, which is the
doctrine of those who maintain universal redemption, it is not
surprising to see men that are sinners making it a duty to assemble in
large meetings, and invent the means of rendering themselves
miserable. These gloomy notions have banished men to the desert. They
have fanatically renounced society and the pleasures of life, to be
buried alive, believing they would merit heaven if they afflicted
themselves with stripes and passed their existence in mummical
ceremonies, as injurious to their health as useless to their country.
And these are the false ideas by which the Divinity is transformed
into a tyrant as barbarous as insensible, who, agreeably to
_priestcraft_, has prescribed how both men and women might live in
ennui, penitence, sorrow, and tears; for the perfection of monastic
institutions consists in the ingenious art of self-torture. But
sacerdotal pride finds its account in these austerities. Rigid monks
glory in barbarous rules, the observance of which attracts the respect
of the credulous, who imagine that men who torment themselves are
indeed the favorites of heaven. But these monks, who follow these
austere rules, are fanatics, who sacrifice themselves to the pride of
the clergy who live in luxury and in wealth, although their duped,
imbecile brethren have been known to make it a point of honor to die
of famine.

How often, Madam, has your attention not been aroused when you
recalled to mind the fate of the poor religious men of the desert,
whom an unnecessary vow has condemned, as it were voluntarily, to a
life as rigorous as if spent in a prison! Seduced by the enthusiasm of
youth, or forced by the orders of inhuman parents, they have been
obliged to carry to the tomb the chains of their captivity. They have
been obliged to submit without appeal to a stern superior, who finds
no consolation in the discharge of his slavish task but in making his
empire more hard to those beneath him. You have seen unfortunate young
ladies obliged to renounce their rank in society, the innocent
pleasures of youth, the joys of their sex, to groan forever under a
rigorous despotism, to which indiscreet vows had bound them. All
monasteries present to us an odious group of fanatics, who have
separated themselves from society to pass the remainder of their lives
in unhappiness. The society of these devotees is calculated solely to
render their lives mutually more unsupportable. But it seems strange
that men should expect to merit heaven by suffering the torments of
hell on earth; yet so it is, and reason has too often proved
insufficient to convince them of the contrary.

If this religion does not call all Christians to these sublime
perfections, it nevertheless enjoins on all its votaries suffering and
mortifying of the body. The church prescribes privations to all her
children, and abstinences and fasts; these things they practise among
us as duties; and the devotees imagine they render themselves very
agreeable to the Divinity when they have scrupulously fulfilled those
minute and puerile practices, by which they tell us that the priests
have proof whether their patience and obedience be such as are
dictated by and acceptable to Heaven. What a ridiculous idea is it,
for example, to make of the Deity a trio of persons; to teach the
faithful that this Deity takes notice of what kinds of food his people
eat; that he is displeased if they eat beef or mutton, but that he is
delighted if they eat beans and fish! In good sooth, Madam, our
priests, who sometimes give us very lofty ideas of God, please
themselves but too often with making him strangely contemptible!

The life of a good Christian or of a devotee is crowded with a host of
useless practices, which would be at least pardonable if they procured
any good for society. But it is not for that purpose that our priests
make so much ado about them; they only wish to have submissive slaves,
sufficiently blind to respect their caprices as the orders of a wise
God; sufficiently stupid to regard all their practices as divine
duties, and they who scrupulously observe them as the real favorites
of the Omnipotent. What good can there result to the world from the
abstinence of meats, so much enjoined on some Christians, especially
when other Christians judge this injunction a very ridiculous law, and
contrary to reason and the order of things established in nature? It
is not difficult to perceive amongst us that this injunction, openly
violated by the rich, is an oppression on the poor, who are compelled
to pay dearly for an indifferent, often an unwholesome diet, that
injures rather than repairs the natural strength of their
constitution. Besides, do not the priests sell this permission to the
rich, to transgress an injunction the poor must not violate with
impunity? In fine, they seem to have multiplied our practices, our
duties, and our tortures, to have the advantage of multiplying our
faults, and making a good bargain out of our pretended crimes.

The more we examine religion the more reason shall we have to be
convinced that it is beneficial to the _priests alone_. Every part of
this religion conspires to render us submissive to the fantasies of
our spiritual guides, to labor for their grandeur, to contribute to
their riches. They appoint us to perform disadvantageous duties; they
prescribe impossible perfections, purposely that we may transgress;
they have thereby engendered in pious minds scruples and difficulties
which they condescendingly appease for money. A devotee is obliged to
observe, without ceasing, the useless and frivolous rules of his
priest, and even then he is subject to continual reproaches; he is
perpetually in want of his priest to expiate his pretended faults with
which he charges himself, and the omission of duties that he regards
as the most important acts of his life, but which are rarely such as
interest society or benefit it by their performance. By a train of
religious prejudices with which the priests infect the mind of their
weak devotees, these believe themselves infinitely more culpable when
they have omitted some useless practice, than if they had committed
some great injustice or atrocious sin against humanity. It is commonly
sufficient for the devotees to be on good terms with God, whether they
be consistent in their actions with man, or in the practice of those
duties they owe to their fellow beings.

Besides, Madam, what real advantage does society derive from repeated
prayers, abstinences, privations, seclusions, meditations, and
austerities, to which religion attaches so much value? Do all the
mysterious practices of the priests produce any real good? Are they
capable of calming the passions, of correcting vices, and of giving
virtue to those who most scrupulously observe them? Do we not daily
see persons who believe themselves damned if they forget a mass, if
they eat a fowl on Friday, if they neglect a confession, though they
are guilty at the same time of great dereliction to society? Do they
not hold the conduct of those very unjust, and very cruel, who happen
to have the misfortune of not thinking and doing as they think and
act? These practices, out of which a great number of men have created
essential duties, but too commonly absorb all moral duties; for if the
devotees are over-religious, it is rare to find them virtuous. Content
with doing what religion requires, they trouble themselves very little
about other matters. They believe themselves the favored of God, and
that it is a proof of this if they are detested by men, whose good
opinion they are seldom anxious to deserve. The whole life of a
devotee is spent in fulfilling, with scrupulous exactitude, duties
indifferent to God, unnecessary to himself, and useless to others. He
fancies he is virtuous when he has performed the rites which his
religion prescribes; when he has meditated on mysteries of which he
understands nothing; when he has struggled with sadness to do things
in which a man of sense can perceive no advantage; in fine, when he
has endeavored to practise, as much as in him lies, the Evangelical or
Christian virtues, in which he thinks all morality essentially
consists.

I shall proceed in my next letter to examine these virtues, and to
prove to you that they are contrary to the ideas we ought to form of
God, useless to ourselves, and often dangerous to others. In the mean
time, I am, &c.



LETTER VIII.

  Of Evangelical Virtues and Christian Perfection.


If we believe the priests, we shall be persuaded, that the Christian
religion, by the beauty of its morals, excels philosophy and all the
other religious systems in the world. According to them, the
unassisted reason of the human mind could never have conceived sounder
doctrines of morality, more heroical virtues, or precepts more
beneficial to society. But this is not all; the virtues known or
practised among the heathens are considered as _false virtues_; far
from deserving our esteem, and the favor of the Almighty, they are
entitled to nothing but contempt; and, indeed, are _flagrant sins_ in
the sight of God. In short, the priests labor to convince us, that the
Christian ethics are purely divine, and the lessons inculcated so
sublime, that they could proceed from nothing less than the Deity.

If, indeed, we call that divine which men can neither conceive nor
perform; if by divine virtues we are to understand virtues to which
the mind of man cannot possibly attach the least idea of utility; if
by divine perfections are meant those qualities which are not only
foreign to the nature of man, but which are irreconcilably repugnant
to it,--then, indeed, we shall be compelled to acknowledge that the
morals of Christianity are divine; at least we shall be assured that
they have nothing in common with that system of morality which arises
out of the nature and relations of men, but on the contrary, that
they, in many instances, confound the best conceptions we are able to
form of virtue.

Guided by the light of reason, we comprehend under the name of virtue
those habitual dispositions of the heart which tend to the happiness
and the real advantage of those with whom we associate, and by the
exercise of which our fellow-creatures are induced to feel a
reciprocal interest in our welfare. Under the Christian system the
name of virtues is bestowed upon dispositions which it is impossible
to possess without supernatural grace; and which, when possessed, are
useless, if not injurious, both to ourselves and others. The morality
of Christians is, in good truth, the morality of another world. Like
the philosopher of antiquity, they keep their eyes fixed upon the
stars till they fall into a well, unperceived, at their feet. The only
object which their scheme of morals proposes to itself is, to disgust
their minds with the things of this world, in order that they may
place their entire affections upon things above, of which they have no
knowledge whatever; their happiness here below forms no part of their
consideration; this life, in the view of a Christian, is nothing but a
pilgrimage, leading to another existence, infinitely more interesting
to his hopes, because infinitely beyond the reach of his
understanding. Besides, before we can deserve to be happy in the
world which we do not know, we are informed that we must be miserable
in the world which we do know; and, above all things, in order to
secure to ourselves happiness hereafter, it is especially necessary
that we altogether resign the use of our own reason; that is to say,
we must seal up our eyes in utter darkness, and surrender ourselves to
the guidance of our priests. These are the principles upon which the
fabric of Christian morals is evidently constructed.

Let us now proceed, Madam, to a more detailed examination of the
virtues upon which the Christian religion is built. These virtues are
Evangelical, &c. If destitute of them, we are assured that it is in
vain for us to seek the favor of the Deity.

Of these virtues the first is FAITH. According to the doctrine of the
church, faith is the gift of God, a supernatural virtue, by means of
which we are inspired with a firm belief in God, and in all that he
has vouchsafed to reveal to man, although our reason is utterly unable
to comprehend it. Faith is, says the church, founded upon the word of
God, who can neither deceive nor be deceived. Thus faith supposes,
that God has spoken to man--but what evidence have we that God has
spoken to man? The Holy Scriptures. Who is it that assures us the Holy
Scriptures contain the word of God? It is the church. But who is it
that assures us the church cannot and will not deceive us? The Holy
Scriptures. Thus the Scriptures bear witness to the infallibility of
the church--and the church, in return, testifies the truth of the
Scriptures. From this statement of the case, you must perceive, that
faith is nothing more than an implicit belief in the priests, whose
assurances we adopt as the foundation of opinions in themselves
incomprehensible. It is true, that as a confirmation of the truth of
Scripture, we are referred to miracles--but it is these identical
Scriptures which report to us and testify of those very miracles. Of
the absolute impossibility of any miracles, I flatter myself that I
have already convinced you.

Besides, I cannot but think, Madam, that you must be, by this time,
thoroughly satisfied how absurd it is to say that the understanding is
convinced of any thing which it does not comprehend; the insight I
have given you into the books which the Christians call sacred, must
have left upon your mind a firm persuasion, that they never could have
proceeded from a wise, a good, an omniscient, a just, and all-powerful
God. If, then, we cannot yield them a real belief, what we call faith
can be nothing more than a blind and irrational adherence to a system
devised by priests, whose crafty selfishness has made them careful
from the earliest infancy to fill our tender minds with prepossessions
in favor of doctrines which they judged favorable to their own
interests. Interested, however, as they are in the opinions which they
endeavor to force upon us as truth, is it possible for these priests
to believe them themselves? Unquestionably not--the thing is out of
nature. They are men like ourselves, furnished with the same
faculties, and neither they nor we can be convinced of any thing which
lies equally beyond the scope of us all. If they possessed an
additional sense, we should perhaps allow that they might comprehend
what is unintelligible to us; but as we clearly see that they have no
intellectual privileges above the rest of the species, we are
compelled to conclude, that their faith, like the faith of other
Christians, is a blind acquiescence in opinions derived, without
examination, from their predecessors; and that they must be hypocrites
when they pretend to _believe_ in doctrines of the truth of which they
cannot be _convinced_, since these doctrines have been shown to be
destitute of that degree of evidence which is necessary to impress the
mind with a feeling of their probability, much less of their
certainty.

It will be said that faith, or the faculty of believing things
incredible, is the gift of God, and can only be known to those upon
whom God has bestowed the favor. My answer is, that, if that be the
case, we have no alternative but to wait till the grace of God shall
be shed upon us--and that in the mean time we may be allowed to doubt
whether credulity, stupidity, and the perversion of reason can
proceed, as favors, from a rational Deity who has endowed us with the
power of thinking. If God be infinitely wise, how can folly and
imbecility be pleasing to him? If there were such a thing as faith,
proceeding from grace, it would be the privilege of seeing things
otherwise than as God has made them; and if that were so, it follows,
that the whole creation would be a mere cheat. No man can believe the
Bible to be the production of God without doing violence to every
consistent notion that he is able to form of Deity! No man can believe
that one God is three Gods, and that those three Gods are one God,
without renouncing all pretension to common sense, and persuading
himself that there is no such thing as certainty in the world.

Thus, Madam, we are bound to suspect that what the church calls a gift
from above, a supernatural grace, is, in fact, a perfect blindness, an
irrational credulity, a brutish submission, a vague uncertainty, a
stupid ignorance, by which we are led to acquiesce, without
investigation, in every dogma that our priests think fit to impose
upon us--by which we are led to adopt, without knowing why, the
pretended opinions of men who can have no better means of arriving at
the truth than we have. In short, we are authorized in suspecting that
no motive but that of blinding us, in order more effectually to
deceive us, can actuate those men who are eternally preaching to us
about a virtue which, if it could exist, would throw into utter
confusion the simplest and clearest perceptions of the human mind.

This supposition is amply confirmed by the conduct of our
ecclesiastics--forgetting what they have told us, that grace is the
gratuitous present of God, bestowed or withheld at his sovereign
pleasure, they nevertheless indulge their wrath against all those who
have not received the gift of faith; they keep up one incessant
anathema against all unbelievers, and nothing less than absolute
extermination of heresy can appease their anger wherever they have the
strength to accomplish it. So that heretics and unbelievers are made
accountable for the grace of God, although they never received it;
they are punished in this world for those advantages which God has not
been pleased to extend to them in their journey to the next. In the
estimation of priests and devotees, the want of faith is the most
unpardonable of all offences--it is precisely that offence which, in
the cruelty of their absurd injustice, they visit with the last rigors
of punishment, for you cannot be ignorant, Madam, that in all
countries where the clergy possess sufficient influence, the flames of
priestly charity are lighted up to consume all those who are deficient
in the prescribed allowance of faith.

When we inquire the motive for their unjust and senseless proceedings,
we are told that faith is the most necessary of all things, that faith
is of the most essential service to morals, that without faith a man
is a dangerous and wicked wretch, a pest to society. And, after all,
is it our own choice to have faith? Can we believe just what we
please? Does it depend upon ourselves not to think a proposition
absurd which our understanding shows us to be absurd? How could we
avoid receiving, in our infancy, whatever impressions and opinions
our teachers and relations chose to implant in us? And where is the
man who can boast that he has faith--that he is fully convinced of
mysteries which he cannot conceive, and wonders which he cannot
comprehend?

Under these circumstances how can faith be serviceable to morals? If
no one can have faith but upon the assurance of another, and
consequently cannot entertain a real conviction, what becomes of the
social virtues? Admitting that faith were possible, what connection
can exist between such occult speculations and the manifest duties of
mankind, duties which are palpable to every one who, in the least,
consults his reason, his interest, or the welfare of the society to
which he belongs? Before I can be satisfied of the advantages of
justice, temperance, and benevolence, must I first believe in the
Trinity, the Incarnation, the Eucharist, and all the fables of the Old
Testament? If I believe in all the atrocious murders attributed by the
Bible to that God whom I am bound to consider as the fountain of
justice, wisdom, and goodness, is it not likely that I shall feel
encouraged to the commission of crimes when I find them sanctioned by
such an example? Although unable to discover the value of so many
mysteries which I cannot understand, or of so many fanciful and
cumbersome ceremonies prescribed by the church, am I, on that account,
to be denounced as a more dangerous citizen than those who persecute,
torment, and destroy every one of their fellow-creatures who does not
think and act at their dictation? The evident result of all these
considerations must be, that he who has a lively faith and a blind
zeal for opinions contradictory to common sense, is more irrational,
and consequently more wicked than the man whose mind is untainted by
such detestable doctrines; for when once the priests have gained their
fatal ascendency over his mind, and have persuaded him that, by
committing all sorts of enormities, he is doing the work of the Lord,
there can be no doubt that he will make greater havoc in the happiness
of the world, than the man whose reason tells him that such excesses
cannot be acceptable in the sight of God.

The advocates of the church will here interrupt me, by alleging that
if divested of those sentiments which religion inspires, men would no
longer live under the influence of motives strong enough to induce an
abstinence from vice, or to urge them on in the career of virtue when
obstructed by painful sacrifices. In a word, it will be affirmed that
unless men are convinced of the existence of an avenging and
remunerating God, they are released from every motive to fulfil their
duties to each other in the present life.

You are, doubtless, Madam, quite sensible of the futility of such
pretences, put forth by priests who, in order to render themselves
more necessary, are indefatigable in endeavoring to persuade us that
their system is indispensable to the maintenance of social order. To
annihilate their sophistries it is sufficient to reflect upon the
nature of man, his true interests, and the end for which society is
formed. Man is a feeble being, whose necessities render him constantly
dependent upon the support of others, whether it be for the
preservation or the pleasure of his existence; he has no means of
interesting others in his welfare except by his manner of conducting
himself towards them; that conduct which renders him an object of
affection to others is called virtue--whatever is pernicious to
society is called crime--and where the consequences are injurious only
to the individual himself, it is called vice. Thus every man must
immediately perceive that he consults his own happiness by advancing
that of others--that vices, however cautiously disguised from public
observation, are, nevertheless, fraught with ruin to him who practises
them--and that crimes are sure to render the perpetrator odious or
contemptible in the eyes of his associates, who are necessary to his
own happiness. In short, education, public opinion, and the laws point
out to us our mutual duties much more clearly than the chimeras of an
incomprehensible religion.

Every man on consulting with himself will feel indubitably that he
desires his own conservation; experience will teach him both what he
ought to do and what to avoid to arrive at this end; in consequence he
will shrink from those excesses which endanger his being; he will
debar himself from those gratifications which in their course would
render his existence miserable; and he would make sacrifices, if it
was necessary, in the view of procuring himself advantages more real
than those of which he momentarily deprived himself. Thus he would
know what he owes to himself and what he owes to others.

Here, Madam, you have a short but perfect summary of all morals,
derived, as they must be, from the nature of man, the uniform
experience and the universal reason of mankind. These precepts are
compulsory upon our minds, for they show us that the consequences of
our conduct flow from our actions with as natural and inevitable a
certainty as the return of a stone to the earth after the impetus is
exhausted which detained it in the air. It is natural and inevitable
that the man who employs himself in doing good must be preferred to
the man who does mischief. Every thinking being must be penetrated
with the truth of this incontrovertible maxim, and all the ponderous
volumes of theology that ever were composed can add nothing to the
force of his conviction; every thinking being will, therefore, avoid a
conduct calculated to injure either himself or others; he will feel
himself under the necessity of doing good to others, as the only
method of obtaining solid happiness for himself, and of conciliating
to himself those sentiments on the part of others, without which he
could derive no charms from society.

You perceive, then, Madam, that _faith_ cannot in any manner
contribute to the correction of social conduct, and you will feel
that the popular supernatural notions cannot add any thing to the
obligations that our nature imposes upon us. In fact, the more
mysterious and incomprehensible are the dogmas of the church, the more
likely are they to draw us aside from the plain dictates of Nature and
the straight-forward directions of Reason, whose voice is incapable of
misleading us. A candid survey of the causes which produce an infinity
of evils that afflict society will quickly point out the speculative
tenets of theology as their most fruitful source. The intoxication of
enthusiasm and the frenzy of fanaticism concur in overpowering reason,
and by rendering men blind and unreflecting, convert them into enemies
both of themselves and the rest of the world. It is impossible for the
worshippers of a tyrannical, partial, and cruel God to practise the
duties of justice and philanthropy. As soon as the priests have
succeeded in stifling within us the commands of Reason, they have
already converted us into slaves, in whom they can kindle whatever
passions it may please them to inspire us with.

Their interest, indeed, requires that we should be slaves. They exact
from us the surrender of our reason, because our reason contradicts
their impostures, and would ruin their plans of aggrandizement. Faith
is the instrument by which they enslave us and make us subservient to
their own ambition. Hence arises their zeal for the propagation of the
faith; hence arises their implacable hostility to science, and to all
those who refuse submission to their yoke; hence arises their
incessant endeavor to establish the dominion of Faith, (that is to
say, their own dominion,) even by fire and sword, the only arguments
they condescend to employ.

It must be confessed that society derives but little advantage from
this supernatural faith which the church has exalted into the first of
virtues. As it regards God, it is perfectly useless to him, since if
he wishes mankind to be convinced, it is sufficient that he wills them
to be so. It is utterly unworthy of the supreme wisdom of God, who
cannot exhibit himself to mortals in a manner contradictory to the
reason with which he has endowed them. It is unworthy of the divine
justice, which cannot require from mankind to be convinced of that
which they cannot understand. It denies the very existence of God
himself, by inculcating a belief totally subversive of the only
rational idea we are able to form of the Divinity.

As it regards morality, faith is also useless. Faith cannot render it
either more sacred or more necessary than it already is by its own
inherent essence, and by the nature of man. Faith is not only useless,
but injurious to society, since, under the plea of its pretended
necessity, it frequently fills the world with deplorable troubles and
horrid crimes. In short, faith is self-contradictory, since by it we
are required to believe in things inconsistent with each other, and
even incompatible with the principles laid down in the books which we
have already investigated, and which contain what we are commanded to
believe.

To whom, then, is faith found to be advantageous? To a few men, only,
who, availing themselves of its influence to degrade the human mind,
contrive to render the labor of the whole world tributary to their own
luxury, splendor, and power. Are the nations of the earth any happier
for their faith, or their blind reliance on priests? Certainly not. We
do not there find more morality, more virtue, more industry, or more
happiness; but, on the contrary, wherever the priests are powerful,
there the people are sure to be found abject in their minds and
squalid in their condition.

But Hope--Hope, the second in order of the Christian perfections, is
ever at hand to console us for the evils inflicted by Faith. We are
commanded to be firmly convinced that those who have faith, that is to
say, those who believe in priests, shall be amply rewarded in the
other world for their meritorious submission in this. Thus hope is
founded on faith, in the same manner as faith is established upon
hope; faith enjoins us to entertain a devout hope that our faith will
be rewarded. And what is it we are told to hope for? For unspeakable
benefits; that is, benefits for which language contains no expression.
So that, after all, we know not what it is we are to hope for. And how
can we feel a hope or even a wish for any object that is undefinable?
How can priests incessantly speak to us of things of which they, at
the same time, acknowledge it is impossible for us to form any ideas?

It thus appears that hope and faith have one common foundation; the
same blow which overturns the one necessarily levels the other with
the ground. But let us pause a moment, and endeavor to discover the
advantages of Christian hope amongst men. It encourages to the
practice of virtue; it supports the unfortunate under the stroke of
affliction; and consoles the believer in the hour of adversity. But
what encouragement, what support, what consolation can be imparted to
the mind from these undefined and undefinable shadows? No one, indeed,
will deny that hope is sufficiently useful to the priests, who never
fail to call in its assistance for the vindication of Providence,
whenever any of the elect have occasion to complain of the unmerited
hardship or the transient injustice of his dispensations. Besides,
these priests, notwithstanding their beautiful systems, find
themselves unable to fulfil the high-sounding promises they so
liberally make to all the faithful, and are frequently at a loss to
explain the evils which they bring upon their flocks by means of the
quarrels they engage in, and the false notions of religion they
entertain; on these occasions the priests have a standing appeal to
hope, telling their dupes that man was not created for this world,
that heaven is his home, and that his sufferings here will be
counterbalanced by indescribable bliss hereafter. Thus, like quacks,
whose nostrums have ruined the health of their patients, they have
still left to themselves the advantage of selling hopes to those whom
they know themselves unable to cure. Our priests resemble some of our
physicians, who begin by frightening us into our complaints, in order
that they may make us customers for the hopes which they afterwards
sell to us for their weight in gold. This traffic constitutes, in
reality, all that is called religion.

The third of the Christian virtues is Charity; that is, to love God
above all things, and our neighbors as ourselves. But before we are
required to love God above all things, it seems reasonable that
religion should condescend to represent him as worthy of our love. In
good faith, Madam, is it possible to feel that the God of the
Christians is entitled to our love? Is it possible to feel any other
sentiments than those of aversion towards a partial, capricious,
cruel, revengeful, jealous, and sanguinary tyrant? How can we
sincerely love the most terrible of beings,--the living God, into
whose hands it is dreadful to think of falling,--the God who can
consign to eternal damnation those very creatures who, without his own
consent, would never have existed? Are our theologians aware of what
they say, when they tell us that the fear of God is the fear of a
child for its parent, which is mingled with love? Are we not bound to
hate, can we by any means avoid detesting, a barbarous father, whose
injustice is so boundless as to punish the whole human race, though
innocent, in order to revenge himself upon two individuals for the sin
of the apple, which sin he himself might have prevented if he had
thought proper? In short, Madam, it is a physical impossibility to
love above all things a God whose whole conduct, as described in the
Bible, fills us with a freezing horror. If, therefore, the love of
God, as the Jansenists assert, is indispensable to salvation, we
cannot wonder to find that the elect are so few. Indeed, there are not
many persons who can restrain themselves from hating this God; and the
doctrine of the Jesuits is, that to abstain from hating him is
sufficient for salvation. The power of loving a God whom religion
paints as the most detestable of beings would, doubtless, be a proof
of the most supernatural grace, that is, a grace the most contrary to
nature; to love that which we do not know, is, assuredly, sufficiently
difficult; to love that which we fear, is still more difficult; but to
love that which is exhibited to us in the most repulsive colors, is
manifestly impossible.

We must, after all this, be thoroughly convinced that, except by means
of an invisible grace never communicated to the profane, no Christian
in his sober senses can love his God; even those devotees who pretend
to that happiness are apt to deceive themselves; their conduct
resembles that of hypocritical flatterers, who, in order to ingratiate
themselves with an odious tyrant, or to escape his resentment, make
every profession of attachment, whilst, at the bottom of their
hearts, they execrate him; or, on the other hand, they must be
condemned as enthusiasts, who, by means of a heated imagination,
become the dupes of their own illusions, and only view the favorable
side of a God declared to be the fountain of all good, yet,
nevertheless, constantly delineated to us with every feature of
wickedness. Devotees, when sincere, are like women given up to the
infatuation of a blind passion by which they are enamoured with lovers
rejected by the rest of the sex as unworthy of their affection. It was
said by Madame de Sévigné that she loved God as a perfectly well-bred
gentleman, with whom she had never been acquainted. But can the God of
the Christians be esteemed a well-bred gentleman? Unless her head was
turned, one would think that she must have been cured of her passion
by the slightest reference to her imaginary lover's portrait as drawn
in the Bible, or as it is spread upon the canvas of our theological
artists.

With regard to the love of our neighbor, where was the necessity of
religion to teach us our duty, which as men we cannot but feel, of
cherishing sentiments of good will towards each other? It is only by
showing in our conduct an affectionate disposition to others that we
can produce in them correspondent feelings towards ourselves. The
simple circumstance of being men is quite sufficient to give us a
claim upon the heart of every man who is susceptible of the sweet
sensibilities of our nature. Who is better acquainted than yourself,
Madam, with this truth? Does not your compassionate soul experience at
every moment the delightful satisfaction of solacing the unhappy?
Setting aside the superfluous precepts of religion, think you that you
could by any efforts steel your heart against the tears of the
unfortunate? Is it not by rendering our fellow-creatures happy that we
establish an empire in their hearts? Enjoy, then, Madam, this
delightful sovereignty; continue to bless with your beneficence all
that surround you; the consciousness of being the dispenser of so much
good will always sustain your mind with the most gratifying
self-applause; those who have received your kindness will reward you
with their blessings, and afford you the tribute of affection which
mankind are ever eager to lay at the feet of their benefactors.

Christianity, not satisfied with recommending the love of our
neighbor, superadds the injunction of loving our enemies. This
precept, attributed to the Son of God himself, forms the ground on
which our divines claim for their religion a superiority of moral
doctrine over all that the philosophers of antiquity were known to
teach. Let us, therefore, examine how far this precept admits of being
reduced to practice. True, an elevated mind may easily place itself
above a sense of injuries; a noble spirit retains no resentful
recollections; a great soul revenges itself by a generous clemency;
but it is an absurd contradiction to require that a man shall
entertain feelings of tenderness and regard for those whom he knows
to be bent on his destruction; this love of our enemies, which
Christianity is so vain of having promulgated, turns out, then, to be
an impracticable commandment, belied and denied by every Christian at
every moment of his life. How preposterous to talk of loving that
which annoys us!--of cherishing an attachment for that which gives us
pain!--of receiving an outrage with joy!--of loving those who subject
us to misery and suffering! No; in the midst of these trials our
firmness may perhaps be strengthened by the hope of a reward
hereafter; but it is a mere fallacy to talk of our entertaining a
sincere love for those whom we deem the authors of our afflictions;
the least that we can do is to avoid them, which will not be looked
upon as a very strong indication of our love.

Notwithstanding the solemn formality with which the Christian religion
obtrudes upon us these vaunted precepts of love of our neighbor, love
of our enemies, and forgiveness of injuries, it cannot escape the
observation of the weakest among us, that those very men who are the
loudest in praising are also the first and most constant in violating
them. Our priests especially seem to consider themselves exempt from
the troublesome necessity of adopting for their own conduct a too
literal interpretation of this divine law. They have invented a most
convenient salvo, since they affect to exclude all those who do not
profess to think as they dictate, not only from the kindness of
neighbors, but even from the rights of fellow-creatures. On this
principle they defame, persecute, and destroy every one who displeases
them. When do you see a priest forgive? When revenge is out of his
reach! But it is never their own injuries they punish; it is never
their own enemies they seek to exterminate. Their disinterested
indignation burns with resentment against the enemies of the Most
High, who, without their assistance, would be incapable of adjusting
his own quarrels! By an unaccountable coincidence, however, it is sure
to happen that the enemies of the church are the enemies of the Most
High, who never fails to make common cause with the ministers of the
faith, and who would take it extremely ill if his ministers should
relax in the measure of punishment due to their common enemy. Thus our
priests are cruel and revengeful from pure zeal; they would ardently
wish to forgive their own enemies, but how could they justify
themselves to the God of Mercies if they extended the least indulgence
to his enemies?

A true Christian loves the Creator above all things, and consequently
he must love him in preference to the creature. We feel a lively
interest in every thing that concerns the object of our love; from all
which, it follows that we must evince our zeal, and even, when
necessary, we must not hesitate to exterminate our neighbor, if he
says or does what is displeasing or injurious to God. In such a case,
indifference would be criminal; a sincere love of God breaks out into
a holy ardor in his cause, and our merit rises in proportion to our
violence.

These notions, absurd as they are, have been sufficient in every age
to produce in the world a multitude of crimes, extravagances, and
follies, the legitimate offspring of a religious zeal. Infatuated
fanatics, exasperated by priests against each other, have been driven
into mutual hatred, persecution, and destruction; they have thought
themselves called upon to avenge the Almighty; they have carried their
insane delusions so far as to persuade themselves that the God of
clemency and goodness could look on with pleasure while they murdered
their brethren; in the astonishing blindness of their stupidity, they
have imagined that in defending the temporalities of the church, they
were defending God himself. In pursuance of these errors, contradicted
even by the description which they themselves give us of the Divinity,
the priests of every age have found means to introduce confusion into
the peaceful habitations of men, and to destroy all who dared to
resist their tyranny. Under the laughable idea of revenging the
all-powerful Creator, these priests have discovered the secret of
revenging themselves, and that, too, without drawing down upon
themselves the hatred and execration so justly due to their vindictive
fury and unfeeling selfishness. In the name of the God of nature, they
stifled the voice of nature in the breasts of men; in the name of the
God of goodness, they incited men to the fury of wild beasts; in the
name of the God of mercies, they prohibited all forgiveness!

It is thus, Madam, that the earth has never ceased to groan with the
ravages committed by maniacs under the influence of that zeal which
springs from the Christian doctrine of the love of God. The God of the
Christians, like the Janus of Roman mythology, has two faces;
sometimes he is represented with the benign features of mercy and
goodness; sometimes murder, revenge, and fury issue from his nostrils.
And what is the consequence of this double aspect but that the
Christians are much more easily terrified at his frightful lineaments
than they are recovered from their fears by his aspect of mercy!
Having been taught to view him as a capricious being, they are
naturally mistrustful of him, and imagine that the safest part they
can act for themselves is to set about the work of vengeance with
great zeal; they conclude that a cruel master cannot find fault with
cruel imitators, and that his servants cannot render themselves more
acceptable than by extirpating all his enemies.

The preceding remarks show very clearly, Madam, the highly pernicious
consequences which result from the zeal engendered by the love of God.
If this love is a virtue, its benefits are confined to the priests,
who arrogate to themselves the exclusive privilege of declaring when
God is offended; who absorb all the offerings and monopolize all the
homage of the devout; who decide upon the opinions that please or
displease him; who undertake to inform mankind of the duties this
virtue requires from them, and of the proper time and manner of
performing them; who are interested in rendering those duties cruel
and intimidating in order to frighten mankind into a profitable
subjection; who convert it into the instrument of gratifying their own
malignant passions, by inspiring men with a spirit of headlong and
raging intolerance, which, in its furious course of indiscriminate
destruction, holds nothing sacred, and which has inflicted incredible
ravages upon all Christian countries.

In conformity with such abominable principles, a Christian is bound to
detest and destroy all whom the church may point out as the enemies of
God. Having admitted the paramount duty of yielding their entire
affections to a rigorous master, quick to resent, and offended even
with the involuntary thoughts and opinions of his creatures, they of
course feel themselves bound, by entering with zeal into his quarrels,
to obtain for him a vengeance worthy of a God--that is to say, a
vengeance that knows no bounds. A conduct like this is the natural
offspring of those revolting ideas which our priests give us of the
Deity. A good Christian is therefore necessarily intolerant. It is
true that Christianity in the pulpit preaches nothing but mildness,
meekness, toleration, peace, and concord; but Christianity in the
world is a stranger to all these virtues; nor does she ever exercise
them except when she is deficient in the necessary power to give
effect to her destructive zeal. The real truth of the matter is, that
Christians think themselves absolved from every tie of humanity except
with those who think as they do, who profess to believe the same
creed; they have a repugnance, more or less decided, against all those
who disagree with their priests in theological speculation. How common
it is to see persons of the mildest character and most benevolent
disposition regard with aversion the adherents of a different sect
from their own! The reigning religion--that is, the religion of the
sovereign, or of the priests in whose favor the sovereign declares
himself--crushes all rival sects, or, at least, makes them fully
sensible of its superiority and its hatred, in a manner extremely
insulting, and calculated to raise their indignation. By these means
it frequently happens that the deference of the prince to the wishes
of the priests has the effect of alienating the hearts of his most
faithful subjects, and brings him that execration which ought in
justice to be heaped exclusively upon his sanctimonious instigators.

In short, Madam, the private rights of conscience are nowhere
sincerely respected; the leaders of the various religious sects begin,
in the very cradle, to teach all Christians to hate and despise each
other about some theological point which nobody can understand. The
clergy, when vested with power, never preach toleration; on the
contrary, they consider every man as an enemy who is a friend to
religious freedom, accusing him of lukewarmness, infidelity, and
secret hostility; in short, he is denominated a false brother. The
Sorbonne declared, in the sixteenth century, that it was heretical to
say that heretics ought not to be burned. The ferocious St. Austin
preached toleration at one period, but it was before he was duly
initiated in the mysteries of the sacerdotal policy, which is ever
repugnant to toleration. Persecution is necessary to our priests, to
deter mankind from opposing themselves to their avarice, their
ambition, their vanity, and their obstinacy. The sole principle which
holds the church together is that of a sleepless watchfulness on the
part of all its members to extend its power, to increase the multitude
of its slaves, to fix odium on all who hesitate to bend their necks to
its yoke, or who refuse their assent to its arbitrary decisions.

Our divines have, therefore, you see, very good reasons for raising
humility into the rank of virtue. An amiable modesty, a diffident
mildness of demeanor, are unquestionably calculated to promote the
pleasures and the advantages of society; it is equally certain that
insolence and arrogance are disgusting, that they wound our self-love
and excite our aversion by their repulsive conduct; but that amiable
modesty which charms all who come within its influence is a far
different quality from that which is designated humility in the
vocabulary of Christians. A truly humble Christian despises his own
unworthiness, avoids the esteem of others, mistrusts his own
understanding, submits with docility to the unerring guidance of his
spiritual masters, and piously resigns to his priest the clearest and
most irrefutable conclusions of reason.

But to what advantage can this pretended virtue lead its followers?
How can a man of sense and integrity despise himself? Is not public
opinion the guardian of private virtue? If you deprive men of the love
of glory, and the desire of deserving the approbation of their
fellow-citizens, are you not divesting them of the noblest and most
powerful incitements by which they can be impelled to benefit their
country? What recompense will remain to the benefactors of mankind,
if, first of all, we are unjust enough to refuse them the praise they
merit, and afterwards debar them from the satisfaction of
self-applause, and the happiness they would feel in the consciousness
of having done good to an ungrateful world? What infatuation, what
amazing infatuation, to require a man of upright character, of
talents, intelligence, and learning, to think himself on a level with
a selfish priest, or a stupid fanatic, who deal out their absurd
fables and incoherent dreams!

Our priests are never weary of telling their flocks that pride leads
on to infidelity, and that a humble and submissive spirit is alone
fitted to receive the truths of the gospel. In good earnest, should
we not be utterly bereft of every claim to the name of rational
beings, if we consent to surrender our judgment and our knowledge at
the command of a hierarchy, who have nothing to give us in exchange
but the most palpable absurdities? With what face can a reverend
Doctor of Nonsense dare to exact from my understanding a humble
acquiescence in a bundle of mysterious opinions, for which he is
unable to offer me a single solid reason? Is it, then, presumptuous to
think one's self superior to a class of pretenders, whose systems are
a mass of falsities, absurdities, and inconsistencies, of which they
contrive to make mankind at once the dupes and the victims? Can pride
or vanity be, with justice, imputed to you, Madam, if you see reason
to prefer the dictates of your own understanding to the authoritative
decrees of Mrs. D----, whose senseless malignity is obvious to all her
acquaintance?

If Christian humility is a virtue at all, it can be one only in the
cloister; society can derive no sort of benefit from it; it enervates
the mind; it benefits nobody but priests, who, under the pretext of
rendering men humble, seek, in reality, only to degrade them, to
stifle in their souls every spark of science and of courage, that they
may the more easily impose the yoke of faith, that is to say, their
own yoke. Conclude, then, with me, that the Christian virtues are
chimerical, always useless, and sometimes pernicious to men, and
attended with advantage to none but priests. Conclude that this
religion, with all the boasted beauty of its morality, recommends to
us a set of virtues, and enjoins a line of conduct, at variance with
good sense. Conclude that, in order to be moral and virtuous, it is
far from necessary to adopt the unintelligible creed of the priests,
or to pride ourselves upon the empty virtues they preach, and still
less to annihilate all sense of dignity in ourselves, by a degrading
subjection to the duties they require. Conclude, in short, that the
friend of virtue is not, of necessity, the friend of priestcraft, and
that a man may be adorned with every human perfection, without
possessing one of the Christian virtues.

All who examine this matter with a candid and intelligent eye, cannot
fail to see that true morality--that is to say, a morality really
serviceable to mankind--is absolutely incompatible with the Christian
religion, or any other professed revelation. Whoever imagines himself
the favored object of the Creator's love, must look down with disdain
upon his less fortunate fellow-creatures, especially if he regards
that Creator as partial, choleric, revengeful, and fickle, easily
incensed against us, even by our involuntary thoughts, or our most
innocent words and actions; such a man naturally conducts himself with
contempt and pride, with harshness and barbarity towards all others
whom he may deem obnoxious to the resentment of his Heavenly King.
Those men, whose folly leads them to view the Deity in the light of a
capricious, irritable, and unappeasable despot, can be nothing but
gloomy and trembling slaves, ever eager to anticipate the vengeance
of God upon all whose conduct or opinions they may conceive likely to
provoke the celestial wrath. As soon as the priests have succeeded in
reducing men to a state of stupidity gross enough to make them believe
that their ghostly fathers are the faithful organs of the divine will,
they naturally commit every species of crime, which their spiritual
teachers may please to tell them is calculated to pacify the anger of
their offended God. Men, silly enough to accept a system of morals
from guides thus hollow in reasoning, and thus discordant in opinion,
must necessarily be unstable in their principles, and subject to every
variation that the interest of their guides may suggest. In short, it
is impossible to construct a solid morality, if we take for our
foundation the attributes of a deity so unjust, so capricious, and so
changeable as the God of the Bible, whom we are commanded to imitate
and adore.

Persevere, then, my dear Madam, in the practice of those virtues which
your own unsophisticated heart approves; they will insure you a rich
harvest of happiness in the present existence; they will insure you a
rich return of gratitude, respect, and love from all who enjoy their
benign influence; they will insure you the solid satisfaction of a
well-founded self-esteem, and thus provide you with that unfailing
source of inward gratification which arises from the consciousness of
having contributed to the welfare of the human race. I am, &c.



LETTER IX.

  Of the Advantages contributed to Government by Religion.


Having already shown you, Madam, the feebleness of those succors which
religion furnishes to morals, I shall now proceed to examine whether
it procure advantages in themselves really politic, and whether it be
true, as has so often been urged by the priests, that it is absolutely
necessary to the existence of every government. Were we disposed to
shut our eyes, and deliver ourselves up to the language of our
priests, we should believe that their opinions are necessary to the
public tranquillity, and the repose and security of the State; that
princes could not, without their aid, govern the people, and exert
themselves for the prosperity of their empire. Nor is this all; our
spiritual pilots approach the throne, and gaining the ear of the
sovereign, make him also believe that he has the greatest interest in
conforming to their caprices, in order to subject men to the divine
yoke of royalty. These priests mingle in all important political
quarrels, and they too often persuade the rulers of the earth that the
enemies of the church are the enemies of all power, and that in
sapping the foundations of the altar, the foundations of the throne
are likewise necessarily overthrown.

We have, then, only to open our eyes and consult history, to be
convinced of the falsity of these pretensions, and to appreciate the
important services which the Christian priests have rendered to their
sovereigns. Ever since the establishment of Christianity, we have
seen, in all the countries in which this religion has gained ground,
that two rival powers are perpetually at war one with the other. We
find _a_ government within _the_ government; that is to say, we find
the Church, a body of priests, continually opposed to the sovereign
power, and in virtue of their pretended _divine_ mission and _sacred_
office, pretending to give laws to all the sovereigns of the earth. We
find the clergy, puffed up and besotted with the titles they have
given themselves, laboring to exact the obedience due to the
sovereign, pretending to chimerical and dangerous prerogatives, which
none are suffered to question, without risking the displeasure of the
Almighty. And so well have the priesthood managed this matter, that in
many countries we actually see the people more inclined to lean to the
authority of the Vicars of Jesus Christ than to that of the civil
government. The priesthood claim the right of commanding monarchs
themselves, and sustained by their emissaries and the credulity of the
people, their ridiculous pretensions have engaged princes in the most
serious affairs, sown trouble and discord in kingdoms, and so shook
thrones as to compel their occupants to make submission to an
intolerant hierarchy.

Such are the important services which religion has a thousand times
rendered to kings. The people, blinded by superstition, could
hesitate but little between God and the princes of the earth. The
priests, being the visible organs of an invisible monarch, have
acquired an immense credit with prejudiced minds. The ignorance of the
people places them, as well as their sovereigns, at the mercy of the
priests. Nations have continually been dragged into their futile
though bloody quarrels; princes, for a long series of years, have
either had to dispute their authority with the clergy, or become their
tools or dupes.

The continual attention which the princes of Europe have been forced
to pay to the clergy has prevented them from occupying their thoughts
about the welfare of their subjects, who, in many instances the dupes
of the priesthood, have opposed even the good their rulers desired to
procure them. In like manner, the heads of the people, their kings and
governors, too weak to resist the torrent of opinions propagated by
the clergy, have been forced to yield, to bow, nay, even to caress the
priesthood, and to consent to grant it all its demands. Whenever they
have wished to resist the encroachments of the clergy, they have
encountered concealed snares or open opposition, as the _holy_ power
was either too weak to act in the face of day, or strong enough to
contend in the sunshine. When princes have wished to be listened to by
the clergy, these last have invariably contrived to make them
cowardly, and to sacrifice the happiness and respect of their people.
Often have the hands of parricides and rebels been armed, by a proud
and vindictive priesthood, against sovereigns the most worthy of
reigning. The priests, under pretext of avenging God, inflict their
anger upon monarchs themselves, whenever the latter are found
indisposed to bend under their yoke. In a word, in _all_ countries we
perceive that the ministers of religion have exercised in all ages the
most unbridled license. We every where see empires torn by their
dissensions; thrones overturned by their machinations; princes
immolated to their power and revenge; subjects animated to revolt
against the prince that ought to give them more happiness than they
actually enjoyed; and when we take the retrospect of these, we find
that the ambition, the cupidity, and vanity of the clergy have been
the true causes and motives of all these outrages on the peace of the
universe. And it is thus that their religion has so often produced
anarchy, and overturned the very empires they pretended to support by
its influence.

Sovereigns have never enjoyed peace but when, shamefully devoted to
priests, they submitted to their caprices, became enslaved to their
opinions, and allowed them to govern in place of themselves. Then was
the sovereign power subordinate to the sacerdotal, and the prince was
only the first servant of the church; she degraded him to such a
degree as to make him her hangman; she obliged him to execute her
sanguinary decrees; she forced him to dip his hands in the blood of
his own subjects whom the clergy had proscribed; she made him the
visible instrument of her vengeance, her fury, and her concealed
passions. Instead of occupying himself with the happiness of his
people, the sovereign has had the complaisance to torment, to
persecute, and to immolate honest citizens, thus exciting the just
hatred of a portion of his people, to whom he should have been a
father, to gratify the ambition and the selfish malevolence of some
priests, always aliens in the state which nourishes them, and who only
style themselves members of the realm in order to domineer, to
distract, to plunder, and to devour with impunity.

How little soever you are disposed to reflect, you will be convinced,
Madam, that I do not exaggerate these things. Recent examples prove to
you that even in this age, so ambitious of being considered
enlightened, nations are not secure from the shocks that the priests
have ever caused nations to suffer. You have a hundred times sighed at
the sight of the sad follies which puerile questions have produced
among us. You have shuddered at the frightful consequences which have
resulted from the unreasonable squabbles of the clergy. You have
trembled with all good citizens at the sight of the tragical effects
which have been brought about by the furious wickedness of a
fanaticism for which nothing is sacred. In fine, you have seen the
sovereign authority compelled to struggle incessantly against
rebellious subjects, who pretend that their conscience or the
interests of religion have obliged them to resist opinions the most
agreeable to common sense, and the most equitable.

Our fathers, more religious and less enlightened than ourselves, were
witnesses of scenes yet more terrible. They saw civil wars, leagues
openly formed against their sovereign, and the capital submerged in
the blood of murdered citizens; two monarchs successively immolated to
the fury of the clergy, who kindled in all parts the fire of sedition.
They afterwards saw kings at war with their own subjects; a famous
sovereign, Louis XIV., tarnishing all his glory by persecuting,
contrary to the faith of treaties, subjects who would have lived
tranquil, if they had only been allowed to enjoy in peace the liberty
of conscience; and they saw, in fine, this same prince, the dupe of a
false policy, dictated by intolerance, banish, along with the exiled
Protestants, the industry of his states, and forcing the arts and
manufactures of our nation to take refuge in the dominions of our most
implacable enemies.

We see religion throughout Europe, without cessation, exerting a
baleful influence upon temporal affairs; we see it direct the
interests of princes; we see it divide and make Christian nations
enemies of each other, because their spiritual guides do not all
entertain the same opinions. Germany is divided into two religious
parties whose interests are perpetually at variance. We every where
perceive that Protestants are born the enemies of the Catholics, and
are always in antagonism to them; while, on the other hand, the
Catholics are leagued with their priests against all those whose mode
of thinking is less abject and less servile than their own.

Behold, Madam, the signal advantages that nations derive from
religion! But we are certain to be told that these terrible effects
are due to the passions of men, and not to the Christian religion,
which incessantly inculcates charity, concord, indulgence, and peace.
If, however, we reflect even a moment on the principles of this
religion, we should immediately perceive that they are incompatible
with the fine maxims that have never been practised by the Christian
priests, except when they lacked the power to persecute their enemies
and inflict upon them the weight of their rage. The adorers of a
jealous God, vindictive and sanguinary, as is obviously the character
of the God of the Jews and Christians, could not evince in their
conduct moderation, tranquillity, and humanity. The adorers of a God
who takes offence at the opinions of his weak creatures, who
reprobates and glories in the extermination of all who do not worship
him in a particular way, for the which, by the by, he gives them
neither the means nor the inclination, must necessarily be intolerant
persecutors. The adorers of a God who has not thought fit to
illuminate with an equal portion of light the minds of all his
creatures, who reveals his favor and bestows his kindness on a few
only of those creatures, who leaves the remainder in blindness and
uncertainty to follow their passions, or adopt opinions against which
the favored wage war, must of necessity be eternally at odds with the
rest of the world, canting about their oracles and mysteries,
supernatural precepts, invented purely to torment the human mind, to
enthral it, and leave man answerable for what he could not obey, and
punishable for what he was restrained from performing. We need not
then be astonished if, since the origin of Christianity, our priests
have never been a single moment without disputes. It appears that God
only sent his Son upon earth that his marvellous doctrines might prove
an apple of discord both for his priests and his adorers. The
ministers of a church founded by Christ himself, who promised to send
them his Holy Spirit to lead them into all the truth, have never been
in unison with their dogmas. We have seen this infallible church for
whole ages enveloped in error. You know, Madam, that in the fourth
century, by the acknowledgment of the priests themselves, the great
body of the church followed the opinions of the Arians, who disavowed
even the divinity of Jesus Christ. The spirit of God must then have
abandoned his church; else why did its ministers fall into this error,
and dispute afterwards about so fundamental a dogma of the Christian
religion?

Notwithstanding these continual quarrels, the church arrogates to
itself the right of fixing the faith of the _true believers_, and in
this it pretends to infallibility; and if the Protestant parsons have
renounced the lofty and ridiculous pretensions of their Catholic
brethren, they are not less certain in the infallibility of their
decisions; for they talk with the authority of oracles, and send to
hell and damnation all who do not yield submission to their dogmas.
Thus on both sides of the cross they wish their assertions to be
received by their adherents as if they came direct from heaven. The
priests have always been at discord among themselves, and have
perpetually cursed, anathematized, and doomed each other to hell. The
vanity of each holy clique has caused it to adhere obstinately to its
own peculiar opinions, and to treat its adversaries as heretics.
Violence alone has generally decided the discussions, terminated the
disputes, and fixed the standard of belief. Those pugnacious, brawling
priests who were artful enough to enlist sovereigns on their side were
_orthodox_, or, in other words, boasted that they were the exclusive
possessors of the true doctrine. They made use of their credit to
crush their adversaries, whom they always treated with the greatest
barbarity.

But, after all, whatever the clergy may say, we shall find, even with
a small share of attention, that it has ever been kings and emperors
who, in the last resort, fixed the faith of the disputatious
Christians. It has been by downright blows of the sword that those
theological notions most pleasing to the Deity have been sustained in
all countries. The true belief has invariably been that which had
princes for its adherents. The faithful were those who had strength
sufficient to exterminate their enemies, whom they never failed to
treat as the enemies of God. In a word, princes have been truly
infallible; we should regard them as the true founders of religious
faith; they are the judges who have decided, in all ages, what
doctrines should be admitted or rejected; and they are, in fine, the
authorities which have always fixed the religion of their subjects.

Ever since Christianity has been adopted by some nations, have we not
seen that religion has almost entirely occupied the attention of
sovereigns? Either the princes, blinded by superstition, were devoted
to the priests, or the rulers of nations believed that prudence
exacted a concession on their part to the clergy, the true masters of
their people, who considered nothing more sacred or more great than
the ministers of their God. In neither case was the body politic ever
consulted; it was cowardly sacrificed to the interests of the court,
or the vanity and luxury of the priests. It is by a continuation of
superstition on the part of the princes that we behold the church so
richly endowed in times of ignorance; when men believed they would
enrich Deity by putting all their wealth into the hands of the priests
of a good God the declared enemy of riches. Savage warriors, destitute
of the manners of men, flattered themselves that they could expiate
all their sins by founding monasteries and giving immense wealth to a
set of men who had made vows of poverty. It was believed that they
would merit from the All-powerful a great advantage by recompensing
laziness, which, in the priests, was regarded as a great good, and
that the blessings procured by their prayers would be in proportion to
the continual and pressing demands their poverty made on the wealthy.
It is thus that by the superstition of princes, by that of the
powerful classes, and of the people themselves, the clergy have become
opulent and powerful; that monachism was honored, and citizens the
most useless, the least submissive, and the most dangerous, were the
best recompensed, the most considered, and the best paid. They were
loaded with benefits, privileges, and immunities; they enjoyed
independence, and they had that great power which flowed from so great
license. Thus were priests placed above sovereigns themselves by the
imprudent devotion of the latter, and the former were enabled to give
the law and trouble the state with impunity.

The clergy, arrived at this elevation of power and grandeur, became
redoubtable even to monarchs. They were obliged to bend under the yoke
or be at way with clerical power. When the sovereigns yielded, they
became mere slaves to the priests, the instruments of their passions,
and the vile adorers of their power. When they refused to yield, the
priests involved them in the most cruel embarrassments; they launched
against them the anathemas of the church; the people were incited
against them in the name of heaven; the nations divided themselves
between the celestial and the terrestrial monarch, and the latter was
reduced to great extremities to sustain a throne which the priests
could shake or even destroy at pleasure. There was a time in Europe
when both the welfare of the prince and the repose of his kingdom
depended solely upon the caprice of a priest. In these times of
ignorance, of devotion, and of commotions so favorable to the clergy,
a weak and poor monarch, surrounded by a miserable nation, was at the
mercy of a Roman pontiff, who could at any instant destroy his
felicity, excite his subjects against him, and precipitate him into
the abyss of misery.

In general, Madam, we find that in countries where religion holds
dominion, the sovereign is necessarily dependent upon the priests; he
has no power except by the consent of the clergy; that power
disappears as soon as he displeases the self-styled vicegerents of
God, who are very soon able to array his subjects against him. The
people, in accordance with the principles of their religion, cannot
hesitate between God and their sovereign. God never says any thing
except what his priests say for him; and the ignorance and folly in
which they are kept by their spiritual guides prevent them from
inquiring whether God's ambassadors faithfully render his decrees.

Conclude, then, with me, that the interests of a sovereign who would
rule equitably are unable to accord with those of the ministers of the
Christian religion, who in all ages have been the most turbulent
citizens, the most rebellious, the most difficult to render
subservient to law and order, and whose resistance has extended to
the very assassination of obnoxious rulers. We shall be told that
Christianity is a firm support of government; that it regards
magistrates as the images of the Deity; and that it teaches that _all
power comes from on high_. These maxims of the clergy are, however,
best calculated to lull kings on the couch of slumber; they are
calculated to flatter those on whom the clergy can rely, and who will
serve their ambition; and their flatterers can soon change their tone
when the princes have the temerity to question the pernicious tendency
of priestly influence, or when they do not blindly lend themselves to
all their views. Then the sovereign is an impious wretch, a heretic;
his destruction is laudable; heaven rejoices in his overthrow. And all
this is the religion of the Bible!

You know, Madam, that these odious maxims have been a thousand times
enforced by the priests, who say the prince has _encroached upon the
authority of the church_; and the people respond that _it is better to
obey God than man_. The priests are only devoted to the princes when
the princes are blindly led by the priests. These last preach
arrogantly that the former ought to be exterminated, when they refuse
to obey the church, that is to say, the priests; yet, how terrible
soever may be these maxims, how dangerous soever their practice to the
security of the sovereign and the tranquillity of the state, they are
the immediate consequences drawn from Judaism and Christianity. We
find in the Old Testament that the regicide is applauded; that
treason and rebellion are approved. As soon as it is supposed that God
is offended with the thoughts of men,--as soon as it is supposed that
heretics are displeasing to him,--it is very natural to conclude that
an impious and heretical sovereign, that is to say, one who does not
obey a clerical body that set themselves up as the directors of his
belief, who opposes the sacred views of an infallible church, and who
might occasion the loss and apostasy of a large part of the
nation,--it is natural that the priests should conclude it to be
legitimate for subjects to attack such a prince, alleging their
religion to be the most important thing in the world, and dearer than
life itself. Actuated by such principles, it is impossible that a
Christian zealot should not think he rendered a service to heaven by
punishing its enemy, and a service to his country by disembarrassing
it of a chief who might interpose an obstacle to his eternal
happiness.

The obedience of the clergy is never otherwise than conditional. The
priests submit to a prince, they flatter his power, and they sustain
his authority, provided he submits to their orders, makes no obstacles
to their projects, touches none of their interests, and changes none
of the dogmas upon which the ministers of the church have founded
their own grandeur. In fine, provided a government recognizes, as
divine, clerical privileges that are plainly opposed to popular
rights, and tend to subvert them, the hierarchy will submit to it.

These considerations prove how dangerous are the priesthood, since the
end they purpose by all their projects is dominion over the mind of
mankind, and by subjugating it to enslave their persons, and render
them the creatures of despotism and tyranny. And we shall find, upon
examination, that, with one or two exceptions, the pious have been the
enemies of the progress of science and the development of the human
understanding; for by brutalizing mankind they have invariably striven
to bind them to their yoke. Their avarice, their thirst of power and
wealth, have led them to plunge their fellow-citizens in ignorance, in
misery, and unhappiness. They discourage the cultivation of the earth
by their system of tithes, their extortions, and their secret
projects; they annihilate activity, talents, and industry; their pride
is to reign on the ruin of the rest of their species. The finest
countries in Europe have, when blindly submissive to the priest, been
the worst cultivated, the thinnest peopled, and the most wretched. The
_Inquisition_ in Spain, Italy, and Portugal has only tended to
impoverish those countries, to debase the mind, and render their
subjects the veriest slaves of superstition. And in countries where we
see heaven showering down abundance, the people are poor and famished,
while the priests and monks are opulent and bloated. Their kings are
without power and without glory; their subjects languish in indigence
and wretchedness.

The priests boast of the utility of their office. Independently of
their prayers, from which the world has for so many ages derived
neither instruction nor peace, prosperity nor happiness, their
pretensions to teach the rising generations are often frivolous, and
sometimes arrogant, since we have found others equally well calculated
to the discharge of those functions, who have been good citizens, that
have not drawn from the pockets of their neighbors the tenth of their
earnings. Thus, in what light soever we view them, the pretensions of
the priests are reduced to a nonentity, compared to the disservice
they render the community by their exactions and dissolute lives.

In what consists, in effect, the education that our spiritual guides
have, unhappily for society, assumed the vocation of imparting to
youth? Does it tend to make reasonable, courageous, and virtuous
citizens? No; it is incontestable that it creates ignoble men, whose
entire lives are tormented with imaginary terrors; it creates
superstitious slaves, who only possess monastic virtues, and who, if
they follow faithfully the instructions of their masters, must be
perfectly useless to society; it forms intolerant devotees, ready to
detest all those who do not think like themselves; and it makes
fanatics, who are ready to rebel against any government as soon as
they are persuaded it is rebellious to the church. What do the
priests teach their pupils? They cause them to lose much precious
time in reciting prayers, in mechanically repeating theological
dogmas, of which, even in mature life, they comprehend nothing. They
teach them the dead languages, which, at the best, only serve for
entertainment, being by no means necessary in the present form of
society. They terminate these fine studies by a philosophy which, in
clerical hands, has become a mere play of words, a jargon void of
sense, and which is exactly calculated to fit them for the
unintelligible science called _theology_. But is this theology itself
useful to nations? Are the interminable disputes which arise between
profound metaphysicians of such a character as to be interesting to
the people who do not comprehend them? Are the people of Paris and the
provinces much advanced in heavenly knowledge when the priests dispute
among themselves about what should really be thought of grace?

In regard to the instruction imparted by the clergy, it is indeed
necessary to have faith in order to discover its utility. Their
boasted instruction consists in teaching ineffable mysteries,
marvellous dogmas, narrations and fables perfectly ridiculous, panic
terrors, fanatical and lugubrious predictions, frightful menaces, and
above all, systems so profound that they who announce are not able to
comprehend them. In truth, Madam, in all this I can see nothing
useful. Should nations feel any extraordinary obligations to teachers
who concoct doctrines that must always remain impenetrable for the
whole human race? It must be confessed that our priests, who so
painfully occupy themselves in arranging a pure creed for us, must
signally lose all their labor. At any rate, the people are not much in
the situation to profit by such sublime toils. Very frequently the
pulpit becomes the theatre of discord; the sacred disclaimers launch
injuries at each other, infusing their own passions into the bosoms of
their _Christian_ auditors, kindling their zeal against the enemies of
the church, and becoming themselves the trumpets of party spirit,
fury, and sedition. If these preachers teach morality, it is a kind of
supernatural morality, little adapted to the nature of man. If they
inculcate virtue, it is that theological virtue whose inutility we
have sufficiently shown. If by chance some one among them allows
himself to preach that morality and virtue which is practical, human,
and social, you know, Madam, that he is proscribed by his
confederates, and becomes an object of their acrimonious criticisms
and their deadly hatred. He is also disdained by devotees who are
attached to evangelical virtues that they cannot comprehend, and who
consider nothing as more important than mysterious forms and
ceremonies, in which zealots make morality to consist.

See, then, in what limits are entertained the important services that
the ministers of the Lord have for so many centuries rendered to
nations! They are not worth, in all conscience, the excessive price
which is paid for them. On the contrary, if priests were treated
according to their real merit, if their functions were appreciated at
their just value, it would, perhaps, be found that they did not merit
a larger salary than those empirics who, at the corners of the
streets, vend remedies more dangerous than the evils they promise to
cure.

It is by subjecting the immense revenues, lands, abbeys, and estates,
which clerical bodies have levied upon the credulity of men, to just
and equal taxation, as with other property; it is by rendering the
church and state entirely distinct; it is by stripping the hierarchy
of immunities not possessed by other citizens, and of privileges both
chimerical and injurious; it is by rigorously exacting the same civil
obedience alike from priests and people,--that government can be
rightly administered, that justice can be impartially rendered, and
that the nation, as a whole, can be trained to courage, activity,
industry, intelligence, tranquillity, and patriotism. So long as there
are two powers in a state, they will necessarily be at variance, and
the one which arrogates the favor of the Almighty will have immense
advantages over that which claims no authority above the earth. If
both pretend to emanate from the same source, the people would not
know which to believe; they would range themselves on each side; the
combat would be furious, and the power of the government would be
unable to maintain itself against the many heads of the ecclesiastical
hydra. The magicians of Pharaoh yielded to the Jewish priests, and in
conflicts between the church and state, the immunities of the priests,

    "Like Aaron's serpent, swallowed all the rest."

If such is the case, you will inquire, Madam, how can an enlightened
civil power ever make obedient citizens of rebellious priests, who
have so long possessed the confidence of the people, and who can with
impunity render themselves formidable to any government? I reply, that
in spite of the vigilant cares and the redoubled efforts of the
priesthood, the people have begun to be more enlightened; they are
becoming weary of the heavy yoke, which they would not have borne so
long had they not believed it was imposed upon them by the Most High,
and that it was necessary to their happiness. It is impossible for
error to be eternal; it must give way to the power of truth. The
priests, who think, know this well, and the whole ecclesiastical body
continually declaim against all those who wish to enlighten the human
race and unveil the conspiracies of their spiritual guides. They fear
the piercing eyes of philosophy; they fear the reign of reason, which
will never be that of tyranny or anarchy. Governments, then, ought not
to share the fears of the clergy, nor render themselves the executors
of their vengeance; they injure themselves when they sustain the cause
of their turbulent rivals, who have ever been the enemies of civil
polity and perturbers of the public repose. The magistrates of a state
league themselves with their enemies when they form an alliance with
the priesthood, or prevent the people from recognizing their errors.

Governments are more interested than individuals in the destruction of
errors that often lead to confusion, anarchy, and rebellion. If men
had not become gradually enlightened, nations would now, as formerly,
be under the yoke of the Roman pontiff, who could occasion revolution
in their midst, overturn the laws, and subvert the government. But for
the insensible progress of reason, states would now be filled with a
tumultuous crowd of devotees, ready to revolt at the signal of an
unquiet priest or a seditious monk.

You perceive, then, Madam, that men who think, and who teach others to
think, are more useful to governments than those who wish to stifle
reason and to proscribe forever the liberty of thought. You see that
the true friends of a stable government are those who seek most
sedulously to enlighten, educate, and elevate the people. You feel
that by banishing knowledge and persecuting philosophy, government
sacrifices its dearest interests to a seditious clergy, whose ambition
and avarice push them to usurp boundless authority, and whose pride
always makes them indignant at being in subjection to a power which
they contend should be subordinate to themselves.

There is no priest who does not consider himself superior to the
highest ruler of any country. We have often seen the priesthood avow
pretensions of this character. The clergy are always enraged when an
attempt is made to subject them to the secular power. Such an attempt
they regard as profane, and they denounce it as tyranny whenever it is
sought to be enforced. They pretend that in all times the priesthood
has been sacred, that its rights come from God himself, and that no
government can, without sacrilege, or without outraging the Divinity,
touch the property, the privileges, or the immunities which have been
snatched from ignorance and credulity. Whenever the civil authority
would touch the objects considered inviolable and sacred in the hands
of the priests, their clamors cannot be appeased; they make efforts to
excite the people against the government; they denounce all authority
as tyrannical when it has the temerity to think of subjecting them to
the laws, of reforming their abuses, and neutralizing their power to
injure. But they consider authority legitimate when it crushes _their_
enemies, though it appears insupportable as soon as it is reasonable
and favorable to the people.

The priests are essentially the most wicked of men, and the worst
citizens of a state. A miracle would be necessary to render them
otherwise. In all countries they are the _spoiled children_ of
nations. They are proud and haughty, since they pretend it is from God
himself they received their mission and their power. They are
ingrates, since they assume to owe only to God benefits which they
visibly hold from the generosity of governments and the people. They
are audacious, because for many ages they have enjoyed supremacy with
impunity. They are unquiet and turbulent, because they are never
without the desire of playing a great part. They are quarrelsome and
factious, because they are never able to find out a method of enabling
men to understand the pretended truths they teach. They are
suspicious, defiant, and cruel, because they sensibly feel that they
may well dread the discovery of their impostures. They are the
spontaneous enemies of truth, because they justly apprehend it will
annihilate their pretensions. They are implacable in their vengeance,
because it would be dangerous to pardon those who wish to crush their
doctrines, whose weakness they know. They are hypocrites, because most
of them possess too much sense to believe the reveries they retail to
others. They are obstinate in their ideas, because they are inflated
with vanity, and because they could not consistently deviate from a
method of thinking of which they pretend God is the author. We often
see them unbridled and licentious in their manners, because it is
impossible that idleness, effeminacy, and luxury should not corrupt
the heart. We sometimes see them austere and rigid in their conduct in
order to impose on the people and accomplish their ambitious views. If
they are hypocrites and rogues, they are extremely dangerous; and if
they are fanatical in good faith, or imbecile, they are not less to be
feared. In fine, we almost always see them rebellious and seditious,
because an authority derived from God is not disposed to bend to
authority derived from men.

You have here, Madam, a faithful portrait of the members of a powerful
body, in whose favor governments, for a long time, have believed it
their duty to sacrifice the other interests of the state. You here see
the citizens whom prejudice most richly recompenses, whom princes
honor in the eyes of the people, to whom they give their confidence,
whom they regard as the support of their power, and whom they consider
as necessary to the happiness and security of their kingdoms. You can
judge yourself whether the likeness delineated is correct. You are in
a position to discover their intrigues, their underplots, their
conduct, and their discourse, and you will always find that their
constant object is to flatter princes for the purpose of governing
them and keeping nations in slavery.

It is to please citizens so dangerous that sovereigns mingle in
theological questions, take the part of those who succeed in seducing
them, persecute all those who do not submit, proscribe with fury the
friends of reason, and by repressing knowledge injure their own power.
Because the priests, who urge princes to sacrilege when they combat
for them, are indignant against the same princes when they refuse to
destroy the enemies of their own particular clerical body. They
likewise denounce sovereigns as impious if the latter treat
theological disputes with the indifference they merit.

When hereafter, reclaimed from their prejudices, princes wish to
govern for the good of all, let them cease to hear the interested and
often sanguinary councils of these pretended divine men, who,
regarding themselves as the centre of all things, wish to have
sacrificed for this object the happiness, the repose, the riches, and
the honors of the state. Let the sovereign never enter into their
dissensions, let him never persecute for religious opinions, which,
among sectaries, are commonly on both sides equally ridiculous and
destitute of foundation. They would never involve the government if
the sovereign had not the weakness to mingle in them. Let him give
unlimited freedom to the course of thinking, while he directs by just
laws the course of acting on the part of his subjects. Let him permit
every one to dream or speculate as he pleases, provided he conducts
himself otherwise as an honest man and a good citizen. At least let
the prince not oppose the progress of knowledge, which alone is
capable of extricating his people from ignorance, barbarity, and
superstition, which have made victims of so many Christian rulers. Let
him be assured that enlightened and instructed citizens are more
law-abiding, industrious, and peaceable than stupid slaves without
knowledge and without reason, who will always be ready to take all the
passions with which a fanatic wishes to inspire them.

Let the sovereign especially occupy himself with the education of his
subjects, nor leave the clergy unobstructedly to impregnate his
people with mystic notions, foolish reveries, and superstitious
practices, which are only proper for fanatics. Let him at least
counterbalance the inculcation of these follies by teaching a morality
conformable to the good of the state, useful to the happiness of its
members, and social and reasonable. This morality would inform a man
what he owed to himself, to society, to his fellow-citizens, and to
the magistrates who administered the laws. This morality would not
form men who would hate each other for speculative opinions, nor
dangerous enthusiasts, nor devotees blindly submissive to the priests.
It would create a tranquil, intelligent, and industrious community; a
body of inhabitants submissive to reason and obedient to just and
legitimate authority. In a word, from such morality would spring
virtuous men and good citizens, and it would be the surest antidote
against superstition and fanaticism.

In this manner the empire of the clergy would be diminished, and the
sovereign would have a less portentous rival; he would, without
opposition, be assured of all rational and enlightened citizens; the
riches of the clergy would in part reënter society, and be of use in
benefiting the people; institutions now useless would be put to
advantageous uses; a portion of the possessions of the church,
originally destined for the poor, and so long appropriated by
avaricious priests, would come into the hands of the suffering and the
indigent, their legitimate proprietors. Supported by a nation who
were sensible of the advantages he had procured them, the prince would
no longer fear the cries of fanaticism, and they would soon be no
longer heard. The priests, the lazy monks, and turbulent persons
living in forced celibacy, could no longer calculate on the future,
and, aliens in the state which nourished them, they would visibly
diminish. The government, more rich and powerful, would be in a better
situation to diffuse its benefits; and enlightened, virtuous, and
beneficent men would constitute the support, the glory, and the
grandeur of the state.

Such, Madam, are the ends which all governments would propose who
opened their eyes to their own true interests. I flatter myself that
these designs will not appear to you either impossible or chimerical.
Knowledge and science, which begin to be generally diffused, are
already advancing these results; they are giving an impulse to the
march of the human mind, and in time, governments and people, without
tumult or revolution, will be freed from the yoke which has oppressed
them so long.

Do we see any thing useful in the pious endowments of our ancestors?
We find them to consist of institutions invented to continue a lazy,
monastic life; costly temples elevated and enriched by indigent people
to augment the pride of the priests, and to erect altars and palaces.
From the foundation of Christianity the whole object of religion has
been to aggrandize the priesthood on the ruins of nations and
governments. A jealous religion has exclusively seized on the minds of
men, and persuaded them that they live upon earth merely to occupy
themselves with their future happiness in the unknown regions of the
empyrean. It is time that this prestige should cease; it is time that
the human race should occupy itself with its own true interests. The
interests of the people will always be incompatible with those of the
guides who believe they have acquired an imprescriptible right to lead
men astray. The more you examine the Christian religion, the more will
you be convinced that it can be advantageous only to those whose
object it is easily to guide mankind after having plunged them into
darkness. I am, &c.



LETTER X.

  Of the Advantages Religion confers on those who profess it.


I dare flatter myself, Madam, that I have clearly demonstrated to you,
that the Christian religion, far from being the support of sovereign
authority, is its greatest enemy; and of having plainly convinced you,
that its ministers are, by the very nature of their functions, the
rivals of kings, and adversaries the most to be feared by all who
value or exercise temporal power. In a word, I think I have persuaded
you, that society might, without damage, dispense with the services
they render, or at least dispense with paying for them so
extravagantly.

Let us now examine the advantages which this religion procures to
individuals, who are most strongly convinced of its pretended truths,
and who conform the most rigidly to its precepts. Let us see if it is
calculated to render its disciples more contented, more happy, and
more virtuous than they would be without the burden of its ministers.

To decide the question, it is sufficient to look around us, and to
consider the effects that religion produces on minds really penetrated
with its pretended truths. We shall generally find in those who the
most sincerely profess and the most exactly practise them, a joyless
and melancholy disposition, which announces no contentment, nor that
interior peace of which they speak so incessantly, without ever
exhibiting any undoubted manifestations of it. Whoever is in the
enjoyment of peace within, shows some exterior marks of it; but the
internal satisfaction of devotees is commonly so concealed, that we
may well suspect it of being nothing but a mere chimera. Their
interior peace, which they allege gives them a good conscience, is
visible to others only by a bilious and petulant humor, that is not
usually much applauded by those who come under its influence. If,
however, there are occasionally some devotees who actually display the
serene countenance of satisfaction and enjoyment, it is because the
dismal ideas of religion are rendered inoperative by a happy
temperament; or that such persons have not fully become impregnated
with their system of faith, whose legitimate effect is to plunge its
devotees into terrible inquietudes and sombre chagrins.

Thus, Madam, we are brought back to the contradictory discourses of
those priests who, after having caused terror by their desolating
dogmas, attempt to reassure us by vague hopes, and exhort us to place
confidence in a God whom they have themselves so repulsively
delineated. It is idle for them to tell us the yoke of Jesus Christ is
light. It is insupportable to those who consider it properly. It is
only light for those who bear it without reflection, or for those who
assume it in order to impose it upon others, without intending to
suffer its annoyances themselves.

Suffer me, Madam, to refer you to yourself. Were you happy, contented,
or gay, when you made me the depository of the secret inquietudes
inflicted upon you by prejudices, and which had commenced taking that
fatal empire over your mind which I have endeavored to destroy? Was
not your soul involved in woe in spite of your judgment? Were you not
taking measures to wither all your happiness? In favor of religion,
were you not ready to renounce the world, and disregard all you owe to
society? If I was afflicted, I was not surprised. The Christian
religion inevitably destroys the happiness and repose of those who are
subjected by it; alarms and terrors are the objects of its pleasures;
it cannot make those happy who fully receive it. It would certainly
have plunged you into distress. All your faculties would have been
injured, and your too susceptible imagination would have been carried
to such dangerous extremes, that many others would have grieved at the
result. A gentle and beneficent spirit, like yours, could never
receive peace from Christianity. The evils of religion are sure, while
its consolations are contradictory and vague. They cannot give that
temper and tranquillity to the mind which is necessary to enable men
to labor for their own happiness and that of others.

In effect, as I have already observed, it is very difficult for an
individual to occupy himself with the happiness of another when he is
himself miserable. The devotee, who imposes penances on his own head,
who is suspicious of every thing, who is full of self-reproaches, and
who is heated by visionary meditation, by fasting and seclusion, must
naturally be irritated against all those who do not believe it their
duty to make such absurd sacrifices. He can scarcely avoid being
enraged at those audacious persons who neglect practices or duties
that are claimed as the exactions of God. He will desire to be with
those only who view things as he does himself; he will keep himself
apart from all others, and will end by hating them. He believes
himself obliged to make a loud and public parade of his mode of
thinking, and he signalizes his zeal even at the risk of appearing
ridiculous. If he showed indulgence, he would doubtless fear he
should render himself an accomplice in a neglect of his God. He would
reprehend such sinners, and it would be with acrimony, because his own
soul was filled with it. In fine, if zealous, he would always be under
the dominion of anger, and would only be indulgent in proportion as he
was not bigoted.

Religious devotion tends to arouse fierce sentiments, that sooner or
later manifest themselves in a manner disagreeable for others. The
mystical devotees clearly illustrate this. They are vexed with the
world, and it could not exist if the extravagances required by
religion were altogether carried out. The world cannot be united to
Jesus Christ. God demands our entire heart, and nothing is allowed to
remain for his weak creatures. To produce the little zeal for heaven
which Christians have, it is requisite to torment them, and thus lead
them to the practice of those marvellous virtues in which they imagine
is placed all their safety. A strange religion, which, practised in
all its rigor, would drag society to ruin! The sincere devotee
proposes impossible attainments, of which human nature is not capable;
and as, in spite of all his endeavors, he is unable to succeed in
their acquisition, he is always discontented with himself. He regards
himself as the object of God's anger; he reproaches himself with all
that he does; he suffers remorse for all the pleasures he experiences,
and fears that they may occasion a fall from grace. For his greater
security, he often avoids society which may at any moment turn him
from his pretended duties, excite him to sin, and render him the
witness or accomplice of what is offensive to zealots. In fine, if the
devotee is very zealous, he cannot prevent himself from avoiding or
detesting beings, who, according to his gloomy notions of religion,
are perpetually occupied in irritating God. On the other hand, you
know, Madam, that it is chagrin and melancholy that lead to devotion.
It is usually not till the world abandons and displeases men that they
have recourse to heaven; it is in the arms of religion that the
ambitious seek to console themselves for their disgraces and
disappointed projects; dissolute and loose women turn devotees when
the world discards them, and they offer to God hearts wasted, and
charms that are no longer in repute. The ruin of their attractions
admonishes them that their empire is no longer of this world; filled
with vexation, consumed with chagrin, and irritated against a society
where they were deprived of enacting an agreeable part, they yield
themselves up to devotion, and distinguish themselves by religious
follies, after having run the race of fashionable vices, and been
engaged in worldly scandals. With rancor in their hearts, they offer a
gloomy adoration to a God who indemnifies them most miserably for
their ascetic worship. In a word, it is passion, affliction, and
despair to which most conversions must be attributed; and they are
persons of such character who deliver themselves to the priests, and
these mental aberrations and physical afflictions are the marvellous
strokes of grace of which God makes use to lead men to himself.

It is not, then, surprising if we see persons subject to this devotion
most commonly ruled by sorrow and passion. These mental moods are
perpetually aggravated by religion, which is exactly calculated to
imbitter more and more the souls thus filled with vexations. The
conversation of a spiritual director is a weak consolation for the
loss of a lover; the remote and flattering hopes of another world
rarely make up for the realities of this; nor do the fictitious
occupations of religion suffice to satisfy souls accustomed to
intrigues, dissipation, and scandalous pleasures.

Thus, Madam, we see that the effects of these brilliant conversions,
so well adapted to give pleasure to the Omnipotent and to his court,
present nothing advantageous for the inhabitants of this lower world.
If the changes produced by grace do not render those more happy upon
whom they are operated, they cannot cause much admiration on the part
of those who witness them. Indeed, what advantages does society reap
from the greater part of conversions? Do the persons so touched by
grace become better? Do they make amends for the evil they have done,
or are they heartily and generously engaged in doing good to those by
whom they are surrounded? A mistress, for example, who has been
arrogant and proud,--does conversion render her humble and gentle?
Does the unjust and cruel man recompense those to whom he has done
evil? Does the robber return to society the property of which he has
plundered it? Does the dissipated and licentious woman repair by her
vigilant cares the wrongs that her disorders and dissipations have
occasioned? No, far from it. These persons so touched and converted by
God ordinarily content themselves with praying, fasting, religious
offerings, frequenting churches, clamoring in favor of their priests,
intriguing to sustain a sect, decrying all who disagree with their
particular spiritual director, and exhibiting an ardent and ridiculous
zeal for questions that they do not understand. In this manner they
imagine they get absolution from God, and give indemnification to men;
but society gains nothing from their miraculous conversion. On the
other hand, devotion often exalts, infuriates, and strengthens the
passions which formerly animated the converts. It turns these passions
to new objects, and religion justifies the intolerant and cruel
excesses into which they rush for the interest of their sect. It is
thus that an ambitious personage becomes a proud and turbulent
fanatic, and believes himself justified by his zeal; it is thus that a
disgraced courtier cabals in the name of heaven against his own
enemies; and it is thus that a malignant and vindictive man, under the
pretext of avenging God, seeks the means of avenging himself. Thus,
also, it happens that a woman, to indemnify herself for having
quitted rouge, considers she has the right to outrage with her acrid
humor a husband whom she had previously, in a different manner,
outraged many times. She piously denounces those who allow themselves
the indulgence of the most innocent pleasures; in the belief of
manifesting religious earnestness, she exhales downright passion,
envy, jealousy, and spite; and in lending herself warmly to the
interests of heaven she shows an excess of ignorance, insanity, and
credulity.

But is it necessary, Madam, to insist upon this? You live in a country
where you see many devotees, and few virtuous people among them. If
you will but slightly examine the matter, you will find that among
these persons so persuaded of their religion, so convinced of its
importance and utility, who speak incessantly of its consolations, its
sweets, and its virtues,--you will find that among these persons there
are very few who are rendered happier, and yet fewer who are rendered
better. Are they vividly penetrated with the sentiments of their
afflicting and terrible religion? You will find them atrabilious,
disobliging, and fierce. Are they more lightly affected by their
creed? You will then find them less bigoted, more beneficent, social,
and kind. The religion of the court, as you know, is a continual
mixture of devotion and pleasure, a circle of the exercises of piety
and dissipation, of momentary fervor and continuous irregularities.
This religion connects Jesus Christ with the pomps of Satan. We there
see sumptuous display, pride, ambition, intrigue, vengeance, envy, and
libertinism all amalgamated with a religion whose _maxims_ are
austere. Pious casuists, interested for the great, approve this
alliance, and give the lie to their own religion in order to derive
advantage from circumstances and from the passions and vices of men.
If these court divines were too rigid, they would affright their
fashionable disciples seeking to reach heaven on "flowery beds of
ease," and who embrace religion with the understanding that they are
to be allowed no inconsiderable latitude. This is doubtless the reason
why Jansenism, which wished to renew the austere principles of
primitive Christianity, obtained no general influence at the Parisian
court. The monkish precepts of early Christianity could only suit men
of the temper of those who first embraced it. They were adapted for
persons who were abject, bilious, and discontented, who, deprived of
luxury, power, and honors, became the enemies of grandeurs from which
they were excluded. The devotees had the art of making a merit of
their aversion and disdain for what they could not obtain.

Nevertheless, a Christian, in consonance with his principles, should
"take no thought for the morrow;" should have no individual
possessions; should flee from the world and its pomps; should give his
coat to the thief who stole his cloak; and, if smitten on one cheek,
should turn the other to the aggressor. It is upon Stoicism that
religious fanatics built their gloomy philosophy. The so-called
perfections which Christianity proposes place man in a perpetual war
with himself, and must render him miserable. The true Christian is an
enemy both of himself and the human race, and for his own consistency
should live secluded in darkness, like an owl. His religion renders
him essentially unsocial, and as useless to himself as he is
disagreeable to others. What advantage can society receive from a man
who trembles without cessation, who is in a state of superstitious
penance, who prays, and who indulges in solitude? Or what better is
the devotee who flies from the world and deprives himself even of
innocent pleasures, in the fear that God might damn him for
participation in them?

What results from these maxims of a moral fanaticism? It happens that
laws so atrocious and cruel are enacted, that bigots alone are willing
to execute them. Yes, Madam, blameless as you know my whole life to
have been, consonant to integrity and honesty as you know my conduct
to be, and free as I have ever been from intolerance, my existence
would be endangered were these letters I am now writing to you to
appear in print, or even be circulated in manuscript with my name
attached to them as author. Yes, Christians have made laws, now
dominant here in France, which would tie me to the stake, consume my
body with fire, bore my tongue with a red hot iron, deprive me of
sepulture, strip my family of my property, and for no other cause than
for my opinions concerning Christianity and the Bible. Such is the
horrid cruelty engendered by Christianity. It has sometimes been
called in question whether a society of atheists could exist; but we
might with more propriety ask if a society of fierce, impracticable,
visionary, and fanatical Christians, in all the plenitude of their
ridiculous system, could long subsist.[5] What would become of a
nation all of whose inhabitants wished to attain perfection by
delivering themselves over to fanatical contemplation, to ascetical
penance, to monkish prayers, and to that state of things set forth in
the Acts of the Apostles? What would be the condition of a nation
where no one took any "thought for the morrow"?--where all were
occupied solely with heaven, and all totally neglected whatever
related to this transitory and passing life?--where all made a merit
of celibacy, according to the precepts of St. Paul?--and where, in
consequence of constant occupation in the ceremonials of piety, no one
had leisure to devote to the well-being of men in their worldly and
temporal concerns? It is evident that such a society could only exist
in the Thebaid, and even there only for a limited time, as it must
soon be annihilated. If some enthusiasts exhibit examples of this
sort, we know that convents and nunneries are supported by that
portion of society which they do not enclose. But who would provide
for a country that abandoned every thing else for the purpose of
heavenly contemplations?

[5] Upon this topic consult what Bayle says, _Continuation des Pensées
diverses sur la Comète_, Sections 124, 125, tome iv., Rousseau de
Genève, in his _Contrat Social_, l. 4, ch. 8. See also the _Lettres
écrites de la Montague_, letter first, pp. 45 to 54, edit. 8vo. The
author discusses the same matter, and confirms his opinions by new
reasonings, which particularly deserve perusal.--_Note of the Editor_,
(NAIGEON.)

We may therefore legitimately conclude that the Christian religion is
not fitted for this world; that it is not calculated to insure the
happiness either of societies or individuals; that the precepts and
counsels of its God are impracticable, and more adapted to discourage
the human race, and to plunge men into despair and apathy, than to
render them happy, active, and virtuous. A Christian is compelled to
make an abstraction of the maxims of his religion if he wishes to live
in the world; he is no longer a Christian when he devotes his cares to
his earthly good; and, in a word, a real Christian is a man of another
world, and is not adapted for this.

Thus we see that Christians, to humanize themselves, are constantly
obliged to depart from their supernatural and divine speculations.
Their passions are not repressed, but on the contrary are often thus
rendered more fierce and more calculated to disturb society. Masked
under the veil of religion, they generally produce more terrible
effects. It is then that ambition, vengeance, cruelty, anger, calumny,
envy, and persecution, covered by the deceptive name of zeal, cause
the greatest ravages, range without bounds, and even delude those who
are transported by these dangerous passions. Religion does not
annihilate these violent agitations of the mind in the hearts of its
devotees, but often excites and justifies them; and experience proves
that the most rigid Christians are very far from being the best of
men, and that they have no right to reproach the incredulous either
concerning the pretended consequences of their principles, or for the
passions which are falsely alleged to spring from unbelief.

Indeed, the charity of the peaceful ministers of religion and of their
pious adherents does not prevent their blackening their adversaries
with a view of rendering them odious, and of drawing down upon their
heads the malevolence of a superstitious community, and the
persecution of tyrannical and oppressive laws; their zeal for God's
glory permits them to employ indifferently all kinds of weapons; and
calumny, especially, furnishes them always a most powerful aid.
According to them, there are no irregularities of the heart which are
not produced by incredulity; to renounce religion, say they, is to
give a free course to unbridled passions, and he who does not believe
surely indicates a corrupt heart, depraved manners, and frightful
libertinism. In a word, they declare that every man who refuses to
admit their reveries or their marvellous morality, has no motives to
do good, and very powerful ones to commit evil.

It is thus that our charitable divines caricature and misrepresent the
opponents of their supremacy, and describe them as dangerous
brigands, whom society, for its own interest, ought to proscribe and
destroy. It results from these imputations that those who renounce
prejudices and consult reason are considered the most unreasonable of
men; that they who condemn religion on account of the crimes it has
produced upon the earth, and for which it has served as an eternal
pretext, are regarded as bad citizens; that they who complain of the
troubles that turbulent priests have so often excited, are set down as
perturbators of the repose of nations; and that they who are shocked
at the contemplation of the inhuman and unjust persecutions which have
been excited by priestly ambition and rascality, are men who have no
idea of justice, and in whose bosoms the sentiments of humanity are
necessarily stifled. They who despise the false and deceitful motives
by which, to the present time, it has been vainly attempted through
the other world to make men virtuous, equitable, and beneficent, are
denounced as having no real motives to practise the virtues necessary
for their well-being _here_. In fine, the priests scandalize those who
wish to destroy sacerdotal tyranny, and impostures dangerous alike to
nations and people, as enemies of the state so dangerous that the laws
ought to punish them.

But I believe, Madam, that you are now thoroughly convinced that the
true friends of the human race and of governments cannot also be the
friends of religion and of priests. Whatever may be the motives or
the passions which determine men to incredulity, whatever may be the
principles which flow from it, they cannot be so pernicious as those
which emanate directly and necessarily from a religion so absurd and
so atrocious as Christianity. Incredulity does not claim extraordinary
privileges as flowing from a partial God; it pretends to no right of
despotism over men's consciences; it has no pretexts for doing
violence to the minds of mankind; and it does not hate and persecute
for a difference of opinion. In a word, the incredulous have not an
infinity of motives, interests, and pretexts to injure, with which the
zealous partisans of religion are abundantly provided.

The unbeliever in Christianity, who reflects, perceives that without
going out of this world there are pressing and real motives which
invite to virtuous conduct; he feels the interest that he has in
self-preservation, and of avoiding whatever is calculated to injure
another; he sees himself united by physical and reciprocal wants with
men who would despise him if he had vices, who would detest him if he
was guilty of any action contrary to justice and virtue, and who would
punish him if he committed any crimes, or if he outraged the laws. The
idea of decency and order, the desire of meriting the approbation of
his fellow-citizens, and the fear of being subjected to blame and
punishment, are sufficient to govern the actions of every rational
man. If, however, a citizen is in a sort of delirium, all the
credulity in the world will not be able to restrain him. If he is
powerful enough to have no fear of men on this earth, he will not
regard the divine law more than the hatred and the disdain of the
judges he has constantly before his eyes.

But the priests may perhaps tell us that the fear of an avenging God
at least serves to repress a great number of latent crimes that would
appear but for the influence of religion. Is it true, however, that
religion itself prevents these latent crimes? Are not Christian
nations full of knaves of all kinds, who secretly plot the ruin of
their fellow-beings? Do not the most ostensibly credulous persons
indulge in an infinity of vices for which they would blush if they
were by chance brought to light? A man who is the most persuaded that
God sees all his actions frequently does not blush to commit deeds in
secret from which he would refrain if beheld by the meanest of human
beings.

What, then, avails the powerful check on the passions which religion
is said to interpose? If we could place any reliance on what is said
by our priests, it would appear that neither public nor secret crimes
could be committed in countries where their instructions are received;
the priests would appear like a brotherhood of angels, and every
religious man to be without faults. But men forget their religious
speculations when they are under the dominion of violent passions,
when they are bound by the ties of habit, or when they are blinded by
great interests. Under such circumstances they do not reason. Whether
a man is virtuous or vicious depends on temperament, habit, and
education. An unbeliever may have strong passions, and may reason very
justly on the subject of religion, and very erroneously in regard to
his conduct. The religious dupe is a poor metaphysician, and if he
also acts badly he is both imbecile and wicked.

It is true the priests deny that unbelievers ever reason correctly,
and pretend they must always be in the wrong to prefer natural sense
to their authority. But in this decision they occupy the place of both
judges and parties, and the verdict should be rendered by
disinterested persons. In the mean time the priests themselves seem to
doubt the soundness of their own allegations; they call the secular
arm to the aid of their arguments; they marshal on their side fines,
imprisonment, confiscation of goods, boring and branding, with hot
irons, and death at the stake, at this time in France, and in other
and in most countries of Christendom; they use the scourge to drive
men into paradise; they enlighten men by the blaze of the fagot; they
inculcate faith by furious and bloody strokes of the sword; and they
have the baseness to stand in dread of men who cannot announce
themselves or openly promulgate their opinions without running the
risk of punishment, and even death. This conduct does not manifest
that the priests are strongly persuaded of the power of their
arguments. If our clerical theologians acted in good faith, would
they not rejoice to open a free course to thorough discussion? Would
they not be gratified to allow doubters to propose difficulties, the
solution of which, if Christianity is so plain and clear, would serve
to render it more firm and solid? They find it answers their ends
better to use their adversaries as the Mexicans do their slaves, whom
they shackle before attacking, and then kill for daring to defend
themselves.

It is very probable unbelievers may be found whose conduct is
blamable, and this is because they in this respect follow the same
line of reasoning as the devotee. The most fanatical partisans of
religion are forced to confess that among their adherents a small
number of the elect only are rendered virtuous. By what right, then,
do they exact that incredulity, which pretends to nothing
supernatural, should produce effects which, according to their own
admissions, their pretended divine religion fails to accomplish? If
all believers were invariably good men, the cause of religion would be
provided with an adamantine bulwark, and especially if unbelievers
were persons without morality or virtue. But whatever the priests may
aver, the unbelievers are more virtuous than the devotees. A happy
temperament, a judicious education, the desire of living a peaceable
life, the dislike to attract hatred or blame, and the habit of
fulfilling the moral duties, always furnish motives to abstain from
vice and to practise virtue more powerful and more true than those
presented by religion. Besides, the incredulous person has not an
infinity of resources which Christianity bestows upon its
superstitious followers. The Christian can at any time expiate his
crimes by confession and penance, and can thus reconcile himself with
God, and give repose to his conscience; the unbeliever, on the other
hand, who has perpetrated a wrong, can reconcile himself neither with
society, which he has outraged, nor with himself, whom he is compelled
to hate. If he expects no reward in another life, he has no interest
but to merit the homage that in all enlightened countries is rendered
to virtue, to probity, and to a conduct constantly honest; he has no
inducement but to avoid the penalties and the disdain that society
decrees against those who trouble its well-being, and who refuse to
contribute to its welfare.

It appears evident that every man who consults his understanding
should be more reasonable than one who only consults his imagination.
It is evident that he who consults his own nature and that of the
beings who surround him, ought to have truer ideas of good and evil,
of justice and injustice, and of honesty and dishonesty, than he who,
to regulate his conduct, consults only the records of a concealed God,
whom his priests picture as wicked, unjust, changeable, contradicting
himself, and who has sometimes ordered actions the most contrary to
morality and to all the ideas that we have of virtue. It is evident
that he who regulates his conduct upon sacerdotal morality will only
follow the caprice and passions of the priests, and will be a very
dangerous man, while believing himself very virtuous. In fine, it is
evident that while conforming himself to the precepts and counsels of
religion, a man may be extremely pious without possessing the shadow
of a virtue. Experience has proved that it is quite possible to adhere
to all the unintelligible dogmas of the priests, to observe most
scrupulously all the forms, and ceremonies, and services they
recommend, and orally to profess all the Christian virtues, without
having any of the qualities necessary to his own happiness, and to
that of the beings with whom he lives. The saints, indeed, who are
proposed to us as models, were useless members of society. We see them
to have been either gloomy fanatics, who sacrificed themselves to the
desolating ideas of their religion, or excited fanatics, who, under
pretext of serving religion, have perpetually disturbed the repose of
nations, or enthusiastic theologians, who from their own dreams have
deduced systems exactly calculated to infuriate the brains of their
adherents. A saint, when he is tranquil, proposes nothing whose
accomplishment will benefit mankind, and only aims to keep himself
safe and secluded in his retreat. A saint, when he is active, only
appears to promulgate reveries dangerous to the world, and to uphold
the interests of the church, that he confounds with the interest of
God.

In a word, Madam, I cannot too often repeat it, every system of
religion appears to be designed for the utility of the priests; the
morality of Christianity has in view only the interests of the
priesthood; all the virtues that it teaches have solely for an object
the church and its ministers; and these ends are always to subject the
people, to draw a profit from their toil, and to inspire them with a
blind credulity. We ought, therefore, to practise morality and virtue
without entering into these conspiracies. If the priests disapprove of
those who do not agree with them, and refuse to award any probity to
the thinkers who reject their injurious and useless notions, society,
which needs for its own sustenance real and human virtues, will not
adopt the sentiments nor espouse the quarrels of these men, visibly
leagued together against it. If the ministers of religion require
their dogmas, their mysteries, and their fanatical virtues to support
their usurped empire, the civil government has a need of reasonable
virtues, of an evident, and above all, of a pacific morality, in order
to exercise its legitimate rights. In fine, the individuals, who
compose every society, demand a morality which will render them happy
in _this_ world, without embarrassing themselves with what only
pretends to secure their felicity in an imaginary sphere, of which
they have no ideas except those received from the priests themselves.

The priests have had the art to unite their religious system with some
moral tenets which are really good. This renders their mysteries more
sacred, and lends authority to their ambiguous dogmas. By the aid of
this artifice, they have given currency to the opinion that without
religion there can be neither morality nor virtue. I hope, Madam, in
my next letter, to complete the exposure of this prejudice, and to
demonstrate, to whoever will reflect, how uncertain, abstract, and
deceitful are the notions which religion has inspired. I shall clearly
show, that they have often infected philosophers themselves; that up
to the present time, they have retarded the progress of morality; and
that they have transformed a science the most certain, plain, and
sensible to every thinking man, into a system at once doubtful and
enigmatical, and full of difficulties. I am, Madam, &c.



LETTER XI.

  Of Human or Natural Morality.


By this time, Madam, you will have reflected on what I had the honor
to address to you, and perceived how impossible it is to found a
certain and invariable morality on a religion enthusiastic, ambiguous,
mysterious, and contradictory, and which never agreed with itself. You
know that the God who appears to have taken pleasure in rendering
himself unintelligible, that the God who is partial and changeable,
that the God whose precepts are at variance one with another, can
never serve as the base on which to rear a morality that shall become
practicable among the inhabitants of the earth. In short, how can we
found justice and goodness on attributes that are unjust and evil; yet
attributes of a Being who tempts man, whom he created, for the purpose
of punishing him when tempted? How can we know when we do the will of
a God who has said, _Thou shalt not kill_, and who yet allows his
people to exterminate whole nations? What idea can we form of the
morality of that God who declares himself pleased with the sanguinary
conduct of Moses, of the rebel, the assassin, the adulterer, David? Is
it possible to found the holy duties of humanity on a God whose
favorites have been inhuman persecutors and cruel monsters? How can we
deduce our duties from the lessons of the priests of a God of peace,
who, nevertheless, breathes only sedition, vengeance, and carnage? How
can we take as models for our conduct _saints_, who were useless
enthusiasts, or turbulent fanatics, or seditious apostates; who, under
the pretext of defending the cause of God, have stirred up the
greatest ravages on the earth? What wholesome morality can we reap
from the adoption of impracticable virtues, from their being
supernatural, which are visibly useless to ourselves, to those among
whom we live, and in their consequences often dangerous? How can we
take as guides in our conduct priests, whose lessons are a tissue of
unintelligible opinions, (_for all religion is but opinion_,) puerile
and frivolous practices, which these gentlemen prefer to real virtues?
In fine, how can we be taught _the truth_, conducted in an unerring
path, by men of a changeable morality, calculated upon and actuated by
their present interests, and who, although they pretend to preach
good-will to men, humanity, and peace, have, as their text-book, a
volume stained with the records of injustice, inhumanity, sedition,
and perfidy?

You know, Madam, that it is impossible to found morality on notions
that are so unfixed and so contrary to all our natural ideas of
virtue. By virtue, we ought to understand the habitual dispositions to
do whatever will procure us the happiness of ourselves and our
species. By virtue, religion understands only that which may
contribute to render us favorable to a hidden God, who attaches his
favor to practices and opinions that are too often hurtful to
ourselves, and little beneficial to others. The morality of the
Christians is a mystic morality, which resembles the dogmas of their
religion; it is obscure, unintelligible, uncertain, and subject to the
interpretation of frail creatures. This morality is never fixed,
because it is subordinate to a religion which varies incessantly its
principles, and which is regulated according to the pleasure of a
despotic divinity, and, more especially, according to the pleasure of
priests, whose interests are changing daily, whose caprices are as
variable as the hours of their existence, and who are, consequently,
not always in agreement with one another. The writings which are the
sources whence the Christians have drawn their morality, are not only
an abyss of obscurity, but demand continual explications from their
masters, the priests, who, in explaining, make them still more
obscure, still more contradictory. If these oracles of heaven
prescribe to us in one place the virtues truly useful, in another part
they approve, or prescribe, actions entirely opposed to all the ideas
that we have of virtue. The same God who orders us to be good,
equitable, and beneficent, who forbids the revenging of injuries, who
declares himself to be the God of clemency and of goodness, shows
himself to be implacable in his rage; announces himself as bringing
_the sword, and not peace_; tells us that he is come to set mankind at
variance; and, finally, in order to revenge his wrongs, orders rapine,
treason, usurpation, and carnage. In a word, it is impossible to find
in the Scriptures any certain principles or sure rules of morality.
You there see, in one part, a small number of precepts, useful and
intelligible, and in another part maxims the most extravagant, and the
most destructive to the good and happiness of all society.

It is in punctuality to fulfil the superstitious and frivolous duties,
that the morality of the Jews in the Old Testament writings is chiefly
conspicuous; legal observances, rites, ceremonies, are all that
occupied the people of Israel. In recompense for their scrupulous
exactness to fulfil these duties, they were permitted to commit the
most frightful of crimes. The virtues recommended by the Son of God,
in the New Testament, are not in reality the same as those which God
the Father had made observable in the former case. The New Testament
contradicts the Old. It announces that God is not pacified by
sacrifices, nor by offerings, nor by frivolous rites. It substitutes
in place of these, supernatural virtues, of which I believe I have
sufficiently proved the inutility, the impossibility, and the
incompatibility with the well-being of man living in society. The Son
of God, by the writers of the New Testament, is set at variance with
himself; for he destroys in one place what he establishes in another;
and, moreover, the priests have appropriated to themselves all the
principles of his mission. They are in unison only with God when the
precepts of the Deity accord with their present interest. Is it their
interest to persecute? They find that God ordains persecution. Are
they themselves persecuted? They find that this pacific God forbids
persecution, and views with abhorrence the persecution of his
servants. Do they find that superstitious practices are lucrative to
themselves? Notwithstanding the aversion of Jesus Christ from
offerings, rites, and ceremonies, they impose them on the people, they
surcharge them with mysterious rites: they respect these more than
those duties which are of essential benefit to society. If Jesus has
not wished that they should avenge themselves, they find that his
Father has delighted in vengeance. If Jesus has declared that his
kingdom is not of this world, and if he has shown contempt of riches,
they nevertheless find in the Old Testament sufficient reasons for
establishing a hierarchy for the governing of the world in a spiritual
sense, as kings do in a political one,--for the disputing with kings
about their power,--for exercising in this world an authority the most
unlimited, a license the most terrific. In a word, if they have found
in the Bible some precepts of a moral tendency and practical utility,
they have also found others to justify crimes the most atrocious.

Thus, in the Christian religion, morality uniformly depends on the
fanaticism of priests, their passions, their interests: its principles
are never fixed; they vary according to circumstances: the God of whom
they are the organs, and the interpreters, has not said any thing but
what agrees best with their views, and what never contravenes their
interest. Following their caprices, he changes his advice continually;
he approves, and disapproves, of the same actions: he loves, or
detests, the same conduct; he changes crime into virtue, and virtue
into crime.

What is the result from all this? It is that the Christians have not
sure principles in morality: it varies with the policy of the priests,
who are in a situation to command the credulity of mankind, and who,
by force of menaces and terrors, oblige men to shut their eyes on
their contradictions, and minds the most honest to commit faults the
greatest which can be committed against religion. It is thus that
under a God who recommends the love of our neighbor, the Christians
accustom themselves from infancy to detest an heretical neighbor, and
are almost always in a disposition to overwhelm him by a crowd of
arguments received from their priests. It is thus that, under a God
who ordains we should love our enemies and forgive their offences, the
Christians hate and destroy the enemies of their priests, and take
vengeance, without measure, for injuries which they pretend to have
received. It is thus, that under a just God, a God who never ceases to
boast of his goodness, the Christians, at the signal of their
spiritual guides, become unjust and cruel, and make a merit of having
stifled the cries of nature, the voice of humanity, the counsels of
wisdom, and of public interest.

In a word, all the ideas of justice and of injustice, of good and
evil, of happiness and of misfortune, are necessarily confounded in
the head of a Christian. His despotic priest commands him, in the name
of God, to put no reliance on his reason, and the man who is compelled
to abandon it for the guidance of a troubled imagination will be far
more likely to consult and admit the most stupid fanaticism as the
inspiration of the Most High. In his blindness, he casts at his feet
duties the most sacred, and he believes himself virtuous in outraging
every virtue. Has he remorse? his priest appeases it speedily, and
points out some easy practices by which he may soon recommend himself
to God. Has he committed injustice, violence, and rapine? he may
repair all by giving to the church the goods of which he has despoiled
worthy citizens; or by repaying by largesses, which will procure him
the prayers of the priests and the favor of heaven. For the priests
never reproach men, who give them of this world's goods, with the
injustice, the cruelties, and the crimes they have been guilty, to
support the church and befriend her ministers; the faults which have
almost always been found the most unpardonable, have always been those
of most disservice to the clergy. To question the faith and reject the
authority of the priesthood, have always been the most frightful
crimes; they are truly the sin against the Holy Ghost, which can never
be forgiven either in this world or in that which is to come. To
despise these objects which the priests have an interest in making to
be respected, is sufficient to qualify one for the appellation of a
blasphemer and an impious man. These vague words, void of sense,
suffice to excite horror in the mind of the weak vulgar. The terrible
word sacrilege designates an attempt on the person, the goods, and the
rights of the clergy. The omission of some useless practice is
exaggerated and represented as a crime more detestable than actions
which injure society. In favor of fidelity to fulfil the duties of
religion, the priest easily pardons his slave submitting to vices,
criminal debaucheries, and excesses the most horrible. You perceive,
then, Madam, that the Christian morality has really in view but the
utility of the priests. Why, then, should you be surprised that they
endeavor to make themselves arbitrary and sovereign; that they deem as
faults, and as criminal, all the virtues which agree not with their
marvellous systems? The Christian morality appears only to have been
proposed to blind men, to disturb their reason, to render them abject
and timid, to plunge them into vassalage, to make them lose sight of
the earth which they inhabit, for visions of bliss in heaven. By the
aid of this morality, the priests have become the true masters here
below; they have imagined virtues and practices useful only to
themselves; they have proscribed and interdicted those which were
truly useful to society; they have made slaves of their disciples, who
make virtue to consist in blind submission to their caprices.

To lay the foundations of a good morality, it is absolutely necessary
to destroy the prejudices which the priests have inspired in us; it is
necessary to begin by rendering the mind of man energetic, and freeing
it from those vain terrors which have enthralled it; it is necessary
to renounce those supernatural notions which have, till now, hindered
men from consulting the volume of nature, which have subjected reason
to the yoke of authority; it is necessary to encourage man, to
undeceive him as to those prejudices which have enslaved him; to
annihilate in his bosom those false theories which corrupt his nature,
and which are, in fact, infidel guides, destructive of the real
happiness of the species. It is necessary to undeceive him as to the
idea of his loathing himself, and especially that other idea, that
some of his fellow-creatures are not to labor with their hands for
their support, but in spiritual matters for his happiness. In fine, it
is necessary to influence him with self-love, that he may merit the
esteem of the world, the benevolence and consideration of those with
whom he is associated by the ties of nature or public economy.

The morality of religion appears calculated to confound society and
replunge its members into the savage state. The Christian virtues tend
evidently to isolate man, to detach him from those to whom nature has
united him, and to unite him to the priests--to make him lose sight of
a happiness the most solid, to occupy himself only with dangerous
chimeras. We only live in society to procure the more easily those
kindnesses, succors, and pleasures, which we could not obtain living
by ourselves. If it had been destined that we should live miserably in
this world, that we should detest ourselves, fly the esteem of others,
voluntarily afflict ourselves, have no attachment for any one, society
would have been one heap of confusion, the human kind savages and
strangers to one another.

However, if it is true that God is the author of man, it is God who
renders man sociable; it is God who wishes man to live in society
where he can obtain the greatest good. If God is good, he cannot
approve that men should leave society to become miserable; if God is
the author of reason, he can only wish that men who are possessed of
reason should employ this distinguishing gift to procure for
themselves all the happiness its exercise can bring them. If God has
revealed himself, it is not in some obscure way, but in a revelation
the most evident and clear of all those supposed revelations, which
are visibly contrary to all the notions we can form of the Divinity.
We are not, however, obliged to dive into the marvellous to establish
the duties man owes to man, since God has very plainly shown them in
the wants of one and the good offices of another person. But it is
only by consulting our reason that we can arrive at the means of
contributing to the felicity of our species. It is then evident that
in regarding man as the creature of God, God must have designed that
man should consult his reason, that it might procure him the most
solid happiness, and those principles of virtue which nature approves.

What, then, might not our opinions be were we to substitute the
morality of reason for the morality of religion? In place of a partial
and reserved morality for a small number of men, let us substitute a
universal morality, intelligible to all the inhabitants of the earth,
and of which all can find the principles in nature. Let us study this
nature, its wants, and its desires; let us examine the means of
satisfying it; let us consider what is the end of our existence in
society; we shall see that all those who are thus associated are
compelled by their natures to practise affection one to another,
benevolence, esteem, and relief, if desired; we shall see what is that
line of conduct which necessarily excites hatred, ill-will, and all
those misfortunes which experience makes familiar to mankind; our
reason will tell us what actions are the most calculated to excite
real happiness and good will the most solid and extensive; let us
weigh these with those that are founded on visionary theories; their
difference will at once be perceptible; the advantages which are
permanent we will not sacrifice for those that are momentary; we will
employ all our faculties to augment the happiness of our species; we
will labor with perseverance and courage to extirpate evil from the
earth; we will assist as much as we can those who are without friends;
we will seek to alleviate their distresses and their pains; we will
merit their regard, and thus fulfil the end of our being on earth.

In conducting ourselves in this manner, our reason prescribes a
morality agreeable to nature, reasonable to all, constant in its
operation, effective in its exercise in benefiting all, in
contributing to the happiness of society, collectively and
individually, in distinction to the mysticism preached up by priests.
We shall find in our reason and in our nature the surest guides,
superior to the clergy, who only teach us to benefit themselves. We
shall thus enjoy a morality as durable as the race of man. We shall
have precepts founded on the necessity of things, that will punish
those transgressing them, and rewarding those who obey them. Every
man who shall prove himself to be just, useful, beneficent, will be an
object of love to his fellow-citizens; every man who shall prove
himself unjust, useless, and wicked will become an object of hatred to
himself as well as to others; he will be forced to tremble at the
violation of the laws; he will be compelled to do that which is good
to gain the good will of mankind and preserve the regard of those who
have the power of obliging him to be a useful member of the state.

Thus, Madam, if it should be demanded of you what you would substitute
for the benefit of society, in place of visionary reveries, I reply, a
sensible morality, a good education, profitable habits, self-evident
principles of duty, wise laws, which even the wicked cannot
misunderstand, but which may correct their evil purposes, and
recompenses that may tend to the promotion of virtue. The education of
the present day tends only to make youth the slaves of superstition;
the virtues which it inculcates on them are only those of fanaticism,
to render the mind subject to the priests for the remainder of life;
the motives to duty are only fictitious and imaginary; the rewards and
punishments which it exhibits in an obscure glimmering, produce no
other effect than to make useless enthusiasts and dangerous fanatics.
The principles on which enthusiasm establishes morality are changing
and ruinous; those on which the morality of reason is established are
fixed, and cannot be overturned. Seeing, then, that man, a reasonable
being, should be chiefly occupied about his preservation and
happiness--that he should love virtue--that he should be sensible of
its advantages--that he should fear the consequences of crime--is it
to be wondered I should insist so much on the practice of virtue as
his chief good? Men ought to hate crime because it leads to misery.
Society, to exist, must receive the united virtue of its members,
obedience to good laws, the activity and intelligence of citizens to
defend its privileges and its rights. Laws are good when they invite
the members of society to labor for reciprocal good offices. Laws are
just when they recompense or punish in proportion to the good or evil
which is done to society. Laws supported by a visible authority should
be founded on present motives; and thus they would have more force
than those of religion, which are founded on uncertain motives,
imaginary and removed from this world, and which experience proves
cannot suffice to curb the passions of bad men, nor show them their
duty by the fear of punishments after death.

If in place of stifling human reason, as is too much done, its
perfectibility were studied; if in place of deluging the world with
visionary notions, truth were inculcated; if in place of pleading a
supernatural morality, a morality agreeable to humanity and resulting
from experience were preached, we should no longer be the dupes of
imaginary theories, nor of terrifying fables as the bases of virtue.
Every one would then perceive that it is to the practice of virtue, to
the faithful observation of the duties of morality, that the happiness
of individuals and of society is to be traced. Is he a husband? He
will perceive that his essential happiness is to show kindness,
attachment, and tenderness to the companion of his life, destined by
his own choice to share his pleasures and endure his misfortunes. And,
on the other hand, she, by consulting her true interests, will
perceive that they consist in rendering homage to her husband, in
interdicting every thought that could alienate her affections,
diminish her esteem and confidence in him. Fathers and mothers will
perceive that their children are destined to be one day their
consolation and support in old age, and that by consequence they have
the greatest interest in inspiring them in early life with sentiments
of which they may themselves reap the benefit when age or misfortune
may require the fruits of those advantages that result from a good
education. Their children early taught to reflect on these things,
will find their interest to lie in meriting the kindness of their
parents, and in giving them proofs that the virtues they are taught
will be communicated to their posterity. The master will perceive
that, to be served with affection, he owes good will, kindness, and
indulgence to those at whose hands he would reap advantages, and by
whose labor he would increase his prosperity; and servants will
discover how much their happiness depends on fidelity, industry, and
good temper in their situations. Friends will find the advantages of a
kindred heart for friendship, and the reciprocity of good offices. The
members of the same family will perceive the necessity of preserving
that union which nature has established among them, to render mutual
benefits in prosperity or in adversity. Societies, if they reflect on
the end of their association, will perceive that to secure it they
must observe good faith and punctuality in their engagements. The
citizen, when he consults his reason, will perceive how much it is
necessary, for the good of the nation to which he belongs, that he
should exert himself to advance its prosperity, or, in its
misfortunes, to retrieve its glory. By consequence every one in his
sphere, and using his faculties for this great end, will find his own
advantage in restraining the bad as dangerous, and opposing enemies to
the state as enemies to himself.

In a word, every man who will reflect for himself will be compelled to
acknowledge the necessity of virtue for the happiness of the world. It
is so obvious that justice is the basis of all society; that good will
and good offices necessarily procure for men affection and respect;
that every man who respects himself ought to seek the esteem of
others; that it is necessary to merit the good opinion of society;
that he ought to be jealous of his reputation; that a weak being, who
is every instant exposed to misfortunes, ought to know what are his
duties, and how he should practise them for the benefit of himself
and the assembly of which he is a member.

If we reflect for one moment on the effects of the passions, we shall
perceive the necessity of repressing them, if we would spare ourselves
vain regrets and useless sorrows, which certainly always afflict those
who obey not the laws. Thus, a single reflection will suffice to show
the impropriety of anger, the dreadful consequences of revenge,
calumny, and backbiting. Every one must perceive that in giving a free
course to unbridled desires, he becomes the enemy of society, and then
it is the part of the laws to restrain him who renounces his reason
and despises the motives that ought to guide him.

If it is objected that man is not a free agent, and therefore is
unable to restrain his passions, and that consequently the law ought
not to punish him, I reply that the community are impelled by the same
necessity to hate what is injurious, and for their own conservation
and happiness have the right to restrain an unhappily organized
individual who is impelled to injure himself and others. The
inevitable faults of men necessarily excite the hatred of those who
suffer from them.

If the man who consults his reason has real and powerful motives for
doing good to others and abstaining from injuring them, he has present
motives equally urgent to restrain him from the commission of vice.
Experience may suffice to show him that if he becomes sooner or later
the victim of his excesses, he ceases to be the friend of virtue, and
exists only to serve vice, which will infallibly punish him. This
being allowed, prudence, or the desire of preserving one's self free
from the contamination of evil, ought to inculcate to every man his
path of duty; and, unless blinded by his passions, he must perceive
how much moderation in his pleasures, temperance, chastity, contribute
to happiness; that those who transgress in these respects are
necessarily the victims of ill health, and too often pass a life both
infirm and unfortunate, which terminates soon in death.

How is it possible, then, Madam, from visionary theories to arrive at
these conclusions, and establish from supernatural phantasms the
principles of private and public virtue? Shall we launch into unknown
regions to ascertain our duty and to keep our station in society? Is
it not sufficient if we wish to be happy that we should endeavor to
preserve ourselves in those maxims which reason approves, and on which
virtue is founded? Every man who would perish, who would render his
existence miserable, whoever would sacrifice permanent happiness for
present pleasure, is a fool, who reflects not on the interests that
are dearest to him.

If there are any principles so clear as the morality of humanity has
been and is still proved to be, they are such as men ought to observe.
They are not obscure notions, mysticism, contradictions, which have
made of a science the most obvious and best demonstrated, an
unintelligible science, mysterious and uncertain to those for whom it
is designed. In the hands of the priests, morality has become an
enigma; they have founded our duties on the attributes of a Deity whom
the mind of man cannot comprehend, in place of founding them on the
character of man himself. They have thrown in among them the
foundations of an edifice which is made for this earth. They have
desired to regulate our manners agreeably to equivocal oracles which
every instant contradict themselves, and which too often render their
devotees useless to society and to themselves. They have pretended to
render their morality more sacred by inviting us to look for
recompenses and punishments removed beyond this life, but which they
announce in the name of the Divinity. In fine, they have made man a
being who may not even strive at perfection, by a preordination of
some to bliss, and consequent damnation of others, whose insensibility
is the result of this selection.

Need we not, then, wonder that this supernatural morality should be so
contrary to the nature and the mind of man? It is in vain that it aims
at the annihilation of human nature, which is so much stronger, so
much more powerful, than imagination. In despite of all the subtile
and marvellous speculations of the priests, man continues always to
love himself, to desire his well being, and to flee misfortune and
sorrow. He has then always been actuated by the same passions. When
these passions have been moderate, and have tended to the public
good, they are legitimate, and we approve those actions which are
their effects. When these passions have been disordered, hurtful to
society, or to the individual, he condemns them; they punish him; he
is dissatisfied with his conduct which others cannot approve. Man
always loves his pleasures, because in their enjoyment he fulfils the
end of his existence; if he exceeds their just bounds he renders
himself miserable.

The morality of the clergy, on the other hand, appears calculated to
keep nature always at variance with herself, for it is almost always
without effect even on the priesthood. Their chimeras serve but to
torture weak minds, and to set the passions at war with nature and
their dogmas. When this morality professes to restrain the wicked, to
curb the passions of men, it operates in opposition to the established
laws of natural religion; for by preserving all its rigor, it becomes
impracticable; and it meets with real devotees only in some few
fanatics who have renounced nature, and who would be singular, even if
their oddities were injurious to society. This morality, adopted for
the most part by devotees, without eradicating their habits or their
natural defects, keeps them always in a state of opposition even with
themselves. Their life is a round of faults and of scruples, of sins
and remorse, of crimes and expiations, of pleasures which they enjoy,
but for which they again reproach themselves for having tasted. In a
word, the morality of superstition necessarily carries with it into
the heart and the family of its devotees inward distress and
affliction; it makes of enthusiasts and fanatics scrupulous devotees;
it makes a great many insensible and miserable; it renders none
perfect, few good; and those only tolerable whom nature, education,
and habit had moulded for happiness.

It is our temperament which decides our condition; the acquisition of
moderate passions, of honest habits, sensible opinions, laudable
examples, and practical virtues, is a difficult task, but not
impossible when undertaken with reason for one's guide. It is
difficult to be virtuous and happy with a temperament so ardent as to
sway the passions to its will. One must in calmness consult reason as
to his duty. Nature, in giving us lively passions and a susceptible
imagination, has made us capable of suffering the instant we
transgress her bounds. She then renders us necessary to ourselves, and
we cannot proceed to consult our real interest if we continue in
indulgence that she forbids. The passions which reason cannot restrain
are not to be bridled by religion. It is in vain that we hope to
derive succors from religion if we despise and refuse what nature
offers us. Religion leaves men just such as nature and habit have made
them; and if it produce any changes on some few, I believe I have
proved that those changes are not always for the better.

Congratulate yourself, then, Madam, on being born with good
dispositions, of having received honest principles, which shall carry
you through life in the practice of virtue, and in the love of a fine
and exalted taste for the rational pleasures of our nature. Continue
to be the happiness of your family, which esteems and honors you.
Continue to diffuse around you the blessings you enjoy; continue to
perform only those actions which are esteemed by all the world, and
all men will respect you. Respect yourself, and others will respect
you. These are the legitimate sentiments of virtue and of happiness.
Labor for your own happiness, and you will promote that of your
family, who will love you in proportion to the good you do it. Allow
me to congratulate myself if, in all I have said, I have in any
measure swept from your mind those clouds of fanaticism which obscure
the reason; and to felicitate you on your having escaped from vague
theories of imagination. Abjure superstition, which is calculated only
to make you miserable; let the morality of humanity be your uniform
religion; that your happiness may be constant, let reason be your
guide; that virtue may be the idol of your soul, cultivate and love
only what is virtuous and good in the world; and if there be a God who
is interested in the happiness of his creatures, if there be a God
full of justice and goodness, he will not be angry with you for having
consulted your reason; if there be another life, your happiness in it
cannot be doubtful, if God rewards every one according to the good
done here.

                                    I am, with respect, &c.



LETTER XII.

  Of the small Consequence to be attached to Men's Speculations, and
  the Indulgence which should be extended to them.


Permit me, Madam, to felicitate you on the happy change which you say
has taken place in your opinions. Convinced by reasons as simple as
obvious, your mind has become sensible of the futility of those
notions which have for a long time agitated it; and the inefficacy of
those pretended succors which religious men boasted they could
furnish, is now apparent to you. You perceive the evident dangers
which result from a system that serves only to render men enemies to
individual and general happiness. I see with pleasure that reason has
not lost its authority over your mind, and that it is sufficient to
show you the truth that you may embrace it. You may congratulate
yourself on this, which proves the solidity of your judgment. For it
is glorious to give one's self up to reason, and to be the votary of
common sense. Prejudice so arms mankind that the world is full of
people who slight their judgment; nay, who resist the most obvious
pleas of their understanding. Their eyes, long shut to the light of
truth, are unable to bear its rays; but they can endure the
glimmerings of superstition, which plunges them in still darker
obscurity.

I am not, however, astonished at the embarrassment you have hitherto
felt, nor at your cautious examination of my opinions, which are
better understood the more thoroughly they are examined and compared
with those they oppose. It is impossible to annihilate at once
deep-rooted prejudices. The mind of man appears to waver in a void
when those ideas are attacked on which it has long rested. It finds
itself in a new world, wherein all is unknown. Every system of opinion
is but the effect of habit. The mind has as great difficulty to
disengage itself from its custom of thinking, and reflect on new
ideas, as the body has to remain quiescent after it has long been
accustomed to exercise. Should you, for instance, propose to your
friend to leave off snuff, as a practice neither healthful nor
agreeable in company, he will not probably listen to you, or if he
should, it will be with extreme pain that he can bring himself to
renounce a habit long familiarized to him.

It is precisely the same with all our prejudices; those of religion
have the most powerful hold of us. From infancy we have been
familiarized with them; habit has made them a sort of want we cannot
dispense with: our mode of thinking is formed, and familiar to us; our
mind is accustomed to engage itself with certain classes of objects;
and our imagination fancies that it wanders in chaos when it is not
fed with those chimeras to which it had been long accustomed. Phantoms
the most horrible are even clear to it; objects the most familiar to
it, if viewed with the calm eye of reason, are disagreeable and
revolting.

Religion, or rather its superstitions, in consequence of the
marvellous and bizarre notions it engenders, gives the mind continual
exercise; and its votaries fancy they are doomed to a dangerous
inaction when they are suddenly deprived of the objects on which their
imagination exerted its powers. Yet is this exercise so much the more
necessary as the imagination is by far the most lively faculty of the
mind. Hence, without doubt, it becomes necessary men should replace
stale fooleries by those which are novel. This is, moreover, the true
reason why devotion so often affords consolation in great disgraces,
gives diversion for chagrin, and replaces the strongest passions, when
they have been quenched by excess of pleasure and dissipation. The
marvellous arguments, chimeras multiply as religion furnishes activity
and occupation to the fancy; habit renders them familiar, and even
necessary; terrors themselves even minister food to the imagination;
and religion, the religion of priestcraft, is full of terrors. Active
and unquiet spirits continually require this nourishment; the
imagination requires to be alternately alarmed and consoled; and there
are thousands who cannot accustom themselves to tranquillity and the
sobriety of reason. Many persons also require phantoms to make them
religious, and they find these succors in the dogmas of priestcraft.

These reflections will serve to explain to you the continual
variations to which many persons are subject, especially on the
subject of religion. Sensible, like barometers, you behold them
wavering without ceasing; their imagination floats, and is never
fixed; so often as you find them freely given up to the blackness of
superstition, so often may you behold them the slaves of pernicious
prejudices. Whenever they tremble at the feet of their priests, then
are their necks under the yoke. Even people of spirit and
understanding in other affairs are not altogether exempt from these
variations of mental religious temperament; but their judgment is too
frequently the dupe of the imagination. And others, again, timid and
doubting, without spirit, are in perpetual torment.

What do I say? Man is not, and cannot always be, the same. His frame
is exposed to revolutions and perpetual vicissitudes; the thoughts of
his mind necessarily vary with the different degrees of changes to
which his body is exposed. When the body is languid and fatigued, the
mind has not usually much inclination to vigor and gayety. The
debility of the nerves commonly annihilates the energies of the soul,
although it be so remarkably distinguished from the body; persons of a
bilious and melancholy temperament are rarely the subjects of joy;
dissipation importunes some, gayety fatigues others. Exactly after the
same fashion, there are some who love to nourish sombre ideas, and
these religion supplies them. Devotion affects them like the vapors;
superstition is an inveterate malady, for which there is no cure in
medicine. And it is impossible to keep him free from superstition,
whose breast, the slave of fear, was never sensible of courage; nay,
soldiers and sailors, the bravest of men, have too often been the
victims of superstition. It is education alone that operates in
radically curing the human mind of its errors.

Those who think it sufficient, Madam, to render a reason for the
variations which we so frequently remark in the ideas of men,
acknowledge that there is a secret bent of the minds of religious
persons to prejudices, from which we shall almost in vain endeavor to
rescue their understandings. You perceive, at present, what you ought
to think of those secret transitions which our priests would force on
you, as the inspirations of heaven, as divine solicitations, the
effects of grace; though they are, nevertheless, only the effects of
those vicissitudes to which our constitution is liable, and which
affect the robust, as well as the feeble; the man of health, as well
as the valetudinarian.

If we might form a judgment of the correctness of those notions which
our teachers boast of, in respect to our dissolution at death, we
shall find reason to be satisfied, that there is little or no occasion
that we should have our minds disturbed during our last moments. It is
then, say they, that it is necessary to attend to the condition of
man; it is then that man, undeceived as to the things of this life,
acknowledges his errors. But there is, perhaps, no idea in the whole
circle of theology more unreasonable than this, of which the
credulous, in all ages, have been the dupes. Is it not at the time of
a man's dissolution that he is the least capable of judging of his
true interest? His bodily frame racked, it may be, with pain, his mind
is necessarily weakened or chafed; or if he should be free from
excruciating pain, the lassitude and yielding of nature to the
irrevocable decrees of fate at death, unfit a man for reasoning and
judging of the sophisms that are proposed as panaceas for all his
errors. There are, without doubt, as strange notions as those of
religion; but who knows that body and soul sink alike at death?

It is in the case of health that we can promise ourselves to reason
with justness; it is then that the soul, neither troubled by fear, nor
altered by disease, nor led astray by passion, can judge soundly of
what is beneficial to man. The judgments of the dying can have no
weight with men in good health; and they are the veriest impostors who
lend them belief. The truth can alone be known, when both body and
mind are in good health. No man, without evincing an insensible and
ridiculous presumption, can answer for the ideas he is occupied with,
when worn out with sickness and disease; yet have the inhuman priests
the effrontery to persuade the credulous to take as their examples the
words and actions of men necessarily deranged in intellect by the
derangement of their corporeal frame. In short, since the ideas of men
necessarily vary with the different variations of their bodies, the
man who presumes to reason on his death bed with the man in health,
arrogates what ought not to be conceded.

Do not, then, Madam, be discouraged nor surprised, if you should
sometimes think of ancient prejudices reclaiming the rights they have
for a long time exercised over your reason; attribute, then, these
vacillations to some derangement in your frame--to some disordered
movements of mind, which, for a time, suspend your reason. Think that
there are few people who are constantly the same, and who see with the
same eyes. Our frame being subject to continual variations, it
necessarily follows that our modes of thinking will vary. We think one
custom the result of pusillanimity, when the nerves are relaxed and
our bodies fatigued. We think justly when our body is in health; that
is to say, when all its parts are fulfilling their various functions.
There is one mode of thinking, or one state of mind, which in health
we call uncertainty, and which we rarely experience when our frame is
in its ordinary condition. We do not then reason justly, when our
frame is not in a condition to leave our mind subject to incredulity.

What, then, is to be done, when we would calm our mind, when we wish
to reflect, even for an instant? Let reason be our guide, and we shall
soon arrive at that mode of thinking which shall be advantageous to
ourselves. In effect, Madam, how can a God who is just, good, and
reasonable, be irritated by the manner in which we shall think, seeing
that our thoughts are always involuntary, and that we cannot believe
as we would, but as our convictions increase, or become weakened? Man
is not, then, for one instant, the master of his ideas, which are
every moment excited by objects over which he has no control, and
causes which depend not on his will or exertions. St. Augustine
himself bears testimony to this truth: "There is not," says he, "one
man who is at all times master of that which presents itself to his
spirit." Have we not, then, good reason to conclude, that our thoughts
are entirely indifferent to God, seeing they are excited by objects
over which we have no control, and, by consequence, that they cannot
be offensive to the Deity?

If our teachers pique themselves on their principles, they ought to
carry along with them this truth, that a just God cannot be offended
by the changes which take place in the minds of his creatures. They
ought to know that this God, if he is wise, has no occasion to be
troubled with the ideas that enter the mind of man; that if they do
not comprehend all his perfections, it is because their comprehension
is limited. They ought to recollect, that if God is all-powerful, his
glory and his power cannot be affected by the opinions and ideas of
weak mortals, any more than the notions they form of him can alter his
essential attributes. In fine, if our teachers had not made it a duty
to renounce common sense, and to close with notions that carry in
their consequences the contradictory evidence of their premises, they
would not refuse to avow that God would be the most unjust, the most
unreasonable, the most cruel of tyrants, if he should punish beings
whom he himself created imperfect, and possessed of a deficiency of
reason and common sense.

Let us reflect a little longer, and we shall find that the theologians
have studied to make of the Divinity a ferocious master, unreasonable
and changing, who exacts from his creatures qualities they have not,
and services they cannot perform. The ideas they have formed of this
unknown being are almost always borrowed from those of men of power,
who, jealous of their power and respect from their subjects, pretend
that it is the duty of these last to have for them sentiments of
submission, and punish with rigor those who, by their conduct or their
discourse, announce sentiments not sufficiently respectful to their
superiors. Thus you see, Madam, that God has been fashioned by the
clergy on the model of an uneasy despot, suspicious of his subjects,
jealous of the opinions they may entertain of him, and who, to secure
his power, cruelly chastises those who have not littleness of mind
sufficient to flatter his vanity, nor courage enough to resist his
power.

It is evident, that it is on ideas so ridiculous, and so contrary to
those which nature offers us of the Divinity, that the absurd system
of the priests is founded, which they persuade themselves is very
sensible and agreeable to the opinions of mankind; and which is very
seriously insulted, they say, if men think differently; and which will
punish with severity those who abandon themselves to the guidance of
reason, the glory of man. Nothing can be more pernicious to the human
kind than this fatal madness, which deranges all our ideas of a just
God--of a God, good, wise, all-powerful, and whose glory and power
neither the devotion nor rebellion of his creatures can affect. In
consequence of these impertinent suppositions of the priesthood, men
have ever been afraid to form notions agreeable to the mysterious
Sovereign of the universe, on whom they are dependent; their mind is
put to the torture to divine his incomprehensible nature, and, in
their fear of displeasing him, they have assigned to him human
attributes, without perceiving that when they pretend to honor him,
they dishonor Deity, and that being compelled to bestow on him
qualities that are incompatible with Deity, they actually annihilate
from their mind the pure representation of Deity, as witnessed in all
nature. It is thus, that in almost all the religions on the face of
the earth, under the pretext of making known the Divinity, and
explaining his views towards mortals, the priests have rendered him
incomprehensible, and have actually promulgated, under the garb of
religion, nothing save absurdities, by which, if we admit them, we
shall destroy those notions which nature gives us of Deity.

When we reflect on the Divinity, do we not see that mankind have
plunged farther and farther into darkness, as they assimilated him to
themselves; that their judgment is always disturbed when they would
make their Deity the object of their meditations; that they cannot
reason justly, because they never have any but obscure and absurd
ideas; that they are almost always in uncertainty, and never agree
with themselves, because their principles are replete with doubt; that
they always tremble, because they imagine that it is very dangerous to
be deceived; that they dispute without ceasing, because that it is
impossible to be convinced of any thing, when they reason on objects
of which they know nothing, and which the imaginations of men are
forced to paint differently; in fine, that they cruelly torment one
another about opinions equally uninteresting, though they attach to
them the greatest importance, and because the vanity of the one party
never allows it to subscribe to the reveries of the other?

It is thus that the Divinity has become to us a source of evil,
division, and quarrels; it is thus that his name alone inspires
terror; it is thus that religion has become the signal of so many
combats, and has always been the true apple of discord among unquiet
mortals, who always dispute with the greatest heat, on subjects of
which they can never have any true ideas. They make it a duty to think
and reason on his attributes; and they can never arrive at any just
conclusions, because their mind is never in a condition to form true
notions of what strikes their senses. In the impossibility of knowing
the Deity by themselves, they have recourse to the opinion of others,
whom they consider more adroit in theology, and who pretend to an
intimate acquaintance with God, being inspired by him, and having
secret intelligence of his purposes with regard to the human kind.
Those privileged men teach nothing to the nations of the earth, except
what their reveries have reduced to a system, without giving them
ideas that are clear and definite. They paint God under characters the
most agreeable to their own interests; they make of him a good monarch
for those who blindly submit to their tenets, but terrible to those
who refuse to blindly follow them.

Thus you perceive, Madam, what those men are who have obviously made
of the Deity an object so bizarre as they announce him, and who, to
render their opinions the more sacred, have pretended that he is
grievously offended when we do not admit implicitly the ideas they
promulgate of God. In the books of Moses God defines himself, _I am
that I am_; yet does this inspired writer detail the history of this
God as a tyrant who tempts men, and who punishes them for being
tempted; who exterminated all the human kind by a deluge, except a few
of one family, because one man had fallen; in a word, who, in all his
conduct, behaves as a despot, whose power dispenses with all the rules
of justice, reason, and goodness.

Have the successors of Moses transmitted to us ideas more clear, more
sensible, more comprehensible of the Divinity? Has the Son of God made
his Father perfectly known to us? Has the church, perpetually boasting
of the light she diffuses among men, become more fixed and certain,
to do away our uncertainty? Alas! in spite of all these supernatural
succors, we know nothing in nature beyond the grave; the ideas which
are communicated to us, the recitals of our infallible teachers, are
calculated only to confound our judgment, and reduce our reason to
silence. They make of God a pure spirit; that is to say, a being who
has nothing in common with matter, and who, nevertheless, has created
matter, which he has produced from his own fiat--his essence or
substance. They have made him the mirror of the universe, and the soul
of the universe. They have made him an infinite being, who fills all
space by his immensity, although the material world occupies some part
in space. They have made him a being all powerful, but whose projects
are incessantly varying, who neither can nor will maintain man in good
order, nor permit the freedom of action necessary for rational beings,
and who is alternately pleased and displeased with the same beings and
their actions. They make him an infinite good Father, but who avenges
himself without measure. They make of him a monarch infinitely just,
but who confounds the innocent with the guilty, who has mingled
injustice and cruelty, in causing his own Son to be put to death to
expiate the crimes of the human kind; though they are incessantly
sinning and repenting for pardon. They make of him a being full of
wisdom and foresight, yet insensible to the folly and shortsightedness
of mortals. They make him a reasonable being who becomes angry at the
thoughts of his creatures, though involuntary, and consequently
necessary; thoughts which he himself puts into their heads; and who
condemns them to eternal punishments if they believe not in reveries
that are incompatible with the divine attributes, or who dare to doubt
whether God can possess qualities that are not capable of being
reconciled among themselves.

Is it, then, surprising that so many good people are shocked at the
revolting ideas, so contradictory and so appalling, which hurl mortals
into a state of uncertainty and doubt as to the existence of the
Deity, or even to force them into absolute denial of the same? It is
impossible to admit, in effect, the doctrine of the Deity of
priestcraft, in which we constantly see infinite perfections, allied
with imperfections the most striking; in which, when we reflect but
momentarily, we shall find that it cannot produce but disorder in the
imagination, and leaves it wandering among errors that reduce it to
despair, or some impostors, who, to subjugate mankind, have wished to
throw them into embarrassment, confound their reason, and fill them
with terror. Such appear, in effect, to be the motives of those who
have the arrogance to pretend to a secret knowledge, which they
distribute among mankind, though they have no knowledge even of
themselves. They always paint God under the traits of an inaccessible
tyrant, who never shows himself but to his ministers and favorites,
who please to veil him from the eyes of the vulgar; and who are
violently irritated when they find any who oppose their pretensions,
or when they refuse to believe the priests and their unintelligible
farragoes.

If, as I have often said, it be impossible to believe what we cannot
comprehend, or to be intimately convinced of that of which we can form
no distinct and clear ideas, we may thence conclude that, when the
Christians assure us they believe that God has announced himself in
some secret and peculiar way to them that he has not done to other
men, either they are themselves deceived, or they wish to deceive us.
Their faith, or their belief in God, is merely an acceptance of what
their priests have taught them of a Being whose existence they have
rendered more than doubtful to those who would reason and meditate.
The Deity cannot, assuredly, be the being whom the Christians admit on
the word of their theologians. Is there, in good truth, a man in the
world who can form any idea of a spirit? If we ask the priests what a
spirit is, they will tell us that a spirit is an immaterial being who
has none of the passions of which men are the subjects. But what is an
immaterial spirit? It is a being that has none of the qualities which
we can fathom; that has neither form, nor extension, nor color.

But how can we be assured of the existence of a being who has none of
these qualities? It is by _faith_, say the priests, that we must be
assured of his existence. But what is this _faith_? It is to adhere,
without examination, to what the priests tell us. But what is it the
priests tell us of God? They tell us of things which we can neither
comprehend nor they reconcile among themselves. The existence, even of
God, has, in their hands, become the most impenetrable mystery in
religion. But do the priests themselves comprehend this ineffable God,
whom they announce to other men? Have they just ideas of him? Are they
themselves sincerely convinced of the existence of a being who unites
incompatible qualities which reciprocally exclude the one or the
other? We cannot admit it; and we are authorized to conclude, that
when the priests profess to believe in God, either they know not what
they say, or they wish to deceive us.

Do not then be surprised, Madam, if you should find that there are, in
fact, people who have ventured to doubt of the existence of the Deity
of the theologians, because, on meditating on the descriptions given
of him, they have discovered them to be incomprehensible, or replete
with contradiction. Do not be astonished if they never listen, in
reasoning, to any arguments that oppose themselves to common sense,
and seek, for the existence of the priests' Deity, other proofs than
have yet been offered mankind. His existence cannot be demonstrated in
revelations, which we discover, on examination, to be the work of
imposture; revelations sap the foundations laid down for belief in a
Divinity, which they would wish to establish. This existence cannot
be founded on the qualities which our priests have assigned to the
Divinity, seeing that, in the association of these qualities, there
only results a God whom we cannot comprehend, and by consequence of
whom we can form no certain ideas. This existence cannot be founded on
the moral qualities which our priests attribute to the Divinity,
seeing these are irreconcilable in the same subject, who cannot be at
once good and evil, just and unjust, merciful and implacable, wise and
the enemy of human reason.

On what, then, ought we to found the existence of God? The priests
themselves tell us that it is on reason, the spectacle of nature, and
on the marvellous order which appears in the universe. Those to whom
these motives for believing in the existence of the Divinity do not
appear convincing, find not, in any of the religions in the world,
motives more persuasive; for all systems of theology, framed for the
exercise of the imagination, plunge us into more uncertainty
respecting their evidence, when they appeal to nature for proofs of
what they advance.

What, then, are we to think of the God of the clergy? Can we think
that he exists, without reasoning on that existence? And what shall we
think of those who are ignorant of this God, or have no belief in his
existence; who cannot discover him in the works of nature, either as
good or evil; who behold only order and disorder succeeding
alternately? What idea shall we form of those men who regard matter as
eternal, as actuated on by laws, peculiar to itself; as sufficiently
powerful to produce itself under all the forms we behold; as
perpetually exerting itself in nourishing and destroying itself, in
combining and dissolving itself; as incapable of love or of hatred; as
deprived of the faculties of _intelligence_ and _sentiment_ known to
belong to beings of our species, but capable of supporting those
beings whose organization has made them intelligent, sensible, and
reasonable?

What shall we say of those Freethinkers who find neither good nor
evil, neither order nor disorder, in the universe; that all things are
but relative to different conditions of beings, of which they have
evidence; and that all that happens in the universe is necessary, and
subjected to destiny? In a word, what shall we think of these men?

Shall we say that they have only a different manner of viewing things,
or that they use different words in expressing themselves? They call
that _Nature_ which others call the _Divinity_; they call that
_Necessity_ which all others call the _Divine decrees_; they call that
the _Energy_ of _Nature_ which others call the _Author_ of _Nature_;
they call that _Destiny_, or _Fate_, which others call _God_, whose
laws are always going forward.

Have we, then, any right to hate and to exterminate them? No, without
doubt; at least, we cannot admit that we have any reason that those
should perish, who speak only the same language with ourselves, and
who are reciprocally beneficial to us. Nevertheless, it is to this
degree of extravagance that the baneful ideas of religion have
carried the human mind. Harassed, and set on by their priests, men
have hated and assassinated each other, because that in religious
matters they agree not to one creed. Vanity has made some imagine
that they are better than others, more intelligible, although they
see that theology is a language which they neither understand, nor
which they themselves could invent. The very name of Freethinker
suffices to irritate them, and to arm the fury of others, who repeat,
without ceasing, the name of God, without having any precise idea of
the Deity. If, by chance, they imagine that they have any notions of
him, they are only confused, contradictory, incompatible, and
senseless notions, which have been inspired in their infancy by their
priests, and those who, as we have seen, have painted God in all
those traits which their imagination furnished, or those who appear
more conformed to their passions and interests than to the well-being
of their fellow-creatures.

The least reflection will, nevertheless, suffice to make any one
perceive, that God, if he is just and good, cannot exist as a being
known to some, but unknown to others. If Freethinkers are men void of
reason, God would be unjust to punish them for being blind and
insensible, or for having too little penetration and understanding to
perceive the force of those natural proofs on which the existence of
the Deity has been founded. A God full of equity cannot punish men
for having been blind or devoid of reason. The Freethinkers, as
foolish as they are supposed, are beings less insensible than those
who make professions of believing in a God full of qualities that
destroy one another; they are less dangerous than the adorers of a
changeable Deity, who, they imagine, is pleased with the extermination
of a large portion of mankind, on account of their opinions. Our
speculations are indifferent to God, whose glory man cannot
tarnish--whose power mortals cannot abridge. They may, however, be
advantageous to ourselves; they may be perfectly indifferent to
society, whose happiness they may not affect; or they may be the
reverse of all this. For it is evident that the opinions of men do not
influence the happiness of society.

Hence, Madam, let us leave men to think as they please, provided that
they act in such a manner as promotes the general good of society. The
thoughts of men injure not others; their actions may--their reveries
never. Our ideas, our thoughts, our systems, depend not on us. He who
is fully convinced on one point, is not satisfied on another. All men
have not the same eyes, nor the same brains; all have not the same
ideas, the same education, or the same opinions; they never agree
wholly, when they have the temerity to reason on matters that are
enveloped in the obscurity of imaginative fiction, and which cannot be
subject to the usual evidence accompanying matters of report, or
historic relation.

Men do not long dispute on objects that are cognizable to their
senses, and which they can submit to the test of experience. The
number of self-evident truths on which men agree is very small; and
the fundamentals of morality are among this number. It is obvious to
all men of sense, that beings, united in society, require to be
regulated by justice, that they ought to respect the happiness of each
other, that mutual succor is indispensable; in a word, that they are
obliged to practise virtue, and to be useful to society, for personal
happiness. It is evident to demonstration, that the interest of our
preservation excites us to moderate our desires, and put a bridle on
our passions; to renounce dangerous habits, and to abstain from vices
which can only injure our fortune, and undermine our health. These
truths are evident to every being whose passions have not dominion
over his reason; they are totally independent of theological
speculations, which have neither evidence nor demonstration, and which
our mind can never verify; they have nothing in common with the
religious opinions on which the imagination soars from earth to sky,
nor with the fanaticism and credulity which are so frequently
producing among mankind the most opposite principles to morality and
the well-being of society.

They who are of the Freethinkers' opinions are not more dangerous than
they who are of the priests' opinions. In short, Christianity has
produced effects more appalling than heathenism. The speculative
principles of the Freethinkers have done no injury to society; the
contagious principles of fanaticism and enthusiasm have only served to
spread disorder on the earth. If there are dangerous notions and fatal
speculations in the world, they are those of the devotees, who obey a
religion that divides men, and excites their passions, and who
sacrifice the interests of society, of sovereigns, and their subjects,
to their own ambition, their avarice, their vengeance and fury.

There is no question that the Freethinker has motives to be good, even
though he admit not notions that bridle his passions. It is true that
the Freethinker has no invisible motives, but he has motives, and a
visible restraint, which, if he reflects, cannot fail to regulate his
actions. If he doubts about religion, he does not question the laws of
moral obligation; nor that it is his duty to moderate his passions, to
labor for his happiness and that of others, to avoid hatred, disdain,
and discord as crimes; and that he should shun vices which may injure
his constitution, reputation, and fortune. Thus, relatively to his
morality, the Freethinker has principles more sure than those of
superstition and fanaticism. In fine, if nothing can restrain the
Freethinker, a thousand forces united would not prevent the fanatic
from the commission of crimes, and the violation of duties the most
sacred.

Besides, I believe that I have already proved that the morality of
superstition has no certain principles; that it varies with the
interests of the priests, who explain the intentions of the Divinity,
as they find these accordant or discordant to their views and
interests; which, alas! are too often the result of cruel and wicked
purposes. On the contrary, the Freethinker, who has no morality but
what he draws from the nature and character of man, and the constant
events which transpire in society, has a certain morality that is not
founded either on the caprice of circumstances or the prejudices of
mankind; a morality that tells him when he does evil, and blames him
for the evil so done, and that is superior to the morality of the
intolerant fanatic and persecutor.

You thus perceive, Madam, on which side the morality of the
Freethinkers leans, what advantages it possesses over that inculcated
on the superstitious devotee, who knows no other rule than the caprice
of his priest, nor any other morality than what suits the interest of
the clergy, nor any other virtues than such as make him the slave of
their will, and which are too often in opposition to the great
interests of mankind. Thus you perceive, that what is understood by
the natural morality of the Freethinker, is much more constant and
more sure than that of the superstitious, who believe they can render
themselves agreeable to God by the intercession of priests. If the
Freethinker is blind or corrupted, by not knowing his duties which
nature prescribes to him, it is precisely in the same way as the
superstitious, whose invisible motives and sacred guides prevent him
not from going occasionally astray.

These reflections will serve to confirm what I have already said, to
prove that morality has nothing in common with religion; and that
religion is its own enemy, though it pretends to dispense with support
from other sources. True morality is founded on the nature of man; the
morality of religion is founded only on the chimeras of imagination,
and on the caprice of those who speak of the Deity in a language too
often contrary to nature and right reason.

Allow me, then, Madam, to repeat to you, that morality is the only
natural religion for man; the only object worthy his notice on earth;
the only worship which he is required to render to the Deity. It is
uniform, and replete with obvious duties, which rest not on the
dictation of priests, blabbing chit-chat they do not understand. If it
be this morality which I have defined, that makes us what we are,
ought we not to labor strenuously for the happiness of our race? If it
be this morality that makes us reasonable; that enables us to
distinguish good from evil, the useful from the hurtful; that makes us
sociable, and enables us to live in society to receive and repay
mutual benefits; we ought at least to respect all those who are its
friends. If it be this morality which sets bounds to our temper, it is
that which interdicts the commission in thought, word, or action, of
what would injure another, or disturb the happiness of society. If it
attach us to the preservation of all that is dear to us, it points out
how by a certain line of conduct we may preserve ourselves; for its
laws, clear and of easy practice, inflict on those who disobey them
instant punishment, fear, and remorse; on the other hand, the
observance of its duties is accompanied with immediate and real
advantages, and notwithstanding the depravity which prevails on earth,
vice always finds itself punished, and virtue is not always deprived
of the satisfaction it yields, of the esteem of men, and the
recompense of society; even if men are in other respects unjust, they
will concede to the virtuous the due meed of praise.

Behold, Madam, to what the dogmas of natural religion reduce us: in
meditating on it, and in practising its duties, we shall be truly
religious, and filled with the spirit of the Divinity; we shall be
admired and respected by men; we shall be in the right way to be loved
by those who rule over us, and respected by those who serve us; we
shall be truly happy in this world, and we shall have nothing to fear
in the next.

These are laws so clear, so demonstrable, and whose infraction is so
evidently punished, whose observance is so surely recompensed, that
they constitute the code of nature of all living beings, sentient and
reasoning; all acknowledge their authority; all find in them the
evidence of Deity, and consider those as sceptics who doubt their
efficacy. The Freethinker does not refuse to acknowledge as
fundamental laws, those which are obviously founded on the God of
Nature, and on the immutable and necessary circumstances of things
cognizable to the faculties of sentient natures. The Indian, the
Chinese, the savage, perceives these self-evident laws, whenever he is
not carried headlong by his passions into crime and error. In fine,
these laws, so true, and so evident, never can appear uncertain,
obscure, or false, as are those superstitious chimeras of the
imagination, which knaves have substituted for the truths of nature
and the dicta of common sense; and those devotees who know no other
laws than those of the caprices of their priests, necessarily obey a
morality little calculated to produce personal or general happiness,
but much calculated to lead to extravagance and inconvenient
practices.

Hence, charming Eugenia, you will allow mankind to think as they
please, and judge of them after their actions. Oppose reason to their
systems, when they are pernicious to themselves or others; remove
their prejudices if you can, that they may not become the victims of
their caprices; show them the truth, which may always remove error;
banish from their minds the phantoms which disturb them; advise them
not to meditate on the mysteries of their priests; bid them renounce
all those illusions they have substituted for morality; and advise
them to turn their thoughts on that which conduces to their happiness.
Meditate yourself on your own nature, and the duties which it imposes
on you. Fear those chastisements which follow inattention to this law.
Be ambitious to be approved by your own understanding, and you will
rarely fail to receive the applauses of the human kind, as a good
member of society.

If you wish to meditate, think with the greatest strength of your mind
on your nature. Never abandon the torch of reason; cherish truth
sincerely. When you are in uncertainty, pause, or follow what appears
the most probable, always abandoning opinions that are destitute of
foundation, or evidence of their truth and benefit to society. Then
will you, in good truth, yield to the impulse of your heart when
reason is your guide; then will you consult in the calmness of
passion, and counsel yourself on the advantages of virtue, and the
consequences of its want; and you may flatter yourself that you cannot
be displeasing to a wise God, though you disbelieve absurdities, nor
agreeable to a good God in doing things hurtful to yourself or to
others.

Leaving you now to your own reflections, I shall terminate the series
of Letters you have allowed me to address you. Bidding you an
affectionate farewell,

                                    I am truly yours.





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