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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

(Paul Henri Thiry Holbach (baron d') Nicolas Fréret)

Author Of The System Of Nature, The Social System, Good Sense,
Christianity Unveiled, Ecce Homo, Universal Morality, Religious Cruelty
&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.

1870



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;_* it may have
been there were actually no more known.

     * 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 reestablish 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._*

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.)

     * "Time effaces the comments of opinion, but it confirms the
     judgments of nature."--Cicero.

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 retired to her husband's country seat, where 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.



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 today 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 reestablish 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
smallpox 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;* 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.

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.

     * On this subject see Bayle's Diet. Critt art. Hobbes,
     Rem. N.

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 intimacy. A thousand examples might be
adduced to convince you that devotees who are the most involved in
superstitious observances to please God Digitized by by 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
un-blushingly 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 religious
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 those 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 prejudiced 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 misfortune? 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 capriciousnes 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 continued 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
ah 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 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 be he, in all
justice, who ought to undergo 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.*

     * See what Bayle says, Diet. Crit., art. Origène, Rem. E.t
     art. Pauliciens, Rem. E., F., M., and torn. iii. 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 with
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 them*
selves 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 moat
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 reenter 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 how 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 lull 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 then-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
super-natural 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 fonnd 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 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
them selves 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 lukewarm-ness, 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 war 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 priests, 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 perturbera 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 reenter 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. On 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 pre* tended 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 religions 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 tendered 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
pleas-ore, 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.*
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?

     * Upon this topic consult what Bayle says, Continuation des
     Pensées diverses sur la Comète, Sections 124,125, tome iv.,
     Rousseau de Genéve, in his Contrai Social, 1. 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 hy 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 u 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, that 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 molality 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 fonnd 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? J 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 swords 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, we 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 in 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 nis 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 such 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 never have any but obscure and absurd ideas; 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 they that
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 chitchat 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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