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The System of Nature, Vol. 2 by Baron D'Holbach

Part 4 out of 7

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our narrow views of things be enlarged--should we be better capacitated
to understand his projects--could we with more certitude divine his
plans, enter into his designs--would our exility of judgment be
competent to measure his wisdom, to follow the eternal order he has
established? Will those effects, which flow from his omnipotence,
emanate from his providence--whether we estimate them as good, or
whether we tax them as evil--whether we consider them beneficial, or
view them as prejudicial--be less the necessary results of his wisdom,
of his justice, of his eternal decrees? In this case can we reasonably
suppose that a Being, so wise, so just, so intelligent, will derange his
system, change his plan, for such weak beings as ourselves? Can we
rationally believe we have the capacity to address worthy prayers, to
make suitable requests, to point out proper modes of conduct to such a
Being? Can we at all flatter ourselves that to please us, to gratify our
discordant wishes, he will alter his immutable laws? Can we imagine that
at our entreaty he will take from the beings who surround us their
essences, their properties, their various modes of action? Have we any
right to expect he will abrogate in our behalf the eternal laws of
nature, that he will disturb her eternal march, arrest her ever-lasting
course, which his wisdom has planned; which his goodness has conferred;
which are, in fact, the admiration of mankind? Can we hope that in our
favour fire will cease to burn, when we approximate it too closely; that
fever shall not consume our habit, when contagion has penetrated our
system; that gout shall not torment us, when an intemperate mode of life
shall have amassed the humours that necessarily result from such
conduct; that an edifice tumbling in ruins shall not crush us by its
fall, when we are within the vortex of its action? Will our vain cries,
our most fervent supplications, prevent a country from being unhappy,
when it shall be devastated by an ambitious conqueror; when it shall be
submitted to the capricious will of unfeeling tyrants, who bend it
beneath the iron rod of their oppression?

If this infinite intelligence gives a free course to those events which
his wisdom has prepared; if nothing happens in this world but after his
impenetrable designs; we ought silently to submit; we have in fact
nothing to ask; we should be madmen to oppose our own weak intellect to
such capacious wisdom; we should offer an insult to his prudence if we
were desirous to regulate them. Man must not flatter himself that he is
wiser than his God; that he is in a capacity to make him change his
will; with having power to determine him to take other means than those
which he has chosen to accomplish his decrees. An intelligent Divinity
can only have taken those measures which embrace complete justice; can
only have availed himself of those means which are best calculated to
arrive at his end; if he was capable of changing them, he could neither
be called wise, immutable, nor provident. If it was to be granted, that
the Divinity did for a single instant suspend those laws which he
himself has given, if he was to change any thing in his plan, it would
be supposing he had not foreseen the motives of this suspension; that he
had not calculated the causes of this change; if he did not make these
motives enter into his plan, it would be saying he had not foreseen the
causes that render them necessary: if he has foreseen them without
making them part of his system, it would be arraigning the perfection of
the whole. Thus in whatever manner these things are contemplated, under
whatever point of view they are examined, it is evident that the prayers
which man addresses to the Divinity, which are sanctioned by the
different modes of worship, always suppose he is supplicating a being
whose wisdom and providence are defective; in fact, that his own is more
appropriate to his situation. To suppose he is capable of change in his
conduct, is to bring his omniscience into question; to vitally attack
his omnipotence; to arraign his goodness; at once to say, that he either
is not willing or not competent to judge what would be most expedient
for man; for whose sole advantage and pleasure they will,
notwithstanding, insist he created the universe: such are the
inconsistent doctrines of theology; such the imbecile efforts of

It is, however, upon these notions, extravagant as they may appear, ill
directed as they assuredly are, inconclusive as they must be
acknowledged by unprejudiced minds, that are founded all the
superstitions and many of the religions of the earth. It is by no means
an uncommon sight, to see man upon his knees before an all-wise God,
whose conduct he is endeavouring to regulate; whose decrees he wishes to
avert; whose plan he is desirous to reform. These inconsistent objects
he is occupied with gaining, by means equally repugnant to sound sense;
equally injurious to the dignity of the Divinity: adopting his own
sensations as the criterion of the feelings of the Deity; in some places
he tries to win him to his interests by presents; sometimes we behold
even the princes of the earth attempting to direct his views, by
offering him splendid garments, upon which their own fatuity sets an
inordinate value, merely because they have laboured at them themselves;
some strive to disarm his justice by the most splendid pageantry; others
by practices the most revolting to humanity; some think his immutability
will yield to idle ceremonies; others to the most discordant prayers; it
not unfrequently happens that to induce him to change in their favour
his eternal decrees, those who have opposite interests to promote, each
returns him thanks for that which the others consider as the greatest
curse that can befal them. In short, man is almost every where prostrate
before an omnipotent God, who, if we were to judge by the discrepancy of
their requests, never has rendered his creatures such as they ought to
be; who to accomplish his divine views has never taken the proper
measures, who to fulfil his wisdom has continual need of the admonitions
of man, conveyed either in the form of thanks or prayers.

We see, then, that superstition is founded upon manifest contradictions,
which man must always fall into when he mistakes the natural causes of
things--when he shall attribute the good or evil which he experiences to
an intelligent cause, distinguished from nature, of which he will never
be competent to form to himself any certain ideas. Indeed, man will
always be reduced, as we have so frequently repeated, to the necessity
of clothing his gods with his own imbecile qualities: as he is himself a
changeable being, whose intelligence is limited; who, placed in divers
circumstances, appears to be frequently in contradiction with himself;
although he thinks he honours his gods in giving them his own peculiar
qualities, he in fact does nothing more than lend them his own
inconstancy, cover them with his own weakness, invest them with his own
vices. It is thus that in reasoning, he is unable to account for the
necessity of things--that he imagines there is a confusion which his
prayers will have a tendency to remove--that he thinks the evils of life
more than commensurate with the good: he does not perceive that an
undeviating system, by operating upon beings diversely organized, whose
circumstances are different, whose modes of action are at variance, must
of necessity sometimes appear to be inimical to the interests of the
individual, while it embraces the general good of the whole. The
theologian may subtilize, exaggerate, render as unintelligible as he
pleases, the attributes with which he clothes his divinities, he will
never be able to remove the contradictions which arise from the
discordant qualities which he thus heaps together; neither will he be
able to give man any other mode of judging than what arises from the
exercise of his senses, such as they are actually found. He will never
be able to furnish the idea of an immutable being, while he shall
represent this being as capable of being irritated and appeased by the
prayers of mortals. He will never delineate the features of omnipotence
under the portrait of a being who cannot restrain the actions of his
inferiors. He will never hold up a standard of justice, while he shall
mingle it with mercy, however amiable the quality; or while he shall
represent it as punishing those actions, which the perpetrators were
under the necessity of committing. Neither will he be able, under any
circumstances, to make a finite mind comprehend infinity; much less when
he shall represent this infinity as bounded by finity itself.

From this it will be obvious, that immaterial substances, such as are
depicted by the theologians, can only be looked upon as the offspring of
a metaphysical brain, unsupported by any of those proofs which are
usually required to establish the propositions laid down among men; all
the qualities which they ascribe to them, are only those which are
suitable to material substances; all the abstract properties with which
they invest them, are incomprehensible by material beings; the whole
taken together, is one confused mass of contradictions: they have held
forth to man, that it highly imported to his interests to know, to
understand these substances; he has consequently set his intellect in
action to discover some means of compassing an end, said to be so
consequential to his welfare; he has, however, been unable to make any
progress, because no clue could be offered to him of the road he must
pursue; all was mere assertion unsupported by evidence; the whole was
enveloped in complete darkness, into which the least scintillation of
light could never penetrate. Notwithstanding, as soon as man believes
himself greatly interested in knowing a thing, he labors to form to
himself an idea of that, the knowledge of which be thinks so important;
if insuperable obstacles impede his inquiries--if difficulties of a
magnitude to alarm his industry intervene--if with immense labour he
makes but little progress, then the slender success that attends his
research, aided by a slothful disposition, while it wearies his
diligence disposes him to credulity. It was thus, that a crafty
ambitious Arab, subtle and knavish in his manners, insinuating in his
address, profiting by this credulous inclination, made his countrymen
adopt his own fanciful reveries as permanent truths, of which it was not
permitted them for an instant to doubt; following up these opinions with
enthusiasm, he stimulated them on to become conquerors; obliging the
conquered to lend themselves to his system, he gave currency to a creed,
invented solely for the purpose of enslaving mankind, which now spreads
over immense regions inhabited by a numerous population, although like
other systems it does not escape sectarianism, having above seventy
branches. Thus ignorance, despair, sloth, the want of reflecting habits,
place the human race in a state of dependance upon those who build up
systems, while upon the objects which are the foundations, they have no
one settled idea: once adopted, however, whenever these systems are
brought into question, man either reasons in a very strange manner, or
else is the dupe of very deceitful arguments: when they are agitated,
and he finds it impossible to understand what is said concerning them
when his mind cannot embrace the ambiguity of these doctrines, he
imagines those who speak to him are better acquainted with the objects
of their discourse than himself; these seizing the favourable
opportunity, do not let it slip, they reiterate to him with Stentorian
lungs, "That the most certain way is to agree with what they tell him;
to allow himself to be guided by them;" in short, they persuade him to
shut his eyes, that he may with greater perspicuity distinguish the road
he is to travel: once arrived at this influence, they indelibly fix
their lessons; irrevocably chain him to the oar; by holding up to his
view the punishments intended for him by these imaginary beings, in case
he refuses to accredit, in the most liberal manner, their marvellous
inventions; this argument, although it only supposes the thing in
question, serves to close his mouth--to put an end to his research;
alarmed, confused, bewildered, he seems convinced by this victorious
reasoning--attaches to it a sacredness that fills him with awe--blindly
conceives that they have much clearer ideas of the subject than himself
--fears to perceive the palpable contradictions of the doctrines
announced to him, until, perhaps, some being, more subtle than those who
have enslaved him, by labouring the point incessantly, attacking him on
the weak side of his interest, arrives at throwing the absurdity of his
system into light, and finally succeeds by inducing him to adopt that of
another set of speculators. The uninformed man generally believes his
priests have more senses than himself; he takes them for superior
beings; for divine men. He only sees that which these priests inform him
he must contemplate; to every thing else his eyes are completely
hoodwinked; thus the authority of the priests frequently decides,
without appeal, that which is useful perhaps only to the priesthood.

When we shall be disposed to recur to the origin of things, we shall
ever find that it has been man's imagination, guided by his ignorance,
under the influence of fear, which gave birth to his gods; that
enthusiasm or imposture have generally either embellished or disfigured
them; that credulity readily adopted the fabulous accounts which
interested duplicity promulgated respecting them; that these
dispositions, sanctioned by time, became habitual. Tyrants finding their
advantage in sustaining them, have usually established their power upon
the blindness of mankind, and the superstitious fears with which it is
always accompanied. Thus, under whatever point of view it is considered,
it will always be found that _error cannot be useful to the human

Nevertheless, the happy enthusiast, when his soul is sensible of its
enjoyments, when his softened imagination has occasion to paint to
itself a seducing object, to which he can render thanks for the kindness
he experiences, will ask, "Wherefore deprive me of a being that I see
under the character of a sovereign, filled with wisdom, abounding in
goodness? What comfort do I not find in figuring to myself a powerful,
intelligent, indulgent monarch, of whom I am the favorite; who
continually occupies himself with my welfare--unceasingly watches over
my safety--who perpetually administers to my wants--who always consents
that under him I shall command the whole of nature? I believe I behold
him constantly showering his benefits on man; I see his Providence
labouring for his advantage without relaxation; he covers the earth with
verdure to delight him; he loads the trees with delicious fruits to
gratify his palate; he fills the forests with animals suitable to his
nourishment; he suspends over his head planets with innumerable stars,
to enlighten him by day, to guide his erring steps by night; he extends
around him the azure firmament to gladden his sight; he decorates the
meadows with flowers to please his fancy; he causes crystal fountains to
flow with limpid streams to slake his thirst; he makes rivulets meander
through his lands to fructify the earth; he washes his residence with
noble rivers, that yield him fish in abundance. Ah! suffer me to thank
thee, Author of so many benefits: do not deprive me of my charming
sensations. I shall not find my illusions so sweet, so consolatory in a
severe destiny--in a rigid necessity--in a blind inanimate matter--in a
nature destitute of intelligence, devoid of feeling."

"Wherefore," will say the unfortunate, from whom his destiny has
rigorously withheld those benefits which have been lavished on so many
others; "wherefore ravish from me an error that is dear to me? Wherefore
annihilate to me a being, whose consoling idea dries up the source of my
tears--who serves to calm my sorrows? Wherefore deprive me of an object
which I represent to myself as a compassionate, tender father; who
reproves me in this world, but into whose arms I throw myself with
confidence, when the whole of nature appears to have abandoned me?
Supposing it no more than a chimera, the unhappy have occasion for it,
to guarantee them against frightful despair: is it not cruel, is it not
inhuman, to be desirous of plunging them into a vacuum, by seeking to
undeceive them? Is it not an useful error, preferable to those truths
which deprive the mind of every consolation, which do not hold forth any
relief from its sorrows?"

Thus will equally reason the Negro, the Mussulman, the Brachman, and
others. We shall reply to these enthusiasts, no! truth can never render
you unhappy; it is this which really consoles us; it is a concealed
treasure, much superior to all the superstitions ever invented by fear;
it can cheer the heart; give it courage to support the burthens of life;
make us smile under adversity; elevate the soul; render it active;
furnishes it with means to resist the attacks of fate; to combat
misfortunes with success. This will shew clearly that the good and evil
of life are distributed with an equal hand, without respect to man's
peculiar comforts; that all beings are equally regarded in the universe;
that every thing is submitted to necessary laws; that man has no right
whatever to think himself a being peculiarly favoured--who is exempted
from the common operations of the eternal routine; that it is folly to
think he is the only being considered--one for whose enjoyment alone
every thing is produced; an attention to facts will suffice to put an
end to this delusion, however pleasant may be the indulgence of such a
notion; the most superficial glance of the eye will be sufficient to
undeceive us in the idea, that he is the _final cause_ of the creation--
the constant object of the labours of nature, or of its Author. Let us
seriously ask him, if he does not witness good constantly blended with
evil? If he does not equally partake of them with the other beings in
nature? To be obstinately bent to see only the evil, is as irrational as
to be willing only to notice the good. Providence seems to be just as
much occupied for one class of beings as for another. We see the calm
succeed the storm; sickness give place to health; the blessings of peace
follow the calamities of war; the earth in every country bring forth
roots necessary for the nourishment of man, produce others suitable to
his destruction. Each individual of the human species is a compound of
good and bad qualities; all nations present a varied spectacle of
virtues, growing up beside vices; that which gladdens one being, plunges
another into sadness--no event takes place that does not give birth to
advantages for some, to disadvantages for others. Insects find a safe
retreat in the ruin of the palace, which crushes man in its fall; man by
his death furnishes food for myriads of contemptible insects; animals
are destroyed by thousands that he may increase his bulk; linger out for
a season a feverish existence. We see beings engaged in perpetual
hostility, each living at his neighbour's expence; the one banquetting
upon that which causes the desolation of the other; some luxuriously
growing into flesh upon the misery which wears others into skeletons--
profiting by misfortunes, rioting upon disasters, which ultimately,
reciprocally destroy them. The most deadly poisons spring up beside the
most wholesome fruits the earth equally nourishes the fatal steel which
terminates man's career, and the fruitful corn that prolongs his
existence; the bane and its antidote are near neighbours, repose on the
same bosom, ripen under the same sun, equally court the hand of the
incautious stranger. The rivers which man believes flow for no other
purpose than to irrigate his residence, sometimes swell their waters,
overtop their banks, inundate his fields, overturn his dwelling, and
sweep away the flock and shepherd. The ocean, which he vainly imagines
was only collected together to facilitate his commerce supply him with
fish, and wash his shores; often wrecks his ships, frequently bursts its
boundaries, lays waste his lands, destroys the produce of his industry,
and commits the most frightful ravages. The halcyon, delighted with the
tempest, voluntarily mingles with the storm; rides contentedly upon the
surge; rejoiced by the fearful howlings of the northern blast, plays
with happy buoyancy upon the foaming billows, that have ruthlessly
dashed in pieces the vessel of the unfortunate mariner; who, plunged
into an abyss of misery, with tremulous emotion clings to the wreck;
views with horrific despair, the premature destruction of his indulged
hopes; sighs deeply at the thoughts of home; with aching heart, thinks
of the cherished friends his streaming eyes will never more behold in an
agony of soul dwells upon the faithful affection of an adored wife, who
will never again repose her drooping head upon his manly bosom; grows
wild with the appalling remembrance of beloved children, his wearied
arms will never more encircle with parental fondness; then sinks for
ever, the unhappy victim of circumstances that fill with glee the
fluttering bird, who sees him yield to the overwhelming force of the
infuriate waves. The conqueror displays his military skill, fights a
sanguinary battle, puts his enemy to the rout, lays waste his country,
slaughters thousands of his fellows, plunges whole districts into tears,
fills the land with the moans of the fatherless, the wailings of the
widow, in order that the crows may have a banquet--that ferocious beasts
may gluttonously gorge themselves with human gore--that worms may riot
in luxury.

Thus when there is a question concerning an agent we see act so
variously; whose motives seem sometimes to be advantageous, sometimes
disadvantageous for the human race; at least each individual will judge
after the peculiar mode in which he is himself affected; there will
consequently be no fixed point, no general standard in the opinions men
will form to themselves. Indeed our mode of judging will always be
governed by our manner of seeing, by our way of feeling. This will
depend upon our temperament, which itself springs out of our
organization, and the peculiarity of the circumstances in which we are
placed; these can never be the same for all the beings of our species.
These individual modes of being affected, then, will always furnish the
colours of the portrait which man may paint to himself of the Divinity;
it must therefore be obvious they can never be determinate--can have no
fixity--can never be reduced to any graduated scale; the inductions
which they may draw from them, can never be either constant or uniform;
each will always judge after himself, will never see any thing but
himself or his own peculiar situation in the picture he delineates.

This granted, the man who has a contented, sensible soul, with a lively
imagination, will paint the Divinity under the most charming traits; he
will believe that he sees in the whole of nature nothing but proofs of
benevolence, evidence of goodness, because it will unceasingly cause him
agreeable sensations. In his poetical extacy he will imagine he every
where perceives the impression of a perfect intelligence--of an infinite
wisdom--of a providence tenderly occupied with the welfare of man; self-
love joining itself to these exalted qualities, will put the finishing
hand to his persuasion, that the universe is made solely for the human
race; he will strive in imagination to kiss with transport the hand from
which he believes he receives so many benefits; touched with his
kindness, gratified with the perfume of roses whose thorns he does not
perceive, or which his extatic delirium prevents him from feeling, he
will think he can never sufficiently acknowledge the necessary effects,
which he will look upon as indubitable testimony of the divine
predilection for man. Completely inebriated with these feelings, this
enthusiast will not behold those sorrows, will not notice that confusion
of which the universe is the theatre: or if it so happens, be cannot
prevent himself from being a witness, he will be persuaded that in the
views of an indulgent providence, these calamities are necessary to
conduct man to a higher state of felicity; the reliance which he has in
the Divinity, upon whom he imagines they depend, induces him to believe,
that man only suffers for his good; that this being, who is fruitful in
resources, will know how to make him reap advantage from the evils which
he experiences in this world: his mind thus pre-occupied, from thence
sees nothing that does not elicit his admiration call forth his
gratitude; excite his confidence; even those effects which are the most
natural, the most necessary, appear in his eyes miracles of benevolence;
prodigies of goodness: he shuts his eyes to the disorders which could
bring these amiable qualities into question: the most cruel calamities,
the most afflicting events, the most heart-rending circumstances, cease
to be disorders in his eyes, and do nothing, more than furnish him with
new proofs of the divine perfections; he persuades himself that what
appears defective or imperfect, is only so in appearance; he admires the
wisdom, acknowledges the bounty of the Divinity, even in those effects
which are the most terrible for his race--most suitable to discourage
his species--most fraught with misery for his fellow.

It is, without doubt, to this happy disposition of the human mind, in
some beings of his order, that is to be ascribed the system of
_Optimism_, by which enthusiasts, furnished with a romantic imagination,
seem to have renounced the evidence of their senses: to find that even
for man every thing is good in nature, where the good has constantly its
concomitant evil, and where minds less prejudiced, less poetical, would
judge that every thing is only that which it can be--that the good and
the evil are equally necessary--that they have their source in the
nature of things; moreover, in order to attribute any particular
character to the events that take place, it would be needful to know the
aim of the whole: now the whole cannot have an aim, because if it had a
tendency, an aim, or end, it would no longer be the whole, seeing that
that to which it tended would be a part not included.

It will be asserted by some, that the evils which we behold in this
world are only relative, merely apparent; that they prove nothing
against the good: but does not man almost uniformly judge after his own
mode of feeling; after his manner of co-existing with those causes by
which he is encompassed; which constitute the order of nature with
relation to himself; consequently, he ascribes wisdom and goodness to
all that which affects him pleasantly, disorder to that state of things
by which he is injured. Nevertheless every thing which we witness in the
world conspires to prove to us, that whatever is, is necessary; that
nothing is done by chance; that all the events, good or bad, whether for
us or for beings of a different order, are brought about by causes
acting after certain and determinate laws; that nothing can he a
sufficient warrantry in us to clothe with any one of our human
qualities, either nature or the motive-power which has been given to

With respect to those who pretend that supreme wisdom will know how to
draw the greatest benefits for us, even out of the bosom of those
calamities which it is permitted we shall experience in this world; we
shall ask them, if they are themselves the confidents of the Divinity;
or upon what they found these assertions so flattering to their hopes?
They will, without doubt, tell us they judge by analogy; that from the
actual proofs of goodness and wisdom, they have a just right to conclude
in favour of future bounty. Would it not be a fair reply to ask, If they
reason by analogy, and man has not been rendered completely happy in
this world, what analogy informs them he will be so in another? If,
according to their own shewing, man is sometimes made the victim of evil
in his present existence, in order that he may attain a greater good,
does not analogical reasoning, which they say they adopt, clearly
warrant a deduction, that the same afflictions, for the same purposes,
will be equally proper, equally requisite in the world to come?

Thus this language founds itself upon ruinous hypotheses, which have for
their bases only a prejudiced imagination. It, in fact, signifies
nothing more than that man once persuaded, without any evidence, of his
future happiness, will not believe it possible he can be permitted to be
unhappy: but might it not be inquired what testimony does he find, what
substantive knowledge has he obtained of the peculiar good that results
to the human species from those sterilities, from those famines, from
those contagions, from those sanguinary conflicts, which cause so many
millions of men to perish; which unceasingly depopulate the earth, and
desolate the world we inhabit? Is there any one who has sufficient
compass of comprehension to ascertain the advantages that result from
the evils that besiege us on all sides? Do we not daily witness beings
consecrated to misfortune, from the moment they quitted the womb of the
parent who brought them into existence, until that which re-committed
them to the earth, to sleep in peace with their fathers; who with great
difficulty found time to respire; lived the constant sport of fortune;
overwhelmed with affliction, immersed in grief, enduring the most cruel
reverses? Who is to measure the precise quantity of misery required to
derive a certain portion of good? Who is to say when the measure of evil
will be full which it is necessary to suffer?

The most enthusiastic Optimists, the _Theists_ themselves, the partizans
of _Natural Religion_, as well as the most credulous and superstitious,
are obliged to recur to the system of another life, to remedy the evils
man is decreed to suffer in the present; but have they really any just
foundation to suppose the next world will afford him a happiness denied
him in this? If it is necessary to recur to a doctrine so little
probable as that of a future existence, by what chain of reasoning do
they establish their opinion, that when he shall no longer have organs,
by the aid of which he is at present alone enabled either to enjoy or to
suffer, he shall be able to compensate the evils he has endured; to
enjoy a felicity, to partake of a pleasure this organic structure has
refused him while on his pilgrimage through the land of his fathers.

From this it will be seen, that the proofs of a sovereign intelligence,
or of a magnified human quality drawn from the order, from the harmony,
from the beauty of the universe, are never more than those which are
derived from men who are organized and modified after a certain mode; or
whose cheerful imagination is so constructed as to give birth to
agreeable chimeras which they embellish according to their fancy: these
illusions, however, must be frequently dissipated even in themselves,
whenever their machine becomes deranged; when sorrows assail them, when
misfortune corrodes their mind; the spectacle of nature, which under
certain circumstances has appeared to them so delightful, so seducing,
must then give place to disorder, must yield to confusion. A man of
melancholy temperament, soured by misfortunes, made irritable by
infirmities, cannot view nature and her author under the same
perspective, as the healthy man of a sprightly humour, who is contented
with every thing. Deprived of happiness, the fretful man can only find
disorder, can see nothing but deformity, can find nothing but subjects
to afflict himself with; he only contemplates the universe as the
theatre of malice, as the stage for tyrants to execute their vengeance;
he grows superstitious, he gives way to credulity, and not unfrequently
becomes cruel, in order to serve a master whom he believes he has

In consequence of these ideas, which have their growth in an unhappy
temperament, which originate in a peevish humour, which are the
offspring of a disturbed imagination, the superstitious are constantly
infected with terror, are the slaves to mistrust, the creatures of
discontent, continually in a state of fearful alarm. Nature cannot have
charms for them; her countless beauties pass by unheeded; they do not
participate in her cheerful scenes; they look upon this world, so
marvellous to the happy man, so good to the contented enthusiast, as a
_valley of tears_, in which a vindictive fate has placed them only to
expiate crimes committed either by themselves or by their fathers; they
consider themselves as sent here for no other purpose than to be the
sharers of calamity; the sport of a capricious fortune; that they are
the children of sorrow, destined to undergo the severest trials, to the
end that they may everlastingly arrive at a new existence, in which they
shall be either happy or miserable, according to their conduct towards
the ministers of a being who holds their destiny in his hands. These
dismal notions have been the source of all the irrational systems that
have ever prevailed; they have given birth to the most revolting
practices, currency to the most absurd customs. History abounds with
details of the most atrocious cruelties, under the imposing name of
public worship; nothing has been considered either too fantastical or
too flagitious by the votaries of superstition. Parents have immolated
their children; lovers have sacrificed the objects of their affection;
friends have destroyed each other: the most bloody disputes have been
fomented; the most interminable animosities have been engendered, to
gratify the whim of implacable priests, who by crafty inventions have
obtained an influence over the people; to please blind zealots, who have
never been able either to give fixity to their ideas, or to define their
own feelings. Idle dreamers nourished with bile, intoxicated with
theologic fury--atrabilarians, whose melancholic humour frequently
disposes them to wickedness--visionaries, whose devious imaginations,
heated with intemperate zeal, generally leads them to the extremes of
fanaticism, working upon ignorance, whose usual bias is credulity, have
incessantly disturbed the harmony of mankind, kindled the
inextinguishable flame of discord, and in an almost uninterrupted
succession, strewed the earth with the mangled carcasses of the
multitudinous victims to mad-brained error, whose only crime has been
their incapacity to dream according to the rules prescribed by these
infuriate maniacs; although these have never been uniform--never
assimilated in any two countries--never borne the same features in any
two ages, nor even had the united concurrence of the persecuting

It is then in the diversity of temperament, arising from variety of
organization--in the contrariety of passions, springing out of this
miscellany, modified by the most opposite circumstances, that must be
sought the difference we find in the opinions of the theist, the
optimist, the happy enthusiast, the zealot, the devotee, the
superstitious of all denominations; they are all equally irrational--the
dupes of their imagination--the blind children of error. What one
contemplates under a favorable point of view, the other never looks upon
but on the dark side; that which is the object of the most sedulous
research to one set, is that which the others most seek to avoid: each
insists he is right; no one offers the least shadow of substantive proof
of what he asserts; each points out the great importance of his mission,
yet cannot even agree with his colleagues in the embassy, either upon
the nature of their instructions, or the means to be adopted. It is thus
whenever man sets forth a false supposition, all the reasonings he makes
on it are only a long tissue of errors, which entail on him an endless
series of misfortunes; every time he renounces the evidence of his
senses, it is impossible to calculate the bounds at which his
imagination will stop; when he once quits the road of experience, when
he travels out of nature, when he loses sight of his reason, to strike
into the labyrinths of conjecture, it is difficult to ascertain where
his folly will lead him--into what mischievous swamps this _ignis
fatuus_ of the mind may beguile his wandering steps. It is certainly
true, the ideas of the happy enthusiast will be less dangerous to
himself, less baneful to others, than those of the atrabilarious
fanatic, whose temperament may render him both cowardly and cruel;
nevertheless the opinions of the one and of the other will not be less
chimerical; the only difference will be, that of the first will produce
agreeable, cheerful dreams; while that of the second will present the
most appalling visions, terrific spectres, the fruit of a peevish
transport of the brain: there will, however, never be more than a step
between them all; the smallest revolution in the machine, a slight
infirmity, an unforeseen affliction, suffices to change the course of
the humours--to vitiate the temperament--to endanger the organization--
to overturn the whole system of opinions of the happiest. As soon as the
portrait is found disfigured, the beautiful order of things is
overthrown relatively to himself; melancholy grapples him--pusillanimity
benumbs his faculties--by degrees plunges, him into the rankest depths
of gloomy superstition; he then degenerates into all those
irregularities which are the dismal harvest of fanatic ignorance
ploughed with credulity.

Those ideas, which have no archetype but in the imagination of man, must
necessarily take their complexion from his own character; must be
clothed with his own passions; must constantly follow the revolutions of
his machine; be lively or gloomy; favourable or prejudicial; friendly or
inimical; sociable or savage; humane or cruel; according as he whose
brain they inhabit shall himself be disposed; in fact, they can never be
more than the shadow of the substance he himself interposes between the
light and the ground on which they are thrown. A mortal plunged from a
state of happiness into misery, whose health merges into sickness, whose
joy is changed into affliction, cannot in these vicissitudes preserve
the same ideas; these naturally depend every instant upon the
variations, which physical sensations oblige his organs to undergo. It
will not therefore appear strange that these opinions should be
fluctuating, when they depend upon the state of the nervous fluid, upon
the greater or less portion of igneous matter floating in the sanguinary

_Theism_, or what is called _Natural Religion_, cannot have certain
principles; those who profess it must necessarily be subject to vary in
their opinions--to fluctuate in their conduct, which flows out of them.
A system founded upon wisdom and intelligence, which can never
contradict itself, when circumstances change will presently be converted
into fanaticism; rapidly degenerate into superstition; such a system,
successively meditated by enthusiasts of very distinct characters, must
of necessity experience vicissitudes, and quickly depart from its
primitive simplicity. The greater part of those philosophers who have
been disposed to substitute theism for superstition, have not felt that
it was formed to corrupt itself--to degenerate. Striking examples,
however, prove this fatal truth. Theism is almost every where corrupted;
it has by degrees given way to those superstitions, to those extravagant
sects, to those prejudicial opinions with which the human species is
degraded. As soon as man consents to acknowledge invisible powers out of
nature, upon which his restless mind will never be able invariably to
fix his ideas--which his imagination alone will be capable of painting
to him; whenever he shall not dare to consult his reason relatively to
those powers, it must necessarily be, that the first false step leads
him astray, that his conduct as well as his opinions becomes in the long
run perfectly absurd.

Those are usually called Theists, who, undeceived upon the greater
number of grosser errors to which the uninformed, the superstitiously
ignorant, tend the most determined support, simply hold the notion of
unknown agents endowed with intelligence, wisdom, power and goodness, in
short, full of infinite perfections, whom they distinguish from nature,
but whom they clothe after their own fashion; to whom they ascribe their
own limited views; whom they make act according to their own absurd
passions. The religion of Abraham appears to have originally been a kind
of theism, imagined to reform the superstition of the Chaldeans; Moses
modified it, and gave it the Judaical form. Socrates was a theist, who
lost his life in his attack on polytheism; his disciple Aristocles, or
Plato, as he was afterwards called from his large shoulders, embellished
the theism of his master, with the mystical colours which he borrowed
from the Egyptian and Chaldean priests, which he modified in his own
poetical brain, and preserved a remnant of polytheism. The disciples of
Plato, such as Proclus, Ammonius, Jamblicus. Plotinus, Longinus,
Porphyrus, and others, dressed it up still more fantastically, added a
great deal of superstitious mummery, blended it with magic, and other
unintelligible doctrines. The first doctors of Christianity were
Platonists, who combined the reformed Judaism with the philosophy taught
in Academia. Mahomet, in combating the polytheism of his country, seems
to have been desirous of restoring the primitive theism of Abraham, and
his son Ishmael; yet this has now seventy-two sects. Thus it will be
obvious, that theism has no fixed point, no standard, no common measure
more than other systems: that it runs from one supposition to another,
to find in what manner evil has crept into the world. Indeed it has been
for this purpose, which perhaps after all will never be satisfactorily
explained, that the doctrine of free-agency was introduced; that the
fable of Prometheus and the box of Pandora was imagined; that the
history of the Titanes was invented; notwithstanding, it must be evident
that these things as well as all the other trappings of superstition,
are not more difficult of comprehension than the immaterial substances
of the theists; the mind who can admit that beings devoid of parts,
destitute of organs, without bulk, can move matter, think like man, have
the moral qualities of human nature, need not hesitate to allow that
ceremonies, certain motions of the body, words, rites, temples, statues,
can equally contain secret virtues; has no occasion to withhold its
faith from the concealed powers of magic, theurgy, enchantments, charms,
talismans, &c.; can shew no good reason why it should not accredit
inspirations, dreams, visions, omens, soothsayers, metamorphoses, and
all the host of occult sciences: when things so contradictory to the
dictates of reason, so completely opposed to good sense are freely
admitted, there can no longer be an thing which ought to possess the
right to make credulity revolt; those who give sanction to the one, may
without much hesitation believe whatever else is offered to their
credence. It would be impossible to mark the precise point at which
imagination ought to arrest itself--the exact boundary that should
circumscribe belief--the true dose of folly that may be permitted them;
or the degree of indulgence that can with safety be extended to those
priests who are in the habit of teaching so variously, so
contradictorily, what man ought to think on the subjects they handle so
advantageously to themselves; who when it becomes a question what
remuneration is due from mankind for their unwearied exertions in his
favour, are, in spite of all their other differences, in the most
perfect union; except perhaps when they come to the division of the
spoil: in this, indeed, the apple of discord sometimes takes a
tremendous roll. Thus it will be clear that there can be no substantive
grounds for separating the theists from the most superstitious; that it
becomes impossible to fix the line of demarcation, which divides them
from the most credulous of men; to shew the land-marks by which they can
be discriminated from those who reason with the least conclusive
persuasion. If the theist refuses to follow up the fanatic in every step
of his cullibility, he is at least more inconsequent than the last, who
having admitted upon hearsay an inconsistent, whimsical doctrine, also
adopts upon report the ridiculous, strange means which it furnishes him.
The first sets forth with an absurd supposition, of which he rejects the
necessary consequences; the other admits both the principle and the
conclusion. There are no degrees in fiction any more than in truth. If
we admit the superstition, we are bound to receive every thing which its
ministers promulgate, as emanating from its principle. None of the
reveries of superstition embrace any thing more incredible than
immateriality; these reveries are only corollaries drawn with more or
less subtilty from unintelligible subjects, by those who have an
interest in supporting the system. The inductions which dreamers have
made, by dint of meditating on impenetrable materials, are nothing more
than ingenious conclusions, which have been drawn with wonderful
accuracy, from unknown premises, that are modestly offered to the
sanction of mankind by enthusiasts, who claim an unconditional assent,
because they assure us no one of the human race is in a capacity either
to see, feel, or comprehend the object of their contemplation. Does not
this somewhat remind us of what Rabelais describes as the employment of
Queen Whim's officers, in his fifth book and twenty-second chapter?

Let us then acknowledge, that the man who is this most credulously
superstitious, reasons in a more conclusive manner, or is at least more
consistent in his credulity, than those, who, after having admitted a
certain position of which they have no one idea, stop short all at once,
and refuse to accredit that system of conduct which is the immediate,
the necessary result of a radical and primitive error. As soon as they
subscribe to a principle fatally opposed to reason, by what right do
they dispute its consequences, however absurd they may be found? We
cannot too often repeat, for the happiness of mankind, that the human
mind, let it torture itself as much as it will, when it quits visible
nature leads itself astray; for want of an intelligent guide it wanders
in tracks that bewilder its powers, and is quickly obliged, to return
into that with which it has at least some, acquaintance. If man mistakes
nature and her energies, it is because he does not sufficiently study
her--because he does not submit to the test of experience the phenomena
he beholds; if he will obstinately deprive her of motion, he can no
longer have any ideas of her. Does, he, however, elucidate his
embarrassments, by submitting her action to the agency of a being of
which he makes himself the model? Does he think he forms a god, when he
assembles into one heterogeneous mass, his own discrepant qualities,
magnified until his optics are no longer competent to recognize them,
and then unites to them certain abstract properties of which he cannot
form to himself any one conception? Does he, in fact, do more than
collect together that which becomes, in consequence of its association,
perfectly unintelligible? Yet, strange as it may appear, when he no
longer understands himself--when his mind, lost in its own fictions,
becomes inadequate to decipher the characters he has thus promiscuously
assembled--when he has huddled together a heap of incomprehensible,
abstract qualities, which he is obliged to acknowledge are the mere
creatures of imagination, not within the reach of human intellect, he
firmly persuades himself he has made a most accurate and beautiful
portrait of the Divinity; he ostentatiously displays his picture,
demands the eulogy of the spectator, and quarrels with all those who do
not agree to adulate his creative powers, by adopting the inconceivable
being he holds forth to their worship; in short, to question the
existence of his extravaganza, rouses his most bitter reproaches;
elicits his everlasting scorn; entails on the incredulous his eternal

On the other hand, what could we expect from such a being, as they have
supposed him to be? What could we consistently ask of him? How make an
immaterial being, who has neither organs, space, point, or contact,
understand that modification of matter called voice? Admit that this is
the being who moves nature--who establishes her laws--who gives to
beings their various essences--who endows them with their respective
properties; if every thing that takes place is the fruit of his infinite
providence--the proof of his profound wisdom, to what end shall we
address our prayers to him? Shall we solicit him to acknowledge that the
wisdom and providence with which we have clothed him, are in fact
erroneous, by entreating him to alter in our favour his eternal laws?
Shall we give him to understand our wisdom exceeds his own, by asking,
him for our pleasure to change the properties of bodies--to annihilate
his immutable decrees--to trace back the invariable course of things--to
make beings act in opposition to the essences with which he has thought
it right to invest them? Will he at our intercession prevent a body
ponderous and hard by its nature, such as a stone, for example, from
wounding, in its fall a sensitive being such as the human frame? Again,
should we not, in fact, challenge impossibilities, if the discordant
attributes brought into union by the theologians were correct; would not
immutability oppose itself to omnipotence; mercy to the exercise of
rigid justice; omniscience, to the changes that might be required in
foreseen plans? In physics, in consequence of the general research after
a perpetual motion, science has drawn forth the discovery, that by
amalgamating metals of contrary properties, the contractile powers of
one kind, under given circumstances which cause the dilation of the
other, by their opposite tendencies neutralize the actual effects of
each, taken separately, and thus produce an equality in the
oscillations, that, neither possessed individually.

It will perhaps, be insisted, that the infinite science of the Creator
of all things, is acquainted with resources in the beings he has formed,
which are concealed from imbecile mortals; that consequently without
changing any thing, either in the laws of nature, or in the essence of
things, he is competent to produce effects which surpass the
comprehension of our feeble understanding; that these, effects will in
no wise be contrary to that order which he himself has established in
nature. Granted: but then I reply, _first_, that every thing which is
conformable to the nature of things, can neither be called supernatural
nor miraculous: many things are, unquestionably, above our
comprehension; but then all that is operated in the world is natural--
grows out of those immutable laws by which nature is regulated. In the
_second_ place, it will be requisite to observe, that by the word
miracle an effect is designed, of which, for want of understanding
nature, she is believed incapable. In the _third_ place, it is worthy of
remark, that the theologians, almost universally, insist that by miracle
is meant not an extraordinary effort of nature, but an effect directly
opposite to her laws, which nevertheless they equally challenge to have
been prescribed by the Divinity. Buddaeus says, "a miracle is an
operation by which the laws of nature, upon which depend the order and
the preservation of the universe, are suspended." If, however, the
Deity, in those phenomena that most excite our surprise, does nothing
more than give play to springs unknown to mortals, there is, then,
nothing in nature, which, in this sense, may not be looked upon as a
miracle; because the cause by which a stone falls is as unknown to us,
as that which makes our globe turn on its own axis. Thus, to explain the
phenomena of nature by a miracle, is, in other words, to say we are
ignorant of the actuating causes; to attribute them to the Divinity, is
to agree we do not comprehend the resources of nature: it is little
better than accrediting magic. To attribute to a sovereignly
intelligent, immutable, provident, wise being, those miracles by which
he derogates from his own laws, is at one blow to annihilate all these
qualities: it is an inconsistency that would shame a child. It cannot be
supposed that omnipotence has need of miracles to govern the universe,
nor to convince his creatures, whose minds and hearts must be in his own
hands. The last refuge of the theologian, when driven off all other
ground, is the possibility of every thing he asserts, couched in the
dogma, "that nothing is impossible to the Divinity." He makes this
asseveration with a degree of self-complacency, with an air of triumph,
that would almost persuade one he could not be mistaken; most assuredly,
with those who dip no further than the surface, he carries complete
conviction. But we must take leave to examine a little the nature of
this proposition, and we do apprehend that a very slight degree of
consideration will shew that it is untenable. In the _first_ place, as
we have before observed, the possibility of a thing by no means proves
its absolute existence: a thing may be extremely possible, and yet not
be. _Secondly_, if this was once to become an admitted argument, there
would be, in fact, an end of all morality and religion. The Bishop of
Chester, Doctor John Wilkins, says, "would not such men be generally
accounted out of their wits, who could please themselves by entertaining
actual hopes of any thing, merely upon account of the possibility of it,
or torment themselves with actual fears of all such evils as are
possible? Is there any thing imaginable wore wild and extravagant
amongst those in bedlam than this would be?" _Thirdly_, the
impossibility would reasonably appear to be on the other side, so far
from nothing being impossible, every thing that is erroneous would seem
to be actually so; the Divinity could not possibly either love vice,
cherish crime, be pleased with depravity, or commit wrong; this
decidedly turns the argument against them; they must either admit the
most monstrous of all suppositions, or retire from behind the shield
with which they have imagined they rendered themselves invulnerable.

To those who may be inclined to inquire, whether it would not be better
that all things were operated by a good, wise, intelligent Being, than
by a blind nature, in which not one consoling quality is found; by a
fatal necessity always inexorable to human intreaty? It may be replied,
_first_, that our interest does not decide the reality of things, and
that when this should be even wore advantageous than it is pointed out,
it would prove nothing. _Secondly_, that as we are obliged to admit some
things are operated by nature, it is certainly on the side of
probability that she performs the others; especially as her capabilities
are more substantively proved by every age as it advances. _Thirdly_,
that nature duly studied furnishes every thing necessary to render us
as, happy as our essence admits. When, guided by experience, we shall
consult her, with cultivated reason; she will discover to us our duties,
that is to say, the indispensable means to which her eternal and
necessary laws have attached our preservation, our own happiness, and
that of society. It is decidedly in her bosom that we shall find
wherewith to satisfy our physical wants; whatever is out of nature, can
have no existence relatively to ourselves.

Nature, then, is not a step-mother to us; we do not depend upon an
inexorable destiny. Let us therefore endeavour to become more familiar
with her resources; she will procure us a multitude of benefits when we
shall pay her the attention she deserves: when we shall feel disposed to
consult her, she will supply us with the requisites to alleviate both
our physical and moral evils: she only punishes us with rigour, when,
regardless of her admonitions, we plunge into excesses that disgrace us.
Has the voluptuary any reason to complain of the sharp pains inflicted
by the gout, when experience, if he had but attended to its counsels,
has so often warned him, that the grossness of sensual indulgence must
inevitably amass in his machine those humours which give birth to the
agony he so acutely feels? Has the superstitious bigot any cause for
repining at the misery of his uncertain ideas, when an attentive
examination of that nature, he holds of such small account, would have
convinced him that the idols under whom he trembles, are nothing but
personifications of herself, disguised under some other name? It is
evidently by incertitude, discord, blindness, delirium, she chastises
those who refuse to, acknowledge the justice of her claims.

In the mean time, it cannot be denied, that a pure Theism, or what is
called Natural Religion, may not be preferable to superstition, in the
same manner as reform has banished many of the abuses of those countries
who have embraced it; but there is nothing short of an unlimited and
inviolable liberty of thought, that can permanently assure the repose of
the mind. The opinions of men are only dangerous when they are
restrained, or when it is imagined necessary to make others think as we
ourselves think. No opinions, not even those of superstition itself,
would be dangerous, if the superstitious did not think themselves
obliged to enforce their adoption, or had not the power to persecute
those who refused. It is this prejudice, which, for the benefit of
mankind, it is essential to annihilate; and if the thing be not
achievable, then the next object which philosophy may reasonably propose
to itself, will be to make the depositaries of power feel that they
never ought to permit their subjects to commit evil for either
superstitious or religious opinions. In this case, wars would be almost
unheard of amongst men: instead of beholding the melancholy spectacle of
man cutting the throat of his fellow man, because this cannot see with
his eyes, we shall witness him essentially labouring to his own
happiness by promoting that of his neighbour; cultivating the earth in
peace; quietly bringing forth the productions of nature, instead of
puzzling his brain with theological disputes, which can never be of the
smallest advantage, except to the priests. It must be a self-evident
truth, that an argument by men, upon that which is not accessible to
man, _could only have been invented by knaves, who, like the professors
of legerdemain, were determined to riot luxuriously on the ignorance and
credulity of mankind._


_Examination of the Advantages which result from Man's Notions on the
Divinity.--Of their Influence upon Mortals;--upon Politics;--upon
Science;--upon the Happiness of Nations, and that of Individuals._

The slender foundation of those ideas which men form to themselves of
their gods, must have appeared obvious in what has preceded; the proofs
which have been offered in support of the existence of immaterial
substances, have been examined; the want of harmony that exists in the
opinions upon this subject, which all concur in agreeing to be equally
impossible to be known to the inhabitants of the earth, has been shewn;
the incompatibility of the attributes with which, theology has clothed
incorporeity, has been explained. It has been proved, that the idols
which man sets up for adoration, have usually had their birth, either in
the bosom of misfortune, when ignorance was at a loss to account for the
calamities of the earth upon natural principles, or else have been the
shapeless fruit of melancholy, working upon an alarmed mind, coupled
with enthusiasm and an unbridled imagination. It has been pointed out
how these prejudices, transmitted by tradition from father to son,
grafting themselves upon infant minds, cultivated by education,
nourished by fear, corroborated by habit, have been maintained by
authority; perpetuated by example. In short, every thing must have
distinctly evidenced to us, that the ideas of the gods, so generally
diffused over the earth, has been little more than an universal delusion
of the human race. It remains now to examine if this error has been

It needs little to prove error can never be advantageous for mankind; it
is ever founded upon his ignorance, which is itself an acknowledged
evil; it springs out of the blindness of his mind to acknowledged
truths, and his want of experience, which it must be admitted are
prejudicial to his interests: the more importance, therefore, he shall
attach to these errors, the more fatal will be the consequences
resulting from their adoption. Bacon, the illustrious sophist, who first
brought philosophy out of the schools, had great reason when he said,
"The worst of all things is deified error." Indeed, the mischiefs
springing from superstition or religious errors, have been, and always
will be, the most terrible in their consequences--the most extensive in
their devastation. The more these errors are respected, the more play
they give to the passions; the more value is attached to them, the more
the mind is disturbed; the more they are insisted upon, the more
irrational they render those, who are seized with the rage for
proselytism; the more they are cherished, the greater influence they
have on the whole conduct of our lives. Indeed, there can he but little
likelihood that he who renounces his reason, in the thing which he
considers as most essential to his happiness, will listen to it on any
other occasion.

The slightest reflection will afford ample proof to this sad truth: in
those fatal notions which man has cherished on this subject, are to be
traced the true sources of all those prejudices, the fountain of all
those sorrows, to which he is the victim. Nevertheless, as we have
elsewhere said, utility ought to be the only standard, the uniform
scale, by which to form a judgment on either the opinions, the
institutions, the systems, or the actions of intelligent beings; it is
according to the measure of happiness which these things procure for us,
that we ought either to cover them with our esteem, or expose them to
our contempt. Whenever they are useless it is our duty to despise them;
as soon as they become pernicious, it is imperative to reject them;
reason imperiously prescribes that our detestation should be
commensurate with the evils which they cause.

Taking these principles for a land-mark, which are founded on our
nature, which must appear incontestible to every reasonable being, with
experience for a beacon, let us coolly examine the effects which these
notions have produced on the earth. We have already, in more than one
part of the work, given a glimpse of the doctrine of that morals, which
having only for object the preservation of man, and his conduct in
society, can have nothing, in common with imaginary systems: it has been
shewn, that the essence of a sensitive, intelligent, rational being,
properly meditated, would discover motives competent to moderate the
fury of his passions--to induce him to resist his vicious propensities--
to make him fly criminal habits--to invite him to render himself useful
to those beings for whom his own necessities have a continual occasion;
thus, to endear himself to his, fellow mortals, to become respectable in
his own esteem. These motives will unquestionably be admitted to possess
more solidity, to embrace greater, potency, to involve more truth, than
those which are borrowed from systems that want stability; that assume
more shapes than there are languages; that are not tangible to the tact
of humanity; that must of necessity present a different perspective to
all who shall view them through the medium of prejudice. From what has
been advanced, it will be felt that education, which should make man in
early life contract good habits, adopt favorable dispositions, fortified
by a respect for public opinion, invigorated by ideas of decency,
strengthened by wholesome laws, corroborated by the desire of meriting
the friendship of others, stimulated by the fear of losing his own
esteem, would be fully adequate to accustom him to a laudable conduct,
amply sufficient to divert him from even those secret crimes, from which
he is obliged to punish himself by remorse; which costs him the most
incessant labour to keep concealed, by the dread of that shame, which
must always follow their publicity. Experience demonstrates in the
clearest manner, that the success of a first crime disposes him to
commit a second; impunity leads on to the third, this to a lamentable
sequel that frequently closes a wretched career with the most
ignominious exhibition; thus the first delinquency is the commencement
of a habit: there is much less distance from this to the hundredth, than
from innocence to criminality: the man, however, who lends himself to a
series of bad actions, under even the assurance of impunity, is most
woefully deceived, because he cannot avoid castigating himself:
moreover, he cannot know at what point of iniquity he shall stop. It has
been shewn, that those punishments which society, for its own
preservation, has the right to inflict on those who disturb its harmony,
are more substantive, more efficacious, more salutary in their effects,
than all the distant torments held forth by the priests; they intervene
a more immediate obstacle to the stubborn propensities of those obdurate
wretches, who, insensible to the charms of virtue, are deaf to the
advantages that spring from its practice, than can he opposed by the
denunciations, held forth in an hereafter existence, which he is at the
same moment taught may be avoided by repentance, that shall only take
place when the ability to commit further wrong has ceased. In short, one
would be led to think it obvious to the slightest reflection, that
politics, founded upon the nature of man, upon the principles of
society, armed with equitable laws, vigilant over morals, faithful in
rewarding virtue, constant in visiting crime, would be more suitable to
clothe ethics with respectability, to throw a sacred mantle over moral
goodness, to lend stability to public virtue, than any authority that
can be derived from contested systems, the conduct of whose professors
frequently disgrace the doctrines they lay down, which after all seldom
do more than restrain those whose mildness of temperament effectually
prevents them from running into excess; those who, already given to
justice, require no coercion. On the other hand, we have endeavoured to
prove that nothing can be more absurd, nothing actually more dangerous,
than attributing human qualities to the Divinity which cannot but choose
to find themselves in a perpetual contradiction.

Plato has said "that virtue consists in resembling God." But how is man
to resemble a being, who, it is acknowledged, is incomprehensible to
mankind--who cannot be conceived by any of those means, by which he is
alone capable of having perceptions? If this being, who is shewn to man
under such various aspects, who is said to owe nothing to his creatures,
is the author of all the good, as well as all the evil that takes place,
how can he be the model for the conduct of the human race living
together in society? At most he can only follow one side of the
character, because among his fellows, he alone is reputed virtuous who
does not deviate in his conduct from justice; who abstains from evil;
who performs with punctuality those duties he owes to his fellows. If it
be taken up, and insisted he is not the author of the evil, only of the
good, I say very well: that is precisely what I wanted to know; you
thereby acknowledge he is not the author of every thing; we are no
longer at issue; you are inconclusive to your own premises, consequently
ought not to demand an implicit reliance on what you choose to assert.

But, replies the subtle theologian, that is not the affair; you must
seek it in the creed I have set forth--in the religion of which I am a
pillar. Very good: Is it then actually in the system of fanatics, that
man should draw up his ideas of virtue? Is it in the doctrines which
these codes hold forth, that he is to seek for a model? Alas! do they
not pourtray their idols: under the most unwholesome colours; do they
not represent them as following their caprice in every thing, who love
or hate, who choose or reject, who approve or condemn according to their
whim, who delight in carnage, who send discord amongst men, who act
irrationally, who commit wantonness, who sport with their feeble
subjects, who lay continual snares for them, who rigorously interdict
the use of their reason? What, let us seriously ask, would become of
morality, if men proposed to themselves such portraits for models!

It was, however, for the most part, systems of this temper that nations
adopted. At was in consequence of these principles that what has been
called religion in most countries, was far removed from being favourable
to morality; on the contrary, it often shook it to its foundation--
frequently left no vestige of its existence. It divided man, instead of
drawing closer the bonds of union; in the place of that mutual love,
that reciprocity of succour, which ought ever to distinguish human
society, it introduced hatred and persecution; it made them seize every
opportunity to cut each other's throat for speculative opinions, equally
irrational; it engendered the most violent heart-burnings--the most
rancorous animosities--the most sovereign contempt. The slightest
difference in their received opinions rendered them the most mortal
enemies; separated their interests for ever; made them despise each
other; and seek every means to render their existence miserable. For
these theological conjectures, nations become opposed to nations; the
sovereign frequently armed himself against his subjects; subjects waged
war with their sovereign; citizens gave activity to the most sanguinary
hostility against each other; parents detested their offspring; children
plunged the pointed steel, the barbed arrow, into the bosoms of those
who gave them existence; husbands and wives disunited, became the
scourges of each other; relations forgetting the ties of consanguinity,
tore each other to pieces, or else reciprocally consigned them to
oblivion; all the bonds of society were rent asunder; the social compact
was broken up; society committed suicide: whilst in the midst of this
fearful wreck--regardless of the horrid shrieks called forth by this
dreadful confusion--unmindful of the havock going forward on all sides--
each pretended that he conformed to the views of his idol, detailed to
him by his priest--fulminated by the oracles. Far from making himself
any reproach, for the misery he spread abroad, each lauded his own
individual conduct; gloried in the crimes he committed in support of his
sacred cause.

The same spirit of maniacal fury pervaded the rites, the ceremonies, the
customs, which the worship, adopted by superstition, placed so much
above all the social virtues. In one country, tender mothers delivered
up their children to moisten with their innocent blood the altars of
their idols; in another, the people assembled, performed the ceremony of
consolation to their deities, for the outrages they committed against
them, and finished by immolating to their anger human victims; in
another, a frantic enthusiast lacerated his body, condemned himself for
life to the most rigorous tortures, to appease the wrath of his gods.
The Jupiter of the Pagans was a lascivious monster; the Moloch of the
Phenicians was a cannibal; the savage idol of the Mexican requires
thousands of mortals to bleed on his shrine, in order to satisfy his
sanguinary appetite.

Such are the models superstition holds out to the imitation of man; is
it then surprising that the name of these despots became the signal for
mad-brained enthusiasm to exercise its outrageous fury; the standard
under which cowardice wreaked its cruelty; the watchword for the
inhumanity of nations to muster their barbarous strength; a sound which
spreads terror wherever its echo could reach; a continual pretext for
the most barefaced breaches of public decorum; for the most shameless
violation of the moral duties? It was the frightful character men gave
of their gods, that banished kindness from their hearts--virtue from
their conduct--felicity from their habitations--reason from their mind:
almost every where it was some idol, who was disturbed by the mode in
which unhappy mortals thought; this armed them with poignards against
each other; made them stifle the cries of nature; rendered them
barbarous to themselves; atrocious to their fellow creatures: in short,
they became irrational, breathed forth vengeance, outraged humanity,
every time that, instigated by the priest, they were inclined to imitate
the gods of their idolatry, to display their zeal, to render themselves
acceptable in their temples.

It is not, then, in such systems, man ought to seek either for models of
virtue, or rules of conduct suitable to live in society. He needs human
morality, founded upon his own nature; built upon invariable experience;
submitted to reason. The ethics of superstition will always he
prejudicial to the earth; cruel masters cannot be well served, but by
those who resemble them: what then becomes of the great advantages which
have been imagined resulted to man, from the notions which have been
unceasingly infused into him of his gods? We see that almost name=054> all nations acknowledge them; yet, to conform themselves
to their views, they trampled under foot the clearest rights of nature--
the most evident duties of humanity; they appeared to act as if it was
only by madness the most incurable--by folly the most preposterous--by
the most flagitious crimes, committed with an unsparing hand, that they
hoped to draw down upon themselves the favor of heaven--the blessings of
the sovereign intelligence they so much boast of serving with unabated
zeal; with the most devotional fervor; with the most unlimited
obedience. As soon, therefore, as the priests give them to understand
their deities command the commission of crime, or whenever there is a
question of their respective creeds, although they are wrapt in the most
impenetrable obscurity, they make it a duty with themselves to unbridle
their rancour--to give loose to the most furious passions; they mistake
the clearest precepts of morality; they credulously believe the
remission of their own sins will be the reward of their transgressions
against their neighbour. Would it not be better to be an inhabitant of
Soldania in Africa, where never yet form of worship entered, or the name
of God resounded, than thus to pollute the land with superstitious
castigation--with the enmity of priests against each other?

Indeed, it is not generally in those revered mortals, spread over the
earth to announce the oracles of the gods, that will be found the most
sterling virtues. These men, who think themselves so enlightened, who
call themselves the ministers of heaven, frequently preach nothing but
hatred, discord, and fury in its name: the fear of the gods, far from
having a salutary influence over their own morals, far from submitting
them to a wholesome discipline, frequently do nothing more than increase
their avarice, augment their ambition, inflate their pride, extend their
covetousness, render them obstinately stubborn, and harden their hearts.
We may see them unceasingly occupied in giving birth to the most lasting
animosities, by their unintelligible disputes. We see them hostilely
wrestling with the sovereign power, which they contend is subordinate to
their own. We see them arm the chiefs of nations against the legitimate
magistrates; distribute to the credulous multitude the most mortal
weapons, to massacre each other in the prosecution of those futile
controversies, which sacerdotal vanity clothes with the most interesting
importance. Do these men, who advance the beauty of their theories, who
menace the people with eternal vengeance, avail themselves of their own
marvellous notions to moderate their pride--to abate their vanity--to
lessen their cupidity--to restrain their turbulence--to bring their
vindictive humours under control? Are they, even in those countries
where their empire is established upon pillars of brass, fixed on
adamantine rocks, decorated with the most curious efforts of human
ingenuity--where the sacred mantle of public opinion shields them with
impunity--where credulity, planted in the hot-bed of ignorance, strikes
the roots of their authority into the very centre of the earth; are
they, I would ask, the enemies to debauchery, the foes to intemperance,
the haters of those excesses which they insist a severe God interdicts
to his adorers? On the contrary, are they not seen to be emboldened in
crime; intrepid in iniquity; committing the most shameful atrocities;
giving free scope to their irregularities; indulging their hatred;
glutting their vengeance; exercising the most savage cruelties on the
miserable victims to their cowardly suspicion? In short, it may be
safely advanced, without fear of contradiction, that scarcely any thing
is more frequent, than that those men who announce these terrible
creeds--who make men tremble under their yoke--who are unceasingly
haranguing upon the eternity and dreadful nature of their punishments--
who declare themselves the chosen ministers of their oracular laws--who
make all the duties of morality centre in themselves; are those whom
superstition least contributes to render virtuous; are men who possess
the least milk of human kindness; the fewest feelings of tenderness; who
are the most intolerant to their neighbours; the most indulgent to
themselves; the most unsociable in their habits; the most licentious in
their manners; the most unforgiving in their disposition. In
contemplating their conduct, we should be tempted to accredit, that they
were perfectly undeceived with respect to the idols whom they serve;
that no one was less the dupe to those menaces which they so solemnly
pronounce in their name, than themselves. In the hands of the priests of
almost all countries, their divinities resembled the head of Medusa,
which, without injuring him who shewed it, petrified all others. The
priests are generally the most crafty of men, and many among them are
substantively wicked.

Does the idea of these avenging, these remunerating systems, impose upon
some princes of the earth, who found their titles, who rest their power
upon them; who avail themselves of their terrific power to intimidate
their subjects; to make the people, often rendered unhappy by their
caprice, hold them in reverence? Alas! the theological, the supernatural
ideas, adopted by the pride of some sovereigns, have done nothing more
than corrupt politics--than metamorphose, them into an abject tyranny.
The ministers of these idols, always tyrants themselves, or the
cherishers of despots, are unceasingly crying out to monarchs that they
are the images of the Divinity. Do they not inform the credulous
multitude that heaven is willing they should groan under the most cruel
bondage; writhe under the most multifarious injustice; that to suffer is
their inheritance; that their princes have the indubitable right to
appropriate the goods, dispose of the persons, coerce the liberty;
command the lives of their subjects? Do not some of these chiefs of
nations, thus poisoned in the name of deified idols, imagine that every
indulgence of their wayward humour is freely permitted to them? At once
competitors, representatives, and rivals of the celestial powers, do
they not, in some instances, exercise after their example the most
arbitrary despotism? Do they not, in the intoxication into which
sacerdotal flattery has plunged them, think that like their idols, they
are not accountable to man for their actions, that they owe nothing to
the rest of mortals, that they are bound by no bonds but their own
unruly will, to their miserable subjects?

Then it is evident that it is to theological notions, to the loose
flattery of its ministers, that are to be ascribed the despotism, the
tyrannical injustice, the corruption, the licentiousness of some
princes, and the blindness of those people, to whom in heaven's name
they interdict the love of liberty; who are forbid to labour effectually
to their own happiness; to oppose themselves to violence, however
flagrant; to exercise their natural rights, however conducive to their
welfare. These intoxicated rulers, even while adoring their avenging
gods, in the act of bending others to their worship, do not scruple to
outrage them by their irregularities--by their want of moral virtue.
What morality is this, but that of men who offer themselves as living
images, as animated representatives of the Divinity? Are those monarchs,
then, who are habitually unjust, who wrest without remorse the bread
from the hands of a famished people, to administer to the profligacy of
their insatiable courtiers--to pamper the luxury of the vile instruments
of their enormities, atheists? Are, then, those ambitious conquerors,
who not contented with oppressing their own slaves, carry desolation,
spread misery, deal out death among the subjects of others, atheists? Do
we not witness in some of those potentates who rule over nations by
_divine right_, (a patent of power, which every usurper claims as his
own) ambitious mortals, whose exterminating fury nothing can arrest;
with hearts perfectly insensible to the sorrows of mankind; with minds
without energy; with souls without virtue; who neglect their most
evident duties, with which they do not even deign to become acquainted;
powerful men, who insolently set themselves above the rules of equity;
knaves who make a sport of honesty? Generally speaking, is there the
least sincerity in the alliances which these rulers form among
themselves? Do they ever last longer than for the season of their
convenience? Do we find substantive virtues adorn those who most
abjectly submit themselves to all the follies of superstition? Do they
not tax each other as violators of property--as faithlessly aggrandizing
themselves at the expence of their neighbour; in fact, do we not see
them endeavouring to surprise, anxious to over-reach, ready to injure
each other, without being arrested by the menaces of their creeds, or at
all yielding to the calls of humanity? In general, they are too haughty
to be humane; too inflated with ambition to be virtuous; they make a
code for themselves, which they cannot help violating. Charles the Fifth
used to say, "that being a warrior, it was impossible for him to have
either conscience or religion." His general, the Marquis de Piscaire,
observed, that "nothing was more difficult, than to serve at one and the
same time, the god _Mars_ and _Jesus Christ_." Indeed, nothing can be
more opposed to the true spirit of Christianity than the profession of
arms; notwithstanding the Christian princes have the most numerous
armies, and are in perpetual hostility with each other: perhaps the
clergy themselves do not hold forth the most peaceable examples of the
doctrine they teach; they sometimes wrangle for tithes, dispute for
trifling enjoyments, quarrel for worldly opinion, with as much
determined obstinacy, with as, much settled rancour, with as little
charity, as could possibly inhabit the bosom of the most unenlightened
Pagan, whose ignorance they despise--whose superstition they rank as the
grossest effort of idolatrous debasement. It might almost admit of doubt
whether they would be quite pleased to see the mild maxims of the
Evangelists, the true Christian meekness, rigidly followed--whether they
might not think the complete working of their own system would clash
with their own immediate interests? Is it a demonstrable axiom that the
ministers of the Christian faith do not think soldiers are beings
extremely well calculated to give efficacy to their doctrine--solidity
to their advantages--durability to their claims? Be this as it may,
priests as well as monarchs have occasionally waged war for the most
futile interests; impoverished a people from the anti-christian motives;
wrested from each other with all the venom of furies, the bloody remnant
of the nations they have laid waste; in fact, to judge by their conduct
on certain occasions, it might have been a question if they were not
disputing who should have the credit of making the greater number of
miserable beings upon earth. At length, either wearied with their own
fury, exhausted by their own devouring passions, or compelled by the
stern hand of necessity, they have permitted suffering humanity to take
breath; they have allowed the miseries concomitant on war, to cease for
an instant their devastating havoc; they have made peace in the name of
that God, whose decrees, as attested by themselves, they have been so
wantonly outraging,--still ready, however, to violate their most solemn
pledges, when the smallest interest could offer them a pretext.

Thus it will be obvious, in what manner the idea of the Divinity
operates on the priest, as well as upon those who are called his images;
who insist they have no account to render but to him alone. Among these
representatives of the Divine Majesty, it is with difficulty during
thousands of years we find some few who have equity, sensibility,
virtue, or even the most ordinary talent. History points out some of
these vicegerents of the Deity, who in the exacerbation of their
delirious rage, have insisted upon displacing him, by exalting
themselves into gods; and exacting the most obsequious worship; who have
inflicted the most cruel torments on those who have opposed themselves
to their madness, and refused to acknowledge the Divinity of their
persons. These men, whose licentiousness knew no limits, from the
impunity which attended their actions, notwithstanding they had learned
to despise public opinion, to set decency at defiance, to indulge in the
most shameless vice: in spite of the power they possessed; of the homage
they received; of the terror they inspired: although they had learned to
counterfeit, with great effect, the whole catalogue of human virtues;
found it impossible, even with the addition of their enormous wealth,
wrenched from the necessities of laborious honesty, to counterfeit the
animating blush, which modest merit brings forth, when eulogized by some
happy being whose felicity he has occasioned, by following the great law
of nature--which says, "_love thy neighbour as thyself_." On the
contrary, we see them grow listless with satiety; disgusted with their
own inordinate indulgences; obliged to recur to strange pleasures, to
awaken their benumbed faculties; to run headlong into the most costly
follies, in the fruitless attempt to keep up the activity of their
souls, the spring of which they had for ever relaxed, by the profligacy
of their enjoyment.

History, although it describes a multitude of vicious rulers, whose
irregular propensities were of the most mischievous consequence to the
human race, nevertheless, shews us but few who have been atheists. The
annals of nations, on the contrary, offer to our view great numbers of
superstitious princes, governed by their mistresses, led by unworthy
favorites, leagued with priests, who passed their lives plunged in
luxury; indulging the most effeminate pursuits; following the most
childish pleasures; pleased with ostentatious show; slaves even to the
fashion of the vestments that covered them; but strangers to every manly
virtue; insensible to the sorrows of their subjects; although uniformly
good to their hungry courtiers, invariably kind to those cringing
sycophants who surrounded their persons, and poisoned their ears with
the most fulsome flattery: in short, superstitious persecutors, who, to
render themselves acceptable to their priests, to expiate their own
shameful irregularities, added to all their other vices that of
tyrannizing over the mind, of fettering the conscience, of destroying
their subjects for their opinions, when they were in hostility with
their own received doctrines. Indeed, superstition in princes frequently
allied itself with the most horrid crimes; they have almost all
professed religion, although very few of them have had a just knowledge
of morality--have practiced any useful substantive virtue. Superstitious
notions, on the contrary, often serve to render them more blind, to
augment their evil inclinations; to set them at a greater distance from
moral goodness. They for the most part believe themselves assured of the
favor of heaven; they think they faithfully serve their gods, that the
anger of their divinities is appeased, if for a short season they shew
themselves attached to futile customs--lend themselves to absurd rites--
perform some ridiculous duties, which superstition imposes on them, with
a view to obtain their assistance in the prosecution of its own plans,
very rarely in strict unison with their immediate interest. Nero, the
cruel, sanguinary, matricidal Nero, his hands yet reeking with the blood
of that unfortunate being who had borne him in her womb, who had, with
agonizing pains, given the monster to the world that plunged the dagger
in her heart, was desirous to be initiated into the _Eleusinian
Mysteries_. The odious Constantine himself, found in the priests,
accomplices disposed to expiate his crimes. The infamous Philip, whose
ungovernable ambition caused him to be called the daemon of the south,
whilst he assassinated his wife and son, caused the throats of the
wretched Batavians to be cut for their religious opinions. It is thus,
that the priests of superstition sometimes persuade sovereigns they can
atone for crimes, by committing others of a more atrocious kind--of an
increased magnitude.

It would be fair to conclude, from the conduct of so many princes, who
had so much superstition, but so slender a portion of virtue, that the
notion of their gods, far from being useful to them, only served to
render them wore corrupt--to make them more abominable than they already
were; that the idea of an avenging power, placed in the perspective of
futurity, imposed but little restraint on the turbulence of deified
tyrants, who were sufficiently powerful not to fear the reproaches of
their subjects--who had the insensibility to be deaf to the censure of
their fellows--who were gifted with an obduracy of soul, that prevented
their having compassion for the miseries of mankind, from whom they
fancied themselves so pre-eminently distinguished; which, in fact, they
were, if crime can be allowed for the standard of distinction. Neither
heaven nor earth furnishes a balsam of sufficient efficacy to heal the
inveterate wounds of beings cankered to this degree: for such chronic
diseases, there is "no balm in Gilead:" there is no curb sufficiently
coercive to rein in the passions, to which superstition itself gives
activity; which only makes them more unruly; renders them more
inveterately rash. Whenever men flatter themselves with easily expiating
their sins--when they soothe themselves with the consolitary idea of
appeasing the anger of the gods by a show of earnestness, they then
deliver themselves up, with the most unrestrained freedom, to the bent
of their criminal pursuits. The most dissolute men are frequently in
appearance extremely attached to superstition: it furnishes them with a
means of compensating by ceremonies, that of which they are deficient in
morals: it is much easier for them to adopt a faith, to believe in a
doctrine, to conform themselves to certain rituals, than to renounce
their habits, resist their passions, or relinquish the pursuit of that
pleasure, which results to unprincipled minds from the prosecution of
the most diabolical schemes.

Under chiefs, depraved even by superstition, nations continued
necessarily to be corrupted. The great conformed themselves to the vices
of their masters; the example of these distinguished men, whom the
uninformed erroneously believe to be happy, was followed by the people;
courts thus became the sinks from whence issued the epidemic contagion
of licentious indulgence. The law only held forth pictures of honesty;
the dispensers of jurisprudence were partial, partook of the mania of
the times, were labouring under the general disease; Justice suffered
her balance to rust, occasionally removed her bandage, although she
always wore it in the presence of the poor; genuine ideas of equity had
grown into disuse; distinct notions of right and wrong became
troublesome and unfashionable; education was neglected; it served only
to produce prejudiced beings, grounded in ignorance--devotees, always
ready to injure themselves--fanatics, eager to shew their zeal ever
willing to annoy their unfortunate neighbours. Superstition, sustained
by tyranny, ousted every other feeling, hoodwinked its destined victims,
rendered those tractable whom it had the intention to despoil. Whoever
doubts of these truisms, has only to turn over the pages of history, he
will find myriads of evidence to much more than is here stated.
Machiavel, in his _Political Discourses upon Titus Livius_, labours the
point hard, to shew the utility of superstition to the Roman Republic:
unfortunately, however, the examples he brings forward in its support,
incontestibly prove that none but the senate profited by the infatuation
of the people, who availed itself of their blindness more effectually to
bend them to its yoke.

Thus it was that nations, destitute of equitable laws, deficient in the
administration of justice, submitted to irrational government, continued
in slavery by the monarch, chained up in ignorance by the priest, for
want of enlightened institutions, deprived of reasonable education,
became corrupt, superstitious, and flagitious. The nature of man, the
just interests of society, the real advantage of the sovereign, the true
happiness of the people, once mistaken, were completely lost sight of;
the morality of nature, founded upon the essence of man living in
society, was equally unknown; lay buried under an enormous load of
prejudice, that no common efforts were competent to remove. It was
entirely forgotten that man has wants; that society was formed that he
might, with greater security, facilitate the means of satisfying them;
that government, to be legitimate, ought to have for object, the
happiness--for end, the means of maintaining the indivisibility of the
community; that consequently it ought to give activity to springs, full
play to motives suitable to have a favorable influence over sensible
beings. It was quite overlooked, that virtue faithfully rewarded, vice
as regularly visited, had an elastic force, of which the public
authorities could efficaciously avail themselves, to determine their
citizens to blend their interests; to work out their own felicity, by
labouring to the happiness of the body of which they were members. The
social virtues were unknown, the _amor patriae_ became a chimera. Men
thus associated, thus blinded by their superstitious bias, credulously
believed their own immediate interest consisted in injuring each other;
they were solely occupied with meriting the favor of those men, who
fatally accreditted the doctrine of clerical flatterers, of silver-toned
courtiers, which taught that they wore distinctly interested in injuring
the whole.

This is the mode in which the human heart has become perverted; here is
the genuine source of moral evil; the hot-bed of that epidemical
depravity, the cause of that hereditary corruption, the fountain of that
inveterate delinquency, which pervaded the earth; rendering the
abundance of nature nothing better than a curse; blasting the fairest
prospects of humanity; degrading man below the beast of the forest;
sinking his intellectual faculties in the most savage barbarity;
rendering him the vile instrument of lawless ambition; the wretched tool
by which the fetters of his species were firmly rivetted; obliging him
to moisten his harvest with the bitter tears of the most abject slavery.
For the purpose of remedying so many crying evils, grown insupportable,
recourse was had to new superstitions. Notwithstanding this alone had
produced them, it was still imagined, that the menaces of heaven would
restrain passions which every thing conspired to rouse in all hearts;
fatuity persuaded monarchs that ideal, metaphysical barriers, terrible
fables, distant phantoms, would be competent to curb those inordinate
desires, to rein in that impetuous propensity to crime, that rendered
society incommodious to itself; credulity fancied that invisible powers
would be more efficacious, than those visible motives that evidently
invited mortals to the commission of mischief. Every thing was
understood to be achieved, by occupying man's mind with gloomy chimeras,
with vague, undefinable terrors, with avenging angels; and politics
madly believed that its own interests grew out of the blind submission
of its subjects, to the ministers of these delusive doctrines.

What was the result? Nations had only sacerdotal laws; theological
morality; accommodated to the interests of the hierarchy--suitable to
the views of subtle priests: who substituted reveries for realities,
opinions for reason, rank fallacies for sterling truths; who made
ceremonies supply the place of virtue; a pious blindness supersede the
necessity of an enlightened understanding; undermined the sacredness of
oaths, and placed fanaticism on the altars of sociability. By a
necessary consequence of that confidence which the people were compelled
to give to the ministers of superstition, two distinct authorities were
established in each state, who were substantially at variance, in
continual hostility with each other. The priest fought the sovereign
with the formidable weapon of opinion; it generally proved sufficiently
powerful to shake the most established thrones. Thus, although the
hierarchy was unceasingly admonishing the people to submit themselves to
the divine authority of their sovereigns, because it was derived
immediately from heaven, yet, whenever it so happened that the monarch
did not repay their advocacy, by blindly yielding his own authority to
the supervisance of the priests, these made no scruple of threatening
him with loss of his temporalities; fulminated their anathemas,
interdicted his dominions, and sometimes went the length of absolving
his subjects from allegiance. Superstition, in general, only upholds
despotism, that it may with greater certainty direct its blows against
its enemies; it overthrows it whenever it is found to clash with its
interests. The ministers of invisible powers preach up obedience to
visible powers, only when they find these humbly devoted to themselves.
Thus the sovereign was never at rest, but when abjectly cringing to his
priest, he tractably received his lessons--lent himself to his frantic
zeal--and piously enabled him to carry on the furious occupation of
proselytism. These priests, always restless, full of ambition, burning
with intolerance, frequently excited the sovereign to ravage his own
states--encouraged him to tyranny: when, pursuing this sacerdotal mania,
he feared to have outraged humanity, to have incurred the displeasure of
heaven, he was quickly reconciled to himself, upon promise of
undertaking some distant expedition, for the purpose of bringing some
unfortunate nation within the pale of their own particular creed. When
the two rival powers united themselves, morality gained nothing by the
junction; the people were neither more happy, nor more virtuous; their
morals, their welfare, their liberty, were equally overwhelmed by the
combined powers. Thus, superstitious princes always felt interested in
the maintenance of theological opinions, which were rendered flattering
to their vanity, favorable to their power. Like the grateful perfumes of
Arabia, that are used to cover the ill scent of a deadly poison, the
priest lulled them into security by administering to their sensualities;
these, in return, made common cause with him: fully persuaded that the
superstition which they themselves adopted, must be the most wholesome
for their subjects, most conducive to their interests, those who refused
to receive the boon, thus gratuitously forced upon them, were treated as
enemies, held up to public scorn, and rendered the victims of
punishment. The most superstitious sovereign became, either politically
or through piety, the executioner of one part of his slaves; he was
taught to believe it a sacred duty to tyrannize over the mind--to
overwhelm the refractory--to crush the enemy of his priest, under an
idea that he was therefore hostile to his own authority. In cutting the
throats of these unfortunate sceptics, he imagined he at once discharged
his obligations to heaven, and gave security to his own power. He did,
not perceive, that by immolating victims to his priest, he in fact
strengthened the arm of his most formidable foe--the real enemy to his
authority--the rival of his greatness--the least subjected of his

But the prevalence of these false notions, with which both the minds of
the sovereign and the people were prepossessed, it was found that every
thing in society concurred to gratify the avidity, to bolster the pride,
to glut the vengeance of the sacerdotal order: every where, it was to be
observed, that the most turbulent, the most dangerous, the most useless
men, were those who were the most amply rewarded. The strange spectacle
presented itself, of beholding those who were born the bitterest enemies
to sovereign power, cherished by its fostering care--honoured at its
hands: the most rebellious subjects were looked upon as the pillars of
the throne; the corrupters of the people were rendered the exclusive
masters of education; the least laborious of the citizens were richly
rewarded for their idleness--munificently remunerated for the most
futile speculations--held in respect for their fatal discord--gorged
with benefits for their inefficacious prayers: they swept off the fat of
the land for their expiations, so destructive to morals, so calculated
to give permanency to crime. Thus, by a strange fatuity, the viper that
could, and frequently did, inflict the most deadly sting on the bosom of
confiding credulity, was pampered and nourished by the unsuspecting hand
of its destined victim.

For thousands of years, nations as well as sovereigns were emulously
despoiling themselves to enrich the expounders of superstition; to
enable them to wallow in abundance: they loaded them with honors,
decorated them with titles, invested them with privileges, granted them
immunities, for no other purpose than to make them bad citizens, unruly
subjects, mischievous beings, who revenged upon society the advantages
they had received. What was the fruit that kings and people gathered
from their imprudent kindness? What was the harvest these men yielded to
their labour? Did princes really become more powerful; were nations
rendered more happy; did they grow more flourishing; did men become more
rational? No! Unquestionably, the sovereign lost the greater portion of
his authority; he was the slave of his priest; and when he wished to
preserve the remnant that was left, or to recover some part of what had
been wrested from him, he was obliged to be continually wrestling
against the men his own indulgence, his own weakness, had furnished with
means, to set his authority at defiance: the riches of society were
lavished to support the idleness, maintain the splendour, satiate the
luxury of the most useless, the most arrogant, the most dangerous of its

Did the morals of the people improve under the pastoral care of these
guides, who were so liberally rewarded? Alas! the superstitious never
knew them, their fanatic creed had usurped the place of every virtue;
its ministers, satisfied with upholding the doctrines, with preserving
the ceremonies so useful to their own interests, only invented
fictitious crimes--multiplied painful penances--instituted absurd
customs; to the end, that they might turn even the transgressions of
their slaves to their own immediate profit. Every where they exercised a
monopoly of expiatory indulgences; they made a lucrative traffic of
pretended pardons from above; they established a tariff, according to
which crime was no longer contraband, but freely admitted upon paying
the customs. Those subjected to the heaviest impost, were always such as
the hierarchy judged most inimical to its own stability; you might at a
very easy rate obtain permission to attack the dignity of the sovereign,
to undermine the temporal power, but it was enormously dear to be
allowed to touch even the hem of the sacerdotal garments. Thus heresy,
sacrilege, &c. were considered crimes of a much deeper dye, that fixed
an indelible stain on the perpetrator, alarmed the mind of the priestly
order, much more seriously than the most inveterate villainy, the most
determined delinquency, which more immediately involved the true
interests of society. Thence the ideas of the people were completely
overturned, imaginary crimes terrified them, while real crimes had no
effect upon their obdurate hearts. A man, whose opinions were at
variance with the received doctrines, whose abstract systems did not
harmonize with those of his priest, was more loathed than a corrupter of
youth; more abhorred than an assassin; more hated than an oppressor; was
held in greater contempt than a robber; was punished with greater rigor
than the seducer of innocence. The acme of all wickedness, was to
despise that which the priest was desirous should be looked upon as
sacred. The celebrated Gordon says, "the most abominable of heresies, is
to believe there is any other god than the clergy." The civil laws
concurred to aid this confusion of ideas; they inflicted the most
serious penalties, punished in the most atrocious manner those unknown
crimes which imagination had magnified into the most flagitious actions;
heretics, infidels, were brought to the stake, and publicly burnt with
the utmost refinement of cruelty; the brain was tortured to find means
of augmenting the sufferings of the unhappy victims to sacerdotal fury;
whilst calumniators of innocence, adulterers, depredators of every
description, knaves of all kinds, were at a trifling cost absolved from
their past iniquity, and opened a new account of future delinquency.

Under such instructors what could become of youth? The period of
juvenility was shamefully sacrificed to superstition. Man, from his
earliest infancy, was poisoned with unintelligible notions; fed with
mysteries; crammed with fables; drenched with doctrines, in which he was
compelled to acquiesce without being able to comprehend. His brain was
disturbed with phantoms, alarmed with chimeras, rendered frantic by
visions. His genius was cramped with puerile pursuits, mechanical
devotions, sacred trifles. Superstition at length so fascinated the
human mind, made such mere automata of mankind, that the people
consented to address their gods in a dialect they did not themselves
understand: women occupied their whole lives in singing Latin, without
comprehending a word of the language; the people assisted very
punctually, without being competent to explain any part of the worship,
under an idea that it was taken kindly they should thus weary
themselves; that it was sufficient to shew their persons in the sacred
temples, which were beautifully decorated to fascinate their senses.
Thus man wasted his most precious moments in absurd customs; spent his
life in idle ceremonies; his bead was crowded with sophisms, his mind
was loaded with errors; intoxicated with fanaticism, he was the declared
enemy to reason; for ever prepossessed against truth, the energy of his
soul was resisted by shackles too ponderous for its elasticity; the
spring gave way, and he sunk into sloth and wretchedness: from this
humiliating state he could never again soar; he could no longer become
useful either to himself or to his associates: the importance he
attached to his imaginary science, or rather the systematic ignorance
which served for its basis, rendered it impossible for the most fertile
soil to produce any thing but thorns; for the best proportioned tree to
yield any thing but crabs.

Does a superstitious, sacerdotal education, form intrepid citizens,
intelligent fathers of families, kind husbands, just masters, faithful
servants, loyal subjects, pacific associates? No! it either makes
peevish enthusiasts or morose devotees, who are incommodious to
themselves, vexatious to others: men without principle, who quickly pour
the waters of Lethe over the terrors with which they have been
disturbed; who know no moral obligation, who respect no virtue. Thus
superstition, elevated above every thing else, held forth the fanatical
dogma, "Better to obey the gods than men;" in consequence, man believed
he must revolt against his prince, detach himself from his wife, detest
his children, estrange himself from his friends, cut the throats of his
fellow-citizens, every time they questioned the veracity of his faith:
in short, a superstitious education, when it had its effect, only served
to corrupt the juvenile heart--to fascinate youthful winds with its
pageantry--to degrade the human soul--to make man mistake the duties he
owed to himself, his obligations to society, his relations with the
beings by whom he was surrounded.

What advantages might not nations have reaped, if they would have
employed on useful objects, those riches, which ignorance has so
shamefully lavished on the expounders of superstition; which fatuity has
bestowed on the most useless ceremonies? What might not have been the
progress of genius, if it had enjoyed those ample remunerations, granted
during so many ages to those priests who at all times opposed its
elevation? What perfection might not science have attained, what height
might not the arts have reached, if they had had the same succours that
were held forth with a prodigal hand to enthusiasm and futility? Upon
what rocks might not morality have been rested, what solid foundations
might not politics have found, with what majestic grandeur might not
truth have illumined the human horizon, if they had experienced the same
fostering cares, the same animating countenance, the same public
sanction, which accompanied imposture--which was showered upon
fanaticism--which shielded falsehood from the rude attack of
investigation--which gave impunity to its ministers?

It is then obvious, that superstitious, theological notions, have not
produced any of those solid advantages that have been held forth; if may
be doubted whether they were not always, and ever will remain, contrary
to healthy politics, opposed to sound morality; they frequently change
sovereigns into restless, jealous, mischievous, divinities; they
transform their subjects into envious, wicked slaves, who by idle
pageantry, by futile ceremonies, by an exterior acquiescence in
unintelligible opinions, imagine themselves amply compensated for the
evil they commit against each other. Those who have never had the
confidence to examine these sublimated opinions; those who feel
persuaded that their duties spring out of these abstruse doctrines;
those who are actually commanded to live in peace, to cherish each
other, to lend mutual assistance, to abstain from evil, and to do good,
presently lose sight of these sterile speculations, as soon as present
interests, ungovernable passions, inveterate habits, or irresistible
whims, hurry them away. Where are we to look for that equity, that union
of interest, that peace, that concord, which these unsettled notions,
supported by superstition, backed with the full force of authority,
promise to the societies placed under their surveillance? Under the
influence of corrupt courts, of time-serving priests, who, either
impostors or fanatics, are never in harmony with each other, are only to
be discerned vicious men, degraded by ignorance--enslaved by criminal
habits--swayed by transient interests--guided by shameful pleasures--
sunk in a vortex of dissipation; who do not even think of the Divinity.
In despite of his theological ideas, the subtle courtier continues to
weave his dark plots, labours to gratify his ambition, seeks to satisfy
his avidity, to indulge his hatred, to wreak his vengeance, to give full
swing to all the passions inherent to the perversity of his being:
maugre that frightful hell, of which the idea alone makes her tremble,
the woman of intrigue persists in her amours; continues her harlotry,
revels in her adulteries. Notwithstanding their dissipated conduct,
their dissolute manners, their entire want of moral principle, the
greater part of those who swarm in courts, who crowd in cities, would
recoil with horror, if the smallest doubt was exhibited of the truth of
that creed which they outrage every moment, of their lives. What
advantage, then, has resulted to the human race from those opinions, so
universal, at the same time so barren? They seem rarely to have had any
other kind of influence than to serve as a pretext for the most
dangerous passions--as a mantle of security for the most criminal
indulgences. Does not the superstitious despot, who would scruple to
omit the least part of the ceremonies of his persuasion, on quitting the
altars at which he has been sacrificing, on leaving the temple where
they have been delivering the oracles and terrifying crime in the name
of heaven, return to his vices, reiterate his injustice, increase his
political crimes, augment his transgressions against society? Issuing
from the sacred fane, their ears still ringing with the doctrines they
have heard, the minister returns to his vexations, the courtier to his
intrigues, the courtezan to her prostitution, the publican to his
extortions, the merchant to his frauds, the trader to his tricks.

Will it be pretended that those cowardly assassins, those dastardly
robbers, those miserable criminals, whom evil institutions, the
negligence of government, the laxity of morals, continually multiply;
from whom the laws, in many instances too sanguinary, frequently wrest
their existence; will it, I say, be pretended that the malefactors who
regularly furnish the gibbets, who daily crowd the scaffolds, are either
incredulous or atheists? No! Unquestionably, these unfortunate beings,
these wretched outcasts, these children of turpitude, firmly believe in
God; his name has been repeated to them from their infancy; they have
been informed of the punishment destined for sinners: they have been
habituated in early life to tremble at his judgments; nevertheless they
have outraged society; their unruly passions, stronger than their fears,
not having been coerced by visible motives, have not, for much more
cogent reasons, been restrained by those which are invisible: distant,
concealed punishments will never be competent to arrest those excesses
which present and assured torments are incapable of preventing.

In short, does not every day's experience furnish us the lesson, that
men, persuaded that an all-seeing Deity views them, hears them,
encompasses them, do not on that account arrest their progress when the
furor exists, either for gratifying their licentious passions, or
committing the most dishonest actions? The same individual who would
fear the inspection of the meanest of his fellows, whom the presence of
another man would prevent from committing a bad action, from delivering
himself up to some scandalous vice, freely sins, cheerfully lends
himself to crime, when he believes no eyes beholds him but those of his
God. What purpose, then, does the conviction of the omniscience, the
ubiquity, the omnipotence of the Divinity answer, if it imposes much
less on the conduct of the human being, than the idea of being
overlooked by the least of his fellow men? He who would not have the
temerity to commit a crime, even in the presence of a child, will make
no scruple of boldly committing it, when he shall have only his God for
a witness. These facts, which are indubitable, ill serve for a reply to
those who insist that the fear of God is more suitable to restrain the
actions of men, than wholesome laws, with strict discipline. When man
believes he has only his God to dread, he commonly permits nothing to
interrupt his course.

Those persons who do not in the least suspect the power of superstitious
notions, who have the most perfect reliance on their efficacy, very
rarely, however, employ them, when they are desirous to influence the
conduct of those who are subordinate to them; when they are disposed to
re-conduct them to the paths of reason. In the advice which a father
gives to his vicious, criminal son, he rather represents to him the
present temporal inconveniencies to which his conduct exposes him, than
the danger he encounters in offending an avenging God; he points out to
him the natural consequences of his irregularities, his health damaged
by debaucheries; the loss of his reputation by criminal pursuits; the
ruin of his fortune by gambling; the punishments of society, &c. Thus
the DEICOLIST himself, on the most important occasions of life, reckons
more stedfastly upon the force of natural motives, than upon those
supernatural inducements furnished by superstition: the same man, who
vilifies the motives that an atheist can have to do good and abstain
from evil, makes use of them himself on this occasion, because he feels
they are the most substantive he can employ.

Almost all men believe in an avenging and remunerating God; yet nearly
in all countries the number of the wicked bears a larger proportion than
that of the good. If the true cause of this general corruption be
traced, it will be more frequently found in the superstitious notions
inculcated by theology, than in those imaginary sources which the
various superstitions have invented to account for human depravity. Man
is always corrupt wherever he is badly governed; wherever superstition
deifies the sovereign, his government becomes unworthy: this perverted
and assured of impunity, necessarily render his people miserable;
misery, when it exceeds the point of endurance, as necessarily renders
them wicked. When the people are submitted to irrational masters, they
are never guided by reason. If they are blinded by priests, who are
either deceived or impostors, their reason become useless. Tyrants, when
combined with priests, have generally been successful in their efforts
to prevent nations from becoming enlightened--from seeking after truth--
from ameliorating their condition--from perfectioning their morals; and
never has the union smiled upon liberty: the people, unable to resist
the mighty torrent produced by the confluence of two such rivers, have
usually sunk into the most abject slavery. It is only by enlightening
the mass of mankind, by demonstrating truth, that we can promise to
render him better; that we can indulge the hope of making him happy. It
is by causing both sovereigns and subjects to feel their true relations
with each other, that their actual interests will be improved; that
their politics will be perfectioned: it will then be felt and
accredited, that the true art of governing mortals, the sure method of
gaining their affections, is not the art of blinding them, of deceiving
them, or of tyrannizing over them. Let us, then, good humouredly consult
reason, avail ourselves of experience, interrogate nature; we shall,
perhaps, find what is requisite to be done, in order to labour
efficaciously to the happiness of the human race. We shall most
assuredly perceive, that error is the true source of the evils which
embitter our existence; that it is in cheering the hearts, in
dissipating those vain phantoms which alarm the ignorant, in laying the
axe to the root of superstition, that we can peaceably seek after truth;
that it is only in the conflagration of this baneful tree, we can ever
expect to light the torch which shall illumine the road to felicity.
Then let man study nature; observe her immutable laws; let him dive into
his own essence; let him cure himself of his prejudices: these means
will conduct him by a gentle declivity to that virtue, without which he
must feel he can never be permanently happy in the world he inhabits.

If man could once cease to fear, from that moment he would he truly
happy. Superstition is a domestic enemy which he always carries within
himself: those who will seriously occupy themselves with this formidable
phantom, must be content to endure continual agonies, to live in
perpetual inquietude: if they will neglect the objects most worthy of
interesting them, to run after chimeras, they will commonly pass a
melancholy existence, in groaning, in praying, in sacrificing, in
expiating faults, either real or imaginary, which they believe
calculated to offend their priests; frequently in their irrational fury
they will torment themselves, they will make it a duty to inflict on
their own persons the most barbarous punishments: but society will reap
no benefit from these mournful opinions--from the tortures of these
pious irrationals; because their mind, completely absorbed by their
gloomy reveries, their time dissipated in the most absurd ceremonies,
will leave them no opportunity of being really advantageous to the
community of which they are members. The most superstitions men are
commonly misanthropists, quite useless to the world, and very injurious
to themselves: if ever they display energy, it is only to devise means
by which they can increase their own affliction; to discover new methods
to torture their mind; to find out the most efficacious means to deprive
themselves of those objects which their nature renders desirable. It is
common in the world to behold penitents, who are intimately persuaded
that by dint of barbarous inflictions on their own persons, by means of
a lingering suicide, they shall merit the favor of heaven. Madmen of
this species are to be seen every where; superstition has in all ages,
in all places, given birth to the most cruel extravagances, to the most
injurious follies.

If, indeed, these irrational devotees only injure themselves, and
deprive society of that assistance which they owe to it, they without
doubt do less mischief than those turbulent, zealous fanatics, who,
infuriated with their superstitious ideas, believe themselves bound to
disturb the world, to commit actual crimes, to sustain the cause of what
they denominate the true faith. It not unfrequently happens that in
outraging morality, the zealous enthusiast supposes he renders himself
agreeable to his God. He makes perfection consist either in tormenting
himself, or in rending asunder, in favour of his fanatical ideas, the
most sacred ties that connect mortals with each other.

Let us, then, acknowledge, that the notions of superstition, are not
more suitable to procure the welfare, to establish the content, to
confirm the peace of individuals, than they are of the society of which
they are members. If some peaceable, honest, inconclusive enthusiasts,
find either comfort or consolation in them, there are millions who, more
conclusive to their principles, are unhappy during their whole life; who
are perpetually assailed by the most melancholy ideas; to whom their
disordered imagination shews these notions, as every instant involving
them in the most cruel punishments. Under such formidable systems, a
tranquil, sociable devotee, is a man who has not reasoned upon them.

In short, every thing serves to prove, that superstitious opinions have
the strongest influence over men; that they torment them unceasingly,
divide them from their dearest connections, inflame their minds, envenom
their passions, render them miserable without ever restraining their
actions, except when their own temperament proves too feeble to propel
them forward: all this holds forth one great lesson, that _superstition
is incompatible with liberty, and can never furnish good citizens_.


_Theological Notions cannot be the Basis of Morality.--Comparison
between Theological Ethics and Natural Morality.--Theology prejudicial
to the human Mind._

Felicity is the great end of human existence; a supposition therefore,
to be actually useful to man, should render him happy. By what parity of
reasoning can he flatter himself that an hypothesis, which does not
facilitate his happiness in his present duration, may one day conduct
him to permanent bliss? If mortals only sigh, tremble, and groan in this
world, of which they have a knowledge, upon what foundation is it they
expect a more felicitous existence hereafter, in a world of which they
know nothing? If man is every where the child of calamity, the victim to
necessary evil, the unhappy sufferer under an immutable system, ought he
reasonably to indulge a greater confidence in future happiness?

On the other hand, a supposition which should throw light on every
thing, which should supply an easy solution to all the questions to
which it could be applied, when even it should not be competent to
demonstrate the certitude, would probably be true: but that system which
should only obscure the clearest notions, render more insoluble the
problems desired to be resolved by its means, would most assuredly be
looked upon as fallacious; as either useless or dangerous. To be
convinced of this principle, let us examine, without prejudice, if the
theological ideas of the Divinity have ever given the solution to any
one difficulty. Has the human understanding progressed a single step by
the assistance of this metaphysical science? Has it not, on the
contrary, had a tendency to obscure the wore certain science of morals?
Has it not, in many instances, rendered the most essential duties of our
nature problematical? Has it not in a great measure confounded the
notions of virtue and vice, of justice and injustice? Indeed, what is
virtue, in the eyes of the generality of theologians? They will
instantly reply, "that which is conformable to the will of the
incomprehensible beings who govern nature." But way it not be asked,
without offence to the individual opinions of any one, what are these
beings, of whom they are unceasingly talking, without having the
capacity to comprehend them? How can we acquire a knowledge of their
will? They will forthwith reply, with a confidence that is meant to
strike conviction on uninformed minds, by recounting what they are not,
without even attempting to inform us what they are. If they do undertake
to furnish an idea of them, they will heap upon their hypothetical
beings a multitude, of contradictory, incompatible attributes, with
which they will form a whole, at once impossible for the human mind to
conceive or else they will refer to oracles, by which they insist their
intentions have been promulgated to mankind. If, however, they are
requested to prove the authenticity of these oracles, which are at such
variance with each other, they will refer to miracles in support of what
they assert: these miracles, independent of the difficulty there must
exist to repose in them our faith, when, as we have seen, they are
admitted even by the theologians themselves, to be contrary to the
intelligence, the immutability, to the omnipotency of their immaterial
substances, are, moreover, warmly disputed by each particular sect, as
being impositions, practised by the others for their own individual
advantage. As a last resource, then, it will be necessary to accredit
the integrity, to rely on the veracity, to rest on the good faith of the
priests, who announce these oracles. On this again, there arises two
almost insuperable difficulties, in the _first_ place, who shall assure
us of their actual mission? are we quite certain none of them may be
mistaken? how shall we be justified in giving credence to their powers?
are they not these priests themselves, who announce to us that they are
the infallible interpreters of a being whom they acknowledge they do not
at all know? In the _second_ place, which set of these oracular
developements are we to adopt? For to give currency to the whole, would,
in point of fact, annihilate them entirely; seeing, that no two of them
run in unison with each other. This granted, the priests, that is to
say, men extremely suspicious, but little in harmony with each other,
will be the arbiters of morality; they will decide (according to their
own uncertain knowledge, after their various passions, in conformity to
the different perspectives under which they view these things,) on the
whole system of ethics; upon which absolutely rests the repose of the
world--the sterling happiness of each individual. Would this be a
desirable state? would it be that from which humanity has the best
founded prospect of that felicity, which is the desired object of his
research? Again; do we not see that either enthusiasm or interest is the
only standard of their decisions? that their morals are as variable as
their caprice? those who listen to them, very rarely discover to what
line they will adhere. In their various writings, we have evidence of
the most bitter animosities; we find continual contradictions; endless
disputes upon what they themselves acknowledge to be the most essential
points; upon those premises, in the substantive proof of which their
whole system depends; the very beings they depict as their source of
their various creeds, are pourtrayed as variable as themselves; as
frequently changing their plans as these are their arguments. What
results from all this to a rational man? It will be natural for him to
conclude, that neither inconstant gods, nor vacillating priests, whose
opinions are more fluctuating than the seasons, can be the proper models
of a moral system, which should be as regular, as determinate, as
invariable as the laws of nature herself; as that eternal march, from
which we never see her derogate.

No! Arbitrary, inconclusive, contradictory notions, abstract,
unintelligible speculations, can never be the sterling bases of the
ethical science! They must be evident, demonstrable principles, deduced
from the nature of man, founded upon his wants, inspired by rational
education, rendered familiar by habit, made sacred by wholesome laws,
that will flash conviction on our mind, render systems useful to
mankind, make virtue dear to us--that will people nations with honest
men--fill up the ranks with faithful subjects--crowd them with intrepid
citizens. Incomprehensible beings can present nothing to our
imagination, save vague ideas, which will never embrace any common point
of union amongst those who shall contemplate them. If these beings are
painted as terrible, the mind is led astray; if changeable, it always
precludes us from ascertaining the road we ought to pursue. The menaces
held forth by those, who, in despite of their own assertions, say they
are acquainted with the views, with the determination of these beings,
will seldom do more than render virtue unpleasant; fear alone will then
make us practise with reluctance, that which reason, which our own
immediate interest, ought to make us execute with pleasure. The

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