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

Part 5 out of 7

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inculcation of terrible ideas will only serve to disturb honest persons,
without in the least arresting the progress of the profligate, or
diverting the course of the flagitious: the greater number of men, when
they shall be disposed to sin, to deliver themselves up to vicious
propensities, will cease to contemplate these terrific ideas, will only
behold a merciful God, who is filled with goodness, who will pardon the
transgressions of their weakness. Man never views things but on that
side which is most conformable to his desires.

The goodness of God cheers the wicked; his rigour disturbs the honest
man. Thus, the qualities with which theology clothes its immaterial
substances, themselves turn out disadvantageous to sound morality. It is
upon this infinite goodness that the most corrupt men will have the
audacity to reckon, when they are either hurried along by crime, or
given up to habitual vice. If, then, they are reminded of their criminal
courses, they reply, "God is good, his mercy is infinite, his clemency
boundless:" thus it may be said that religion itself is pressed into the
service of vice, by the children of turpitude. Superstition, above all,
rather abets crime than represses it, by holding forth to mortals that
by the assistance of certain ceremonies, the performance of certain
rites, the repetition of certain prayers, aided by the payment of
certain sums of money, they can appease the anger of their gods, assuage
the wrath of heaven, wash out the stains of their sins, and be received
with open arms into the happy number of the elect--be placed in the
blissful abodes of eternity. In short, do not the priests of
superstition universally affirm, that they possess infallible secrets,
for reconciling the most perverse to the pale of their respective

It must be concluded from this, that however these systems are viewed,
in whatever manner they are considered, they cannot serve for the basis
of morality, which in its very nature is formed to be invariably the
same. Irascible systems are only useful to those who find an interest in
terrifying the ignorance of mankind, that they may advantage themselves
of his fears--profit by his expiations. The nobles of the earth, who are
frequently men not gifted with the most exemplary morals--who do not on
all occasions exhibit the most perfect specimens of self-denial--who
would not, perhaps, be at all times held up as mirrors of virtue, will
not see these formidable systems, when they shall be inclined to listen
to their passions; to lend themselves to the indulgence of their unruly
desires: they will, however, feel no repugnance to make use of them to
frighten others, to the end that they may preserve unimpaired their
superiority; that they may keep entire their prerogatives; that they may
more effectually bind them to servitude. Like the rest of mankind, they
will see their God under the traits of his benevolence; they will always
believe him indulgent to those outrages they may commit against their
fellows, provided they shew due respect for him themselves: superstition
will furnish them with easy means to turn aside his Wrath; its ministers
seldom omit a profitable opportunity, to expiate the crimes of human

Morality is not made to follow the caprices of the imagination, the fury
of the passions, the fluctuating interests of men: it ought to possess
stability; to be at all times the same, for all the individuals of the
human race; it ought neither to vary in one country, nor in one race
from another: neither superstition nor religion, has a privilege to make
its immutability subservient to the changeable laws of their systems.
There is but one method to give ethics this solidity; it has been more
than once pointed out in the course of this work: it is only to be
founded upon the nature of man, bottomed upon his duties, rested upon
the relations subsisting between intelligent beings, who are in love,
with their happiness, who are occupied with their own preservation, who
live together in society that they may With greater facility ascertain
these ends. In short we must take for the basis of morality the
necessity of things.

In weighing these principles, which are self evident, confirmed by
constant experience, approved by reason, drawn from nature herself, we
shall have an undeviating tone of conduct; a sure system of morality,
that will never be in contradiction with itself. Man will have no
occasion to recur to theological speculations to regulate his conduct in
the visible world. We shall then be capacitated to reply to those who
pretend that without them there can he no morality. If we reflect upon
the long tissue of errors, upon the immense chain of wanderings, that
flow from the obscure notions these various systems hold forth--of the
sinister ideas which superstition in all countries inculcates; it would
be much more conformable to truth to say, that all sound ethics, all
morality, either useful to individuals or beneficial to society, is
totally incompatible with systems which never represent their gods but
under the form of absolute monarchs, whose good qualities are
continually eclipsed by dangerous caprices. Consequently, we shall be
obliged to acknowledge, that to establish morality upon a steady
foundation, we must necessarily commence by at least quitting those
chimerical systems upon which the ruinous edifice of supernatural
morality has hitherto been constructed, which during such a number of
ages, has been so uselessly preached up to a great portion of the
inhabitants of the earth.

Whatever may have been the cause that placed man in his present abode,
that gave him the faculties he possesses; whether the human species be
considered as the work of nature, or whether it be supposed that he owes
his existence to an intelligent being, distinguished from nature; the
existence of man, such as he is, is a fact; we behold in him a being who
thinks, who feels, who has intelligence, who loves himself, who tends to
his own conservation, who in every moment of his duration strives to
render his existence agreeable; who, the more easily to satisfy his
wants and to procure himself pleasure, congregates in society with
beings similar to himself; of whom his conduct can either conciliate the
favour, or draw upon him the disaffection. It is, then, upon these
general sentiments, inherent in his nature, which will subsist as long
as his race shall endure, that we ought to found morality; which is only
a science embracing, the duties of men living together in society.

These duties have their spring in our nature, they are founded upon our
necessities, because we cannot reach the goal of happiness, if we do not
employ the requisite means: these means constitute the moral science. To
be permanently felicitous, we must so comport ourselves as to merit the
affection, so act as to secure the assistance of those, beings with whom
we are associated; these will only accord us their love, lend us their
esteem, aid us in our projects, labour to our peculiar happiness, but in
proportion as our own exertions shall be employed for their advantage.
It is this necessity, flowing naturally out of the relations of mankind,
that is called MORAL OBLIGATION. It is founded upon reflection, rested
upon those motives competent to determine sensible, intelligent beings,
to pursue that line of conduct, which in best calculated to achieve that
happiness towards which they are continually verging. These motives in
the human species, never can be other than the desire, always
regenerating, of procuring good and avoiding evil. Pleasure and pain,
the hope of happiness, or the fear of misery, are the only motives
suitable to have an efficacious influence on the volition of sensible
beings. To impel them towards this end, it is sufficient these motives
exist and be understood to have a knowledge of them, it is only
requisite to consider our own constitution: according to this, we shall
find we can only love those actions, approve that conduct, from whence
result actual and reciprocal utility; this constitutes VIRTUE. In
consequence, to conserve ourselves, to make our own happiness, to enjoy
security, we are compelled to follow the routine which conducts to this
end; to interest others in our own preservation, we are obliged to
display an interest in theirs; we must do nothing that can have a
tendency to interrupt that mutual co-operation which alone can lead to
the felicity desired. Such is the true establishment of moral

Whenever it is attempted to give any other basis to morality than the
nature of man, we shall always deceive ourselves; none other can have
the least stability; none can be more solid. Some authors, even of great
integrity, have thought, that to give ethics more respectability in the
eyes of man, to render more inviolable those duties which his nature
imposes on him, it was needful to clothe them with the authority of a
being whom they have made superior to nature--whom they have rendered
more powerful than necessity. Theology, seizing on these ideas, with its
own general want of just inference, has in consequence invaded morality;
has endeavoured to connect it with its various systems. By some it has
been imagined, this union would render virtue more sacred; that the fear
attached to invisible powers, who govern nature, would lend more weight,
would give more efficacy to its laws; in short, it has been believed
that man, persuaded, of the necessity of the moral system, seeing it
united with superstition, would contemplate superstition itself as
necessary to his happiness. Indeed it is the supposition that these
systems are essential to morality, that sustains the theological ideas--
that gives permanency to the greater part of all the creeds on earth; it
is erroneously imagined that without them man would neither understand
nor practise the duties he owes to others. This prejudice once
established, gives currency to the opinion that the vague ideas growing
out of these systems are in such a manner connected with morality, are
so linked with the actual welfare of society, that they cannot be
attacked without overturning the social duties that bind man to his
fellow. It is thought that the reciprocity of wants, the desire of
happiness, the evident interests of the community, would be mere
skeleton motives, devoid of all active energy, if they did not borrow
their substance from these various systems; if they were not invested
with the force derived from these numerous creeds; if they were not
clothed with the sanction of those ideas which have been made the
arbiters of all things.

Nothing, however, is more borne out by the evidence of experience,
nothing has more thoroughly impressed itself on the minds of reflecting
men, than the danger always arising from connecting truth with fiction;
the known with the unknown; the delirium of enthusiasm, with the
tranquillity of reason. Indeed what has resulted from the confused
alliance, from the marvellous speculations, which theology has made with
the most substantive realities? of mixing up its evanescent conjectures
with the confirmed aphorisms of time? The imagination bewildered, has
mistaken truth: superstition, by aid of its gratuitous suppositions, has
commanded nature--made reason bow, under its bulky yoke,--submitted man
to its own peculiar caprices; very frequently in the name of its gods
obliged him to stifle his nature, to piously violate the most sacred
duties of morality. When these superstitions have been desirous of
restraining mortals whom they had previously hood-winked, whom they had
rendered irrational, it gave them only ideal curbs, imaginary motives;
it substituted unsubstantial causes, for those which were substantive;
marvellous supernatural powers, for those which were natural, and well
understood; it supplied actual realities, by ideal romances and
visionary fables. By this inversion of principle, morality had no longer
any fixed basis: nature, reason, virtue, demonstration, were laid
prostrate before the most undefinable systems; were made to depend upon
oracular promulgations, which never spake distinctly; indeed, they
generally silenced reason, were often delivered by fanatics, which time
proved to be impostors; by those who, always adopting the appellation of
inspired beings, gave forth nothing but the wanderings of their own
delirium, or else were desirous of profiting by the errors which they
themselves instilled into mankind. Thus these men became deeply
interested in preaching abject submission, non-resistance, passive-
obedience, factitious virtues, frivolous ceremonies; in short, an
arbitrary morality, conformable to their own reigning passions;
frequently prejudicial to the rest of the human race.

It was thus, in making ethics flow from these various systems, they in
point of fact submitted it to the dominant passions of men, who had a
direct interest in moulding it to their own advantage. In being disposed
to found it upon undemonstrated theories, they founded it upon nothing;
in deriving it from imaginary sources, of which each individual forms to
himself his own notion, generally adverse to that of his neighbour; in
resting it upon obscure oracles, always delivered ambiguously,
frequently interpreted by men in the height of delirium, sometimes by
knaves, who had immediate interests to promote, they rendered it
unsteady--devoid of fixed principle,--too frequently left it to the
mercy of the most crafty of mankind. In proposing to man the changeable
creeds of the theologians for a model, they weakened the moral system of
human actions; frequently annihilated that which was furnished by
nature; often substituted in its place nothing but the most perplexing
incertitude; the most ruinous inconsistency. These systems, by the
qualities which are ascribed, to them, become inexplicable enigmas,
which each expounds as best suits himself; which each explains after his
own peculiar mode of thinking; in which the theologian ever finds that
which most harmonizes with his designs; which he can bend to his own
sinister purposes; which he offers as irrefragible evidence of the
rectitude of those actions, which at bottom have nothing but his own
advantage in view. If they exhort the gentle, indulgent, equitable man,
to be good, compassionate, benevolent; they equally excite the furious,
who is destitute of these qualities, to be intolerant, inhuman,
pitiless. The morality of these systems varies in each individual;
differs in one country from another; in fact, those actions which some
men look upon as sacred, which they have learned to consider
meritorious, make others shudder with horror--fill them with the most
painful recollections. Some see the Divinity filled with gentleness and
mercy; others behold him as full of wrath and fury, whose anger is to be
assuaged by the commission of the most shocking cruelties.

The morality of nature is clear, it is evident even to those who outrage
it. It is not thus with superstitious morality; this is as obscure as
the systems which prescribe it; or rather as fluctuating as the
passions, as changeable as the temperaments, of those who expound them;
if it was left to the theologians, ethics ought to be considered as the
science of all others the most problematical, the most unsteady, the
most difficult to bring to a point; it would require the most profound,
penetrating genius, the most active, vigorous mind, to discover the
principles of those duties man owes to himself, that he ought to
exercise towards others; this would render the sources of the moral
system attainable by a very small number of individuals; would
effectually lock them up in the cabinets of the metaphysicians; place
them under the treacherous guardianship of priests: to derive it from
those systems, which are in themselves undefinable, with the foundations
of which no one is actually acquainted, which each contemplates after
his own mode, modifies after his own peculiar ideas, is at once to
submit it to the caprice of every individual; it is completely to
acknowledge, we know not from whence it is derived, nor whence it has
its principles. Whatever may be the agent upon whom they make nature, or
the beings she contains, to depend; with whatever power they way suppose
him invested, it is very certain that man either does, or does not
exist; but as soon as his existence is acknowledged, as soon as it is
admitted to be what it actually is, when he shall be allowed to be a
sensible being living in society, in love with his own felicity, they
cannot without either annihilating him, or new modelling him, cause him
to exist otherwise than he does. Therefore, according to his actual
essence, agreeable to his absolute qualities, conformable to those
modifications which constitute him a being, of the human species,
morality becomes necessary to him, and the desire of conserving himself
will make him prefer virtue to vice, by the same necessity that he
prefers pleasure to pain. If, following up the doctrine of the
theologians, "that man hath occasion for supernatural grace to enable
him to do good," it must be very injurious to sound principles of
morality; because he will always wait for "the call from above," to
exercise that virtue, which is indispensable to his welfare. Tertullian,
nevertheless says expressly, "wherefore will ye trouble yourselves,
seeking after the law of God, whilst ye have that which is common to all
the world, and which is written on the tablets of nature?"

To say, that man cannot possess any moral sentiments without embracing
the discordant systems offered to his acceptance, is, in point of fact,
saying, that he cannot distinguish virtue from vice; it is to pretend
that without these systems, man would not feel the necessity of eating
to live, would not make the least distinction, would be absolutely
without choice in his food: it is to pretend, that unless he is fully
acquainted with the name, character, and qualities of the individual who
prepares a mess for him, he is not competent to discriminate whether
this mess be agreeable or disagreeable, good or bad. He who does not
feel himself satisfied what opinions to adopt, upon the foundation and
moral attributes of these systems, or who even formally denies them,
cannot at least doubt his own existence-his own functions--his own
qualities--his own mode of feeling--his own method of judging; neither
can he doubt the existence of other organized beings similar to himself;
in whom every thing discovers to him qualities analogous with his own;
of whom he can, by certain actions, either gain the love or incur the
hatred--secure the assistance or attract the ill-will--merit the esteem
or elicit the contempt; this knowledge is sufficient to enable him to
distinguish moral good and evil. In short, every man enjoying a well-
ordered organization, possessing the faculty of making true experience,
will only need to contemplate himself in order to discover what he owes
to others: his own nature will enlighten him much more effectually upon
his duties, than those systems in which he will consult either his own
unruly passions, those of some enthusiast, or those of an impostor. He
will allow, that to conserve himself, to secure his own permanent
welfare, he is frequently obliged to resist the blind impulse of his own
desires; that to conciliate the benevolence of others, he must act in a
mode conformable to their advantage; in reasoning thus, he will find out
what virtue actually is; if he puts his theory into practice, he will be
virtuous; he will be rewarded for his conduct by the harmony of his own
machine; by the legitimate esteem of himself, confirmed by the good
opinion of others, whose kindness he will have secured: if he acts in a
contrary mode, the trouble that will ensue, the disorder of his frame,
will quickly warn him that nature, thwarted by his actions, disapproves
his conduct, which is injurious to himself; to which he will be obliged
to add the condemnation of others, who will hate him. If the wanderings
of his mind prevent him from seeing the more immediate consequences of
his irregularities, neither will he perceive the distant rewards, the
remote punishments, which these systems hold forth; because they will
never speak to him so distinctly as his conscience, which will either
reward or punish him on the spot. Theology has never yet known how to
give a true definition of virtue: according to it, it is an effort of
grace, that disposes man to do that which is agreeable to the Divinity.
But what is this grace? How doth it act upon man? How shall we know what
is agreeable to a Divinity who is incomprehensible to all men?

Every thing that has been advanced evidently proves, that superstitious
morality is an infinite loser when compared with the morality of nature,
with which, indeed, it is found in perpetual contradiction. Nature
invites man to love himself, to preserve his existence, to incessantly
augment the sum of his happiness: superstition teaches him to be in love
only with formidable doctrines, calculated to generate his dislike; to
detest himself; to sacrifice to his idols his most pleasing sensations--
the most legitimate pleasures of his heart. Nature counsels man to
consult reason, to adopt it for his guide; superstition pourtrays this
reason as corrupted, as a treacherous director, that will infallibly
lead him astray. Nature warns him to enlighten his understanding, to
search after truth, to inform himself of his duties; superstition
enjoins him not to examine any thing, to remain in ignorance, to fear
truth; it persuades him there are no relations so important to his
interest, as those which subsist between himself and systems which he
can never understand. Nature tells the being who is in love with his
welfare, to moderate his passions, to resist them when they are found
destructive to himself, to counteract them by substantive motives
collected from experience; superstition desires a sensible being to have
no passions, to be an insensible mass, or else to combat his
propensities by motives borrowed from the imagination, which are as
variable as itself. Nature exhorts man to be sociable, to love his
fellow creatures, to be just, peaceable, indulgent, benevolent, to
permit his associates to freely enjoy their opinions; superstition
admonishes him to fly society, to detach himself from his fellow
mortals, to hate them when their imagination does not procure them
dreams conformable to his own; to break through the most sacred bonds,
to maintain his own opinions, or to frustrate those of his neighbour; to
torment, to persecute, to massacre, those who will not be mad after his
own peculiar manner. Nature exacts that man in society should cherish
glory, labour to render himself estimable, endeavour to establish an
imperishable name, to be active, courageous, industrious; superstition
tells him to be abject, pusillanimous, to live in obscurity, to occupy
himself with ceremonies; it says to him, be useless to thyself, and do
nothing for others. Nature proposes to the citizen, for his model, men
endued with honest, noble, energetic souls, who have usefully served
their fellow citizens; superstition recommends to his imitation mean,
cringing sycophants; extols pious enthusiasts, frantic penitents,
zealous fanatics, who for the most ridiculous opinions have disturbed
the tranquility of empires. Nature urges the husband to be tender, to
attach himself to the company of his mate, to cherish her in his bosom;
superstition makes a crime of his susceptibility, frequently obliges him
to look upon the conjugal bonds as a state of pollution, as the
offspring of imperfection. Nature calls to the father to nurture his
children, to cherish their affection, to make them useful members of
society; superstition advises him to rear them in fear of its systems,
to hoodwink them, to make them superstitious, which renders them
incapable of actually serving society, but extremely well calculated to
disturb its repose. Nature cries out to children to honor their parents,
to listen to their admonitions, to be the support of their old age;
superstition says, prefer the oracles; in support of the systems of
which you are an admitted member, trample father and mother under your
feet. Nature holds out to the philosopher that he should occupy himself
with useful objects, consecrate his cares to his country, make
advantageous discoveries, suitable to perfect the condition of mankind;
superstition saith, occupy thyself with useless reveries; employ thy
time in endless dispute; scatter about with a lavish hand the seeds of
discord, calculated to induce the carnage of thy fellows; obstinately
maintain opinions which thou thyself canst never understand. Nature
points out to the perverse man, that he should blush for his vices, that
he should feel sorrow for his disgraceful propensities, that he should
be ashamed of crime; it shews him, that his most secret irregularities
will necessarily have an influence over his own felicity; superstition
crieth to the most corrupt men, to the most flagitious mortals, "do not
irritate the gods, whom thou knowest not; but if, peradventure, against
their express command, thou dost deliver thyself up to crime, remember
that their mercy is infinite, that their compassion endureth for ever,
that therefore they may be easily appeased; thou hast nothing more to do
than to go into their temples, prostrate thyself before their altars,
humiliate thyself at the feet of their ministers; expiate thy
transgressions by largesses, by sacrifices, by offerings, by ceremonies,
and by prayer; these things done with a willing spirit, and a contrite
heart, will pacify thine own conscience, and cleanse thee in the eyes of

The rights of the citizen, or the man in society, are not less injured
by superstition, which is always in contradiction with sound politics.
Nature says distinctly to man, "thou art free; no power on earth can
justly deprive thee of thy rights, without thine own consent; and even
then, thou canst not legitimately make thyself a slave to thy like."
Superstition tells him he is a slave, condemned to groan all his life
under the iron rod of the representatives of its system. Nature commands
man to love the country which gave him birth, to serve it faithfully, to
blend his interests with it, to unite against all those who shall
attempt to injure it; superstition generally orders him to obey without
murmur the tyrants who oppress it, to serve them against its best
interests, to merit their favors by contributing to enslave their fellow
citizens to their ungovernable caprices: notwithstanding these general
orders, if the sovereign be not sufficiently devoted to the priest,
superstition quickly changes its language, it then calls upon subjects
to become rebels; it makes it a duty in them to resist their masters; it
cries out to them, "it is better to obey the gods than men." Nature
acquaints princes that they are men: that it is not by their capricious
whims that they can decide what is just; that it is not their wayward
humours that can mark what is unjust; that the public will maketh the
law. Superstition often insinuates to them that they are gods, to whom
nothing in this world ought to offer resistance; sometimes, indeed, it
transforms them into tyrants, whom enraged heaven is desirous should be
immolated to its wrath.

Superstition corrupts princes; these corrupt the law, which, like
themselves, becomes unjust; from thence institutions are perverted;
education only forms men who are worthless, blinded with prejudice,
smitten with vain objects, enamoured of wealth, devoted to pleasures,
which they must obtain by iniquitous means: thus nature, mistaken, is
disdained; virtue is only a shadow quickly sacrificed to the slightest
interest, while superstition, far from remedying these evils to which it
has given birth, does nothing more than render them still more
inveterate; or else engenders sterile regrets which it presently
effaces: thus, by its operation, man is obliged to yield to the force of
habit, to the general example, to the stream of those propensities, to
those causes of confusion, which conspire to hurry all his species, who
are not willing to renounce their own welfare, on to the commission of

Here is the mode by which superstition, united with politics, exert
their efforts to pervert, abuse, and poison the heart of man; the
generality of human institutions appear to have only for their object to
abase the human character, to render it more flagitiously wicked. Do not
then let us be at all astonished if morality is almost every where a
barren speculation, from which every one is obliged to deviate in
practice, if he will not risk the rendering himself unhappy. Men can
only have sound morals, when, renouncing his prejudices, he consults his
nature; but the continued impulse which his soul is every moment
receiving, on the part of more powerful motives, quickly compels him to
forget those ethical rules which nature points out to him. He is
continually floating between vice and virtue; we behold him unceasingly
in contradiction with himself; if, sometimes, he justly appreciates the
value of an honest, upright conduct, experience very soon shews him,
that this cannot lead him to any thing, which he has been taught to
desire, on the contrary, that it may be an invincible obstacle to the
happiness which his heart never ceases for an instant to search after.
In corrupt societies it is necessary to become corrupt, in order to
become happy.

Citizens, led astray at the same time both by their spiritual and
temporal guides, neither knew reason nor virtue. The slaves both of
their superstitious systems, and of men like themselves, they had all
the vices attached to slavery; kept in a perpetual state of infancy,
they had neither knowledge nor principles; those who preached virtue to
them, knew nothing of it themselves, and could not undeceive them with
respect to those baubles in which they had learned to make their
happiness consist. In vain they cried out to them to stifle those
passions which every thing conspired to unloose: in vain they made the
thunder of the gods roll to intimidate men whose tumultuous passions
rendered them deaf. It was soon discovered that the gods of the heavens
were much less feared than those of the earth; that the favour of the
latter procured a much more substantive welfare than the promises of the
former; that the riches of this world were more tangible than the
treasures reserved for favorites in the next; that it was much more
advantageous for men to conform themselves to the views of visible
powers than to those of powers who were not within the compass of their
visual faculties.

Thus society, corrupted by its priests, guided by their caprice, could
only bring forth a corrupt offspring. It gave birth to avaricious,
ambitious, jealous, dissolute citizens, who never saw any thing happy
but crime; who beheld meanness rewarded; incapacity honoured; wealth
adored; debauchery held in esteem; who almost every where found talents
discouraged; virtue neglected; truth proscribed; elevation of soul
crushed; justice trodden under foot; moderation languishing in misery;
liberality of mind obligated to groan under the ponderous bulk of
haughty injustice.

In the midst of this disorder, in this confusion of ideas, the precepts
of morality could only be vague declamations, incapable of convincing
any one. What barrier could superstition, with its imaginary motives,
oppose to the general corruption? When it spake reason, it could not be
heard; its gods themselves were not sufficiently powerful to resist the
torrent; its menaces failed of effect, on those hearts which every thing
hurried along to crime; its distant promises could not counterbalance
present advantages; its expiations, always ready to cleanse mortals from
their sins, emboldened them to persevere in their criminal pursuits; its
frivolous ceremonies calmed their consciences; its zeal, its disputes,
its caprices, only multiplied the evils, with which society found itself
afflicted; only gave them an inveteracy that rendered them more widely
mischievous; in short, in the most vitiated nations there was a
multitude of devotees, and but very few honest men. Great and small
listened to the doctrines of superstition, when they appeared favorable
to their dominant passions; when they were desirous to counteract them,
they listened no longer. Whenever superstition was conformable to
morality, it appeared incommodious, it was only followed when it either
combatted ethics or destroyed them. The despot himself found it
marvellous, when it assured him he was a god upon earth; that his
subjects were born to adore him alone, to administer to his phantasms.
He neglected it when it told him to be just; from thence he saw it was
in contradiction with itself, that it was useless to preach equity to a
deified mortal; besides, he was assured the gods would pardon every
thing, as soon as he should consent to recur to his priests, always
ready to reconcile them; the most wicked of their subjects reckoned in
the same manner upon their divine assistance: thus superstition, far
from restraining vice, assured its impunity; its menaces could not
destroy the effects which its unworthy flattery had produced in princes;
these same menaces could not annihilate the hope which its expiations
had furnished to all. Sovereigns, either inflated with pride, or always
confident of washing out their crimes by timely sacrifices, no longer
actually feared their gods; become gods themselves, they believed they
were permitted any thing against poor pitiful mortals, whom they no
longer considered under any other light than as playthings destined for
their earthly amusement.

If the nature of man was consulted in his politics which supernatural
ideas have so woefully depraved, it would completely rectify those false
notions that are entertained equally by sovereigns and by subjects; it
would contribute more amply than all the superstitions existing, to
render society happy, powerful, and flourishing under rational
authority. Nature would teach man, it is for the purpose of enjoying a
greater portion of happiness, that mortals live together in society;
that it is its own preservation, its own immediate felicity, that
society should have for its determinate, unchangeable object: that
without equity, a nation only resembles a congregation of enemies; that
his most cruel foe, is the man who deceives him in order that he may
enslave him; that the scourges most to be feared, are those priests who
corrupt his chiefs, who, in the name of the gods assure them of impunity
for their crimes: she would prove to him that association is a
misfortune under unjust, negligent, destructive governments.

This nature, interrogated by princes, would teach them they are men and
not gods; that their power is only derived from the consent of other
men; that they themselves are citizens, charged by other citizens, with
the care of watching over the safety of the whole; that the law ought to
be only the expression of the public will; that it is never permitted
them to counteract nature, or to thwart the invariable end of society.
This nature would make monarchs feel, that to be truly great, to be
decidedly powerful, they ought to command elevated, virtuous souls; not
minds degraded by despotism, vitiated by superstition. This nature would
teach sovereigns, that in order to be cherished by their subjects, they
ought to afford them succour; to cause them to enjoy those benefits
which their wants render imperative, that they should at all times
maintain them, inviolably, in the possession of their rights, of which
they are the appointed defenders--of which they are the constituted
guardians. This nature would prove to all those princes who should deign
to consult her, that it is only by good actions, by kindness, they can
either merit the love, or secure the attachment of the people; that
oppression does nothing more than raise up enemies against them; that
violence only makes their power unsteady; that force, however brutally
used, cannot confer on them any legitimate right; that beings
essentially in love with happiness, must sooner or later finish by
revolting against an authority that establishes itself by injustice;
that only makes itself felt by the outrage it commits: this is the
manner in which nature, the sovereign of all beings, in whose system all
are equal, would speak to one of these superb monarchs, whom flattery
has deified:--"Untoward, headstrong child! Pigmy, so proud of commanding
pigmies! Have they then assured thee that thou art a god? Have they
flattered thee that thou art something supernatural? Know there is
nothing superior to myself. Contemplate thine own insignificance,
acknowledge thine impotence against the slightest of my blows. I can
break thy sceptre; I can take away thine existence; I can level thy
throne with the dust; I can scatter thy people; I can destroy even the
earth which thou inhabitest; and yet thou hast the folly to believe thou
art a god. Be then, again, thyself; honestly avow that thou art a man,
formed to submit to my laws equally with the meanest of thy subjects.
Learn then, and never let it escape thy memory, that thou art the man of
thy people; the minister of thy nation; the interpreter of its laws; the
executer of its will; the fellow-citizen of those whom thou hast the
right of commanding, only because they consent to obey thee, in view of
that well being which thou promisest to procure for them. Reign, then,
on these conditions; fulfil thy sacred engagements. Be benevolent: above
all, equitable. If thou art willing to have thy power assured to thee,
never abuse it; let it be circumscribed by the immovable limits of
eternal justice. Be the father of thy people, and they will cherish thee
as thy children. But, if unmindful of thy duties, thou neglectest them;
if negligent of thine own interest, thou separatest them from those of
thy great family, if thou refusest to thy subjects that happiness which
thou owest them; if, heedless of thy own security, thou armest thyself
against them; thou shall be like all tyrants, the slave to gloomy care,
the bondman of alarm, the vassal of cruel suspicion: thou wilt become
the victim to thine own folly. Thy people, reduced to despair, shorn of
their felicity, will no longer acknowledge thy divine rights. In vain,
then, thou wouldst sue for aid to that superstition which hath deified
thee; it can avail nothing with thy people, whom sharp misery had
rendered deaf; heaven will abandon thee to the fury of those enemies to
which thy frenzy shall have given birth. Superstitious systems can
effect nothing against my irrevocable decrees, which will that man shall
ever irritate himself against the cause of his sorrows."

In short, every thing would make known to rational princes, that they
have no occasion for superstition to be faithfully obeyed on earth; that
all the powers contained in these systems will not sustain them when
they shall act the tyrant; that their true friends are those who
undeceive the people in their delusions; that their real enemies are
those who intoxicate them with flattery--who harden them in crime--who
make the road to heaven too easy for them--who feed them with fanciful,
chimerical doctrines, calculated to make them swerve from those cares,
to divert them from those sentiments, which they justly owe to their

It is then, I repeat it, only by re-conducting man to nature, that we
can procure him distinct notions, evident opinions, certain knowledge;
it is only by shewing him his true relations with his fellows, that we
can place him on the road to happiness. The human mind, blinded by
theology, has scarcely advanced a single step. Man's superstitious
systems have rendered him sceptical on the most demonstrable truths.
Superstition, while it pervaded every thing, while it had an universal
influence, served to corrupt the whole: philosophy, dragged in its
train, although it swelled its triumphant procession, was no longer any
thing but an imaginary science: it quitted the real world to plunge into
the sinuosities of the ideal, inconceivable labyrinths of metaphysics;
it neglected nature, who spontaneously opened her book to its
examination, to occupy itself with systems filled with spirits, with
invisible powers, which only served to render all questions more
obscure; which, the more they were probed, the more inexplicable they
became; which took delight in promulgating that which no one was
competent to understand. In all difficulties it introduced the Divinity;
from thence things only became more and more perplexed, until nothing
could be explained. Theological notions appear only to have been
invented to put man's reason to flight; to confound his judgment; to
deceive his mind; to overturn his clearest ideas in every science. In
the hands of the theologian, logic, or the art of reasoning, was nothing
more than an unintelligible jargon, calculated to support sophism, to
countenance falsehood, to attempt to prove the most palpable
contradictions. Morality, as we have seen, became wavering and
uncertain, because it was founded on ideal systems, never in harmony
with themselves, which, on the contrary, were continually contradicting
their own most positive assertions. Politics, as we have elsewhere said,
were cruelly perverted by the fallacious ideas given to sovereigns of
their actual rights. Jurisprudence was determinately submitted to the
caprices of superstition, which shackled labour, chained down human
industry, controuled activity, and fettered the commerce of nations.
Every thing, in short, was sacrificed to the immediate interests of
these theologians: in the place of every rational science, they taught
nothing but an obscure, quarrelsome metaphysics, which but too often
caused the blood of those unhappy people to flow copiously who were
incapable of understanding its hallucinations.

Born an enemy to experience, theology, that supernatural science, was an
invincible obstacle to the progress of the natural sciences, as it
almost always threw itself in their way. It was not permitted to
experimental philosophy, to natural history, to anatomy, to see any
thing but through the jaundiced eye of superstition. The most evident
facts were rejected with disdain, proscribed with horror, when ever they
could not be made to quadrate with the idle hypotheses of superstition.
Virgil, the Bishop of Saltzburg, was condemned by the church, for having
dared to maintain the existence of the antipodes; Gallileo suffered the
most cruel persecutions, for asserting that the sun did not make its
revolution round the earth. Descartes was obliged to die in a foreign
land. Priests, indeed, have a right to be the enemies to the sciences;
the progress of reason must, sooner or later, annihilate superstitious
ideas. Nothing that is founded upon nature, that is bottomed upon truth,
can ever be lost; while the systems of imaginations, the creeds of
imposture, must be overturned. Theology unceasingly opposed itself to
the happiness of nations--to the progress of the human mind--to useful
researches--to the freedom of thought; it kept man in ignorance; all his
steps being guided by it, he was no more than a tissue of errors.
Indeed, is it resolving a question in natural philosophy, to say that an
effect which excites our surprise, that an unusual phenomenon, that a
volcano, a deluge, a hurricane, a comet, &c. are either signs of divine
wrath, or works contrary to the laws of nature? In persuading nations,
as it has done, that the calamities, whether physical or moral, which
they experience, are the effects of the divine anger, or chastisements
which his power inflicts on them, has it not, in fact, prevented them
from seeking after remedies for these evils? Would it not have been more
useful to have studied the nature of things, to have sought in nature
herself, or in human industry, for succours against those sorrows with
which mortals are afflicted, than to attribute the evil which man
experiences to an unknown power, against whose will it cannot be
supposed there exists any relief? The study of nature, the search after
truth, elevates the soul, expands the genius, is calculated to render
man active, to make him courageous. Theological notions appear to have
been made to debase him, to contract his mind, to plunge him into
despondence. In the place of attributing to the divine vengeance those
wars, those famines, those sterilities, those contagions, that multitude
of calamities, which desolate the earth; would it not have been more
useful, more consistent with truth, to have shewn man that these evils
were to be ascribed to his own folly, or rather to the unruly passions,
to the want of energy, to the tyranny of some princes, who sacrifice
nations to their frightful delirium? The irrational people, instead of
amusing themselves with expiations for their pretended crimes, seeking
to render themselves acceptable to imaginary powers; should they not
rather have sought in a more healthy administration, the true means of
avoiding those scourges, to which they were the victims? Natural evils
demand natural remedies: ought not experience then long since to have
convinced mortals of the inefficacy of supernatural remedies, of
expiatory sacrifices, of fastings, of processions, &c. which almost all
the people of the earth have vainly opposed to the disasters which they

Let us then conclude, that theology with its notions, far from being
useful to the human species, is the true source of all those sorrows
which afflict the earth of all those errors by which man is blinded; of
those prejudices which benumb mankind; of that ignorance which renders
him credulous; of those vices which torment him; of those governments
which oppress him. Let us be fully persuaded that those theological,
supernatural ideas, with which man is inspired from his infancy, are the
actual causes of his habitual folly; are the springs of his
superstitious quarrels; of his sacred dissensions; of his inhuman
persecutions. Let us, at length, acknowledge, that they are these fatal
ideas which have obscured morality; corrupted polities; retarded the
progress of the sciences; annihilated happiness; banished peace from the
bosom of mankind, Then let it be no longer dissimulated, that all those
calamities, for which man turns his eyes towards heaven, bathed in
tears, have their spring in the imaginary systems he has adopted: let
him, therefore, cease to expect relief from them; let him seek in
nature, let him search in his own energies, those resources, which
superstition, deaf to his cries, will never procure for him. Let him
consult the legitimate desires of his heart, and he will find that which
he oweth to himself, also that which he oweth to others; let him examine
his own essence, let him dive into the aim of society, from thence he
will no longer be a slave; let him consult experience, he will find
truth, and he will discover, that _error can never possible render him


_Man can form no Conclusion from the Ideas which are offered him of the
Divinity.--Of their want of just Inference.--Of the Inutility of his

It has been already stated, that ideas to be useful, must be founded
upon truth; that experience must at all times demonstrate their justice:
if, therefore, as we have proved, the erroneous ideas which man has in
almost all ages formed to himself of the Divinity, far from being of
utility, are prejudicial to morality, to politics, to the happiness of
society, to the welfare of the individuals who compose it, in short, to
the progress of the human understanding; reason, and our interest, ought
to make us feel the necessity of banishing from our mind these illusive,
futile opinions, which can never do more than confound it--which can
only disturb the tranquillity of our hearts. In vain should we flatter
ourselves with arriving at the correction of theological notions;
erroneous in their principles, they are not susceptible of reform. Under
whatever shape an error presents itself, as soon as man shall attach an
undue importance to it, it will, sooner or later, finish by producing
consequences dangerous in proportion to their extent. Besides, the
inutility of those researches, which in all ages have been made after
the true nature of the Divinity, the notions that have hitherto been
entertained, have done little more than throw it into greater obscurity,
even to those who have most profoundly meditated on the subject; then,
ought not this very inutility to convince us that this subject is not
within the reach of our capacity that this being will not be better
known to us, or by our descendants, than it hath been to our ancestors,
either the most savage or the most ignorant? The object, which of all
others man has at all times reasoned upon the most, written upon the
most, nevertheless remains the least known; far from progressing in his
research, time, with the aid of theological ideas, has only rendered it
more impossible to be conceived. If the Divinity be such as dreaming
theology depicts, he must himself be a Divinity who is competent to form
an idea of him. We know little of man, we hardly know ourselves, or our
own faculties, yet we are disposed to reason upon a being inaccessible
to our senses. Let us, then, travel in peace over the line described for
us by nature, without having a wish to diverge from it, to hunt after
vague systems; let us occupy ourselves with our true happiness; let us
profit of the benefits spread before us; let us labour to multiply them,
by diminishing the number of our errors; let us quietly submit to those
evils we cannot avoid, and not augment them by filling our mind with
prejudices calculated to lead us astray. When we shall give it serious
reflection, every thing will clearly prove that the pretended science of
theology is, in truth, nothing but presumptuous ignorance, masked under
pompous, unintelligible words. In short, let us terminate unfruitful
researches; be content at least to acknowledge our invincible ignorance;
it will clearly be more substantively advantageous, than an arrogant
science, which has hitherto done little more than sow discord on the
earth--affliction in the heart of man.

In supposing a sovereign intelligence who governs the world; in
supposing a Divinity who exacts from his creatures that they should have
a knowledge of him, that they should understand his attributes, his
wisdom, his power; who is desirous they should render him homage; it
must be allowed, that no man on earth in this respect completely fulfils
the views of providence. Indeed, nothing is more demonstrable than the
impossibility in which the theologians find themselves, to form to their
mind any idea whatever of the Divinity. Procopius, the first bishop of
the Goths, says in the most solemn manner: "I esteem it a very foolish
temerity to be disposed to penetrate into the knowledge of the nature of
God;" and further on he acknowledges, "that he has nothing more to say
of him, except that he is perfectly good. He who knoweth more, whether
he be ecclesiastic or layman, has only to tell it." The weakness, the
obscurity of the proofs offered, of the systems attributed to him, the
manifest contradictions into which they fall, the sophisms, the begging
of the question, which are employed, evidently prove they are themselves
in the greatest incertitude upon the nature of that being with whom it
is their profession to occupy their thoughts: even the author of _A New
View of Society_ acknowledges, "that up to this moment it is, not
possible yet to say which is right or which is wrong: that had any one
of the various opposing systems which until this day have governed the
world, and disunited man from man, been true, without any mixture of
error; that system, very speedily after its public promulgation, would
have pervaded society, and compelled all men to have acknowledged its
truth." But granting that they have a knowledge of this being, that his
essence, his attributes, his systems, were so fully demonstrated to
them, as no longer to leave any doubt in their mind, do the rest of the
human race enjoy the same advantages? Are they, in fact, in a condition
to be charged with this knowledge? Ingenuously, how many persons are to
be found in the world, who have the leisure, the capacity, the
penetration, necessary to understand what is meant to be designated
under the name of an immaterial being--of a pure spirit, who moveth
matter without being himself matter; who is the motive of all the powers
of nature, without being contained in nature--without being able to
touch it? Are there, in the most religious societies, many persons who
are competent to follow their spiritual guides, in the subtle proofs
which they adduce in evidence of their creeds, upon which they bottom
their systems of theology?

Without question very few men are capable of profound, connected
meditation; the exercise of intense thought is, for the greater number,
a species of labour as painful as it is unusual. The people, obliged to
toil hard, in order to obtain subsistence, are commonly incapable of
reflection; nobles, men of the world, women, young people, occupied with
their own immediate affairs, taken up with gratifying their passions,
employed in procuring themselves pleasure, as rarely think deeply as the
uninformed. There are not, perhaps, two men in an hundred thousand, who
have seriously asked themselves the question, _What it is they
understand by the word God?_ Whilst it is extremely rare to find persons
to whom the nature of God is a problem. Nevertheless, as we have said,
conviction supposes that evidence alone has banished doubt from the
mind. Where, then, are the web who are convinced of the rectitude of
these systems? Who are those in whom we shall find the complete
certitude of these truths, so important to all? Who are the persons, who
have given themselves an accurate account of the ideas they have formed
upon the Divinity, upon his attributes, upon his essence? Alas!
throughout the whole world, are only to be seen some speculators, who,
by dint of occupying themselves with the idea, have, with great fatuity,
believed they have discovered something decisive in the confused,
unconnected wanderings of their own imagination; they have, in
consequence, endeavoured to form a whole, which, chimerical as it is,
they have accustomed themselves to consider as actually existing: by
force of musing upon it, they have sometimes persuaded themselves they,
saw it distinctly; these have not unfrequently succeeded in making
others believe, their reveries, although they may not have mused upon it
quite so much as themselves.

It is seldom more than hearsay, that the mass of the people adopt either
the systems of their fathers, or of their priests: authority,
confidence, submission, habit, take place of conviction--supersede
proof; they prostrate themselves before idols, lend themselves to
different creeds, because their ancestors have taught them to fall down,
and worship; but never do they inquire wherefore they bend the knee: it
is only because, in times far distant, their legislators, their guides,
have imposed it upon them as a duty; these have said, "adore and believe
those gods, whom ye cannot comprehend; yield yourselves in this instance
to our profound wisdom; we know more than ye do respecting the
Divinity." But wherefore, it might be inquired, should I take this
system upon your authority? It is, they will reply, because the gods
will have it thus; because they will punish you, if you dare to resist.
But are not these gods the thing in question? Nevertheless, man has
always been satisfied with this circle of errors; the idleness of his
mind made him find it most easy to yield to the judgment of others. All
superstitions are uniformly founded upon error, established by
authority; equally forbid examination; are equally indisposed to permit
that man should reason upon them; it is power that wills he should
unconditionally accredit them: they are rested solely upon the influence
of some few men, who pretend to a knowledge of things, which they admit
are incomprehensible for all their species; who, at the same time,
affirm they are sent as missionaries to announce them to the inhabitants
of the earth: these inconceivable systems, formed in the brain of some
enthusiastic persons, have most unquestionably occasion for men to
expound them to their fellows. Man is generally credulous as a child
upon those objects which relate to superstition; he is told he must
believe them; as he generally understands nothing of the matter, he
imagines he runs no risk in joining sentiments with his priest, whom he
supposes has been competent to discover what he himself is not able to
comprehend. The most rational people argue thus: "What shall I do? What
interest can so many persons have to deceive?" But, seriously, does this
prove that they do not deceive? They may do it from two motives: either
because they are themselves deceived, or because they have a great
interest in deceiving. By the confession of the theologians themselves,
man is, for the greater part, without _religion_: he has only
_superstition_. Superstition, according to them, "is a worship of the
Divinity, either badly understood or irrational," or else, "worship
rendered to a false Divinity." But where are the people or the clergy
who will allow, either that their Divinity is false, or their worship
irrational? How shall it be decided who is right, or who is wrong? It is
evident that in this affair great numbers must be wrong. Indeed,
Buddaeus, in his _Treatise on Atheism_, tells us, "in order that a
religion may be true, not only the object of the worship must be true,
but we must also have a just idea of it. He, then, who adoreth God
without knowing him, adoreth him in a perverse and corrupt manner, and
is generally guilty of superstition." This granted, would it not be fair
to demand of the theologians, if they themselves can boast of having a
_just idea_ or real knowledge of the Divinity?

Admit for a moment they have, would it not then be evident, that it is
for the priest, for the inspired, for the metaphysician, that this idea,
which is said to be so necessary for the whole human race, is
exclusively reserved? If we examine, however, we shall not find any
harmony among the theological notions of these various inspired men, or
of that hierarchy which is scattered over the earth: even those who make
a profession of the same system, are not in unison upon the leading
points. Are they ever contented with the proofs offered by their
colleagues? Do they unanimously subscribe to each other's ideas? Are
they agreed upon the conduct to be adopted; upon the manner of
explaining their texts; upon the interpretation of the various oracles?
Does there exist one country upon the whole earth, where the science of
theology is actually perfectioned?--where the ideas of the Divinity are
rendered so clear, as not to admit of cavil? Has this science obtained
any of that steadiness, any of that consistency, any of that uniformity,
which is found attached to other branches of human knowledge; even to
the most futile arts, or to those trades which are most despised? Has
the multitude of subtle distinctions, with which theology in some
countries is filled throughout; have the words spirit, immateriality,
incorporeity, predestination, grace, with other ingenious inventions,
imagined by sublime thinkers, who during so many ages have succeeded
each other, actually had any other effect than to perplex things; to
render the whole obscure; decidedly unintelligible? Alas! do, they not
offer practical demonstration, that the science held forth as the most
necessary to man, has not, hitherto, been able to acquire the least
degree of stability; has remained in the most determined state of
indecision; has entirely failed in obtaining solidity? For thousands of
years the most idle dreamers have been relieving each other, meditating
on systems, diving into concealed ways, inventing hypothesis suitable to
develope this important enigma. Their slender success has not at all
discouraged theological vanity; the priests have always spoken of it as
of a thing with which they were most intimately acquainted; they have
disputed with all the pertinancy of demonstrated argument; they have
destroyed each other with the most savage barbarity; yet,
notwithstanding, to this moment, this sublime science remains entirely
unauthenticated; almost unexamined. Indeed, if things were coolly
contemplated, it would be obvious that these theories are not formed for
the generality of mankind, who for the most part are utterly incompetent
to comprehend the aerial subtilities upon which they rest. Who is the
man, that understandeth any thing of the fundamental principles of these
systems? Whose capacity embraces spirituality, immateriality,
incorporeity, or the mysteries of which he is every day informed? Are
there many persons who can boast of perfectly understanding the state of
the question, in those theological disputations, which have frequently
had the potency to disturb the repose of mankind? Nevertheless, even
women believe themselves obliged to take part in the quarrels excited by
these idle speculators, who are of less actual utility, to society, than
the meanest artizan.

Man would, perhaps, have been too happy, if confining himself to those
visible objects which interest him, he had employed half that energy
which he has wasted in researches after incomprehensible systems, upon
perfectioning the real sciences; in giving consistency to his laws; in
establishing his morals upon solid foundations; in spreading a wholesome
education among his fellows. He would, unquestionably, have been much
wiser, more fortunate, if he had agreed to let his idle, unemployed
guides quarrel among themselves unheeded; if he had permitted them to
fathom those depths calculated to astound the mind, to amaze the
intellect, without intermeddling with their irrational disputes. But it
is the essence of ignorance, to attach great importance to every thing
which it doth not understand. Human vanity makes the mind bear up
against difficulties. The more an object eludes our inquiry, the more
efforts we make to compass it; because from thence our pride is spurred
on, our curiosity is set afloat, our passions are irritated, and it
assumes the character of being highly interesting to us. On the other
hand, the more continued, the more laborious our researches have been,
the more importance we attach to either our real or our pretended
discoveries; the more we are desirous not to have wasted our time;
besides, we are always ready warmly to defend the soundness of our own
judgment. Do not let us then be surprised at the interest that ignorant
persons have at all times taken in the discoveries of their priests; nor
at the obstinate pertinacity which they have ever manifested in their
disputes. Indeed, in combating for his own peculiar system, each only
fought for the interests of his own vanity, which of all human passions
is the most quickly alarmed, the most calculated to lead man on to the
commission of great follies.

Theology is truly the vessel of the Danaides. By dint of contradictory
qualities, by means of bold assertions, it has so shackled its own
systems as to render it impossible they should act. Indeed, when even we
should suppose the existence of these theological systems, the reality
of codes so discordant with each other and with themselves, we can
conclude nothing from them to authorize the conduct, or sanction the
mode of worship which they prescribe. If their gods are infinitely good,
wherefore should we dread them? If they are infinitely wise, what reason
have we to disturb ourselves with our condition? If they are omniscient,
wherefore inform them of our wants, why fatigue them with our requests?
If they are omnipresent, of what use can it be to erect temples to them?
If they are lords of all, why make sacrifices to them; why bring them
offerings of what already belongs to them? If they are just, upon what
foundation believe that they will punish those creatures whom they have
filled with imbecility? If their grace works every thing in man, what
reason can there be why he should be rewarded? If they are omnipotent,
how can they be offended; how can we resist them? If they are rational,
how can the enrage themselves against blind mortals, to whom they have
left the liberty of acting irrationally? If they are immutable, by what
right shall we pretend to make them change their decrees? If they are
inconceivable, wherefore should we occupy ourselves with them? If the
knowledge of these systems be the most necessary thing, wherefore are
they not more evident, more consistent, more manifest?

This granted, he who can undeceive himself on the afflicting notions of
these theories, hath this advantage over the credulous, trembling,
superstitious mortal--that he establishes in his heart a momentary
tranquility, which, at least, rendereth him happy in this life. If the
study of nature hath banished from his mind, those chimeras with which
the superstitions man is infested, he, at least, enjoys a security of
which this sees himself deprived. In consulting this nature, his fears
are dissipated, his opinions, whether true or false, acquire a
steadiness of character; a calm succeeds the storm, which panic terror,
the result of wavering notions, excite in the hearts of all men who
occupy themselves with these systems. If the human soul, cheered by
philosophy, had the boldness to consider things coolly; it would no
longer behold the universe submitted to implacable systems, under which
man is continually trembling. If he was rational, he would perceive that
in committing evil he did not disturb nature; that he either injureth
himself alone, or injures other beings capable of feeling the effects of
his conduct, from thence he would know the line of his duties; he would
prefer virtue to vice, for his own permanent repose: he would, for his
own satisfaction, for his own felicity in this world, find himself
deeply interested in the practice of moral goodness; in rendering virtue
habitual; in making it dear to the feeling of his heart: his own
immediate welfare would be concerned in avoiding vice, in detesting
crime, during the short season of his abode among intelligent, sensible
beings, from whom he expects his happiness. By attaching himself to
these rules, he would live contented with his own conduct; he would be
cherished by those who are capable of feeling the influence of his
actions; he would expect without inquietude the term when his existence
should have a period; he would have no reason to dread the existence
which _might_ follow the one he at present enjoys: he would not fear to
be deceived in his reasonings. Guided by demonstration, led gently along
by honesty, he would perceive, that he could have nothing to dread from
a beneficent Divinity, who would not punish him for those involuntary
errors which depend upon the organization, which without his own consent
he has received.

Such a man so conducting himself, would have nothing to apprehend,
whether at the moment of his death, he falls asleep for ever; or whether
that sleep is only a prelude to another existence, in which he shall
find himself in the presence of his God. Addressing himself to the
Divinity, he might with confidence say,

"O God! Father, who hath rendered thyself invisible to thy child!
Inconceivable, hidden Author of all, whom I could not discover! Pardon
me, if my limited understanding hath not been able to know thee, in a
nature, where every thing hath appeared to me to be necessary! Excuse
me, if my sensible heart hath not discerned thine august traits among
those numerous systems which superstitious mortals tremblingly adore:
if, in that assemblage of irreconcileable qualities, with which the
imagination hath clothed thee, I could only see a phantom. How could my
coarse eyes perceive thee in nature, in which all my senses have never
been able to bring me acquainted but with material beings, with,
perishable forms? Could I, by the aid of these senses, discover thy
spiritual essence, of which no one could furnish me any idea? Could my
feeble brain, obliged to form its judgments after its own capacity,
discern thy plans, measure thy wisdom, conceive thine intelligence,
whilst the universe presented to my view a continued mixture of order
and confusion--of good and evil--of formation and destruction? Have I
been able to render homage to the justice of thy priests, whilst I so
frequently beheld crime triumphant, virtue in tears? Could I possibly
acknowledge the voice of a being filled with wisdom, in those ambiguous,
puerile, contradictory oracles, published in thy name in the different
countries of the earth I have quitted? If I have not known thy peculiar
existence, it is because I have not known either what thou couldst be,
where thou couldst be placed, or the qualities which could be assigned
thee. My ignorance is excusable, because it was invincible: my mind
could not bend itself under the authority of men, who acknowledged they
were as little enlightened upon thine essence as myself; who were for
ever disputing among themselves; who were in harmony only in imperiously
crying out to me, to sacrifice to them that reason which thou hadst
given to me; But, oh God! If thou cherishest thy creatures, I also, like
thee, have cherished them; I have endeavoured to render them happy, in
the sphere in which I have lived. If thou art the author of reason, I
have always listened to it--have ever endeavoured to follow it; if
virtue pleaseth thee, my heart hath always honoured it; I have never
willingly outraged it: when my powers have permitted me, I have myself
practised it; I was an affectionate husband, a tender father, a sincere
friend, a faithful subject, a zealous citizen; I have held out
consolation to the afflicted; and if the foibles of my nature have been
either injurious to myself or incommodious to others, I have not at
least made the unfortunate groan under the weight of my injustice. I
have not devoured the substance of the poor--I have not seen without
pity the widow's tears; I have not heard without commiseration the cries
of the orphan. If thou didst render man sociable, if thou was disposed
that society should subsist, if thou wast desirous the community might
be happy, I have been the enemy to all who oppressed him, the decided
foe to all those who deceived him, in order that they might advantage
themselves of his misfortunes.

"If I have not thought properly of thee, it is because my understanding
could not conceive thee; if I have spoken ill of thy systems, it is
because my heart, partaking too much of human nature, revolted against
the odious portrait under which they depicted thee. My wanderings have
been the effect of the temperament which thou hast given me; of the
circumstances in which, without my consent, thou hast placed me; of
those ideas, which in despite of me, have entered into my mind. As thou
art good, as thou art just, (as we are assured thou art) thou wilt not
punish me for the wanderings of mine imagination; for faults caused by
my passions, which are the necessary consequence of the organization
which I have received from thee. Thus I cannot doubt thy justice, I
cannot dread the condition which thou preparest for me. Thy goodness
cannot have permitted that I should incur punishment for inevitable
errors. Thou wouldst rather prevent my being born, than have called me
into the rank of intelligent beings, there to enjoy the fatal liberty of
rendering myself eternally unhappy."

It is thus that a disciple of nature, who, transported all at once into
the regions of space, should find himself in the presence of his God,
would be able to speak, although he should not have been in a condition
to lend himself to all the abstract systems of theology which appear to
have been invented for no other purpose than to overturn in his mind all
natural ideas. This illusory science seems bent an forming its systems
in a manner the most contradictory to human reason; notwithstanding we
are obliged to judge in this world according to its dictates; if,
however, in the succeeding world, there is nothing conformable to this,
what can be of more inutility, than to think of it or reason upon it?
Besides, wherefore should we leave it to the judgment of men, who are,
themselves, only enabled to act after our manner?

Without a very marked derangement of our organs, our sentiments hardly
ever vary upon those objects which either our senses experience, or
which reason has clearly demonstrated, In whatever circumstances we are
found, we have no doubt either upon the whiteness of snow, the light of
day, or the utility of virtue. It is not so with those objects which
depend solely upon our imagination--which are not proved to us by the
constant evidence of our senses; we judge of them variously, according
to the dispositions in which we find ourselves. These dispositions
fluctuate by reason of the involuntary impulse which our organs every
instant receive, on the part of an infinity of causes, either exterior
to ourselves, or else contained within our own frame. These organs are,
without our knowledge, perpetually modified, either relaxed or braced by
the density, more or less, of the atmosphere; by heat and by cold; by
dryness and by humidity; by health and by sickness; by the heat of the
blood; by the abundance of bile; by the state of the nervous system, &c.
These various causes have necessarily an influence upon the momentary
ideas, upon the instantaneous thoughts, upon the fleeting opinions of
man, He is, consequently, obliged to see under a great variety of hues,
those objects which his imagination presents to him; without it all
times having the capacity to correct them by experience: to compare them
by memory. This, without doubt, is the reason why man is continually
obliged to view his gods, to contemplate his superstitious systems,
under such a diversity of aspects, in different periods of his
existence. In the moment, when his fibres find themselves disposed to he
tremulous, he will be cowardly, pusillanimous; he will think of these
systems only with fear and trembling. In the moment, when these same
fibres shall have more tension, he will possess more firmness, he will
then view these systems with greater coolness. The theologian will call
his pusillanimity, "inward feeling;" "warning from heaven;" "secret
inspiration;" but he who knoweth man, will say that this is nothing more
than a mechanical motion, produced by a physical or natural cause.
Indeed, it is by a pure physical mechanism, that we can explain all the
revolutions that take place in the system, frequently from one minute to
another; all the fluctuations in the opinions of mankind; all the
variations of his judgment: in consequence of which we sometimes see him
reasoning justly, sometimes in the most irrational manner.

This is the mode by which, without recurring to grace, to inspirations,
to visions, to supernatural notions, we can render ourselves an account
of that uncertain, that wavering state into which we sometimes behold
persons fall, when there is a question respecting their superstition,
who are otherwise extremely enlightened. Frequently, in despite of all
reasoning, momentary dispositions re-conduct them to the prejudices of
their infancy, upon which on other occasions they appear to be entirely
undeceived. These changes are very apparent, especially under
infirmities, in sickness, or at approach of death. The barometer of the
understanding is then frequently obliged to fall. Those chimeras which
he despised, or which in a state of health, he set down at their true
value, are then realized. He trembles, because his machine is enfeebled;
he is irrational because his brain is incapable of fulfilling its
functions with exactitude. It is evident these are the actual causes of
those changes which the priests well know how to make use of against
what they call incredulity; from which they draw proofs of the reality
of their sublimated opinions. Those conversions, or those alterations,
which take place, in the ideas of man, have always their origin in some
derangement of his machine; brought on either by chagrin or by some
other natural or known cause.

Submitted to the continual influence of physical causes, our systems
invariably follow the variations of the body; we reason well when the
body is healthy--when it is soundly constituted; we reason badly when
the corporeal faculties are deranged; from thence our ideas become
disconnected, we are no longer equal to the task of associating them
with precision; we are incapable of finding principles, or to draw from
them just inferences; the brain, in fact, is shaken; we no longer
contemplate any thing under its actual point of view. It is a man of
this kind, who does not see things in frosty weather, under the same
traits as when the season is cloudy, or when it is rainy; he does not
view them in the same manner in sorrow as in gaiety; when in company as
when alone. Good sense suggests to us, that it is when the body is
sound, when the mind is undisturbed by any mist, that we can reason with
accuracy; this state can furnish us with a general standard, calculated
to regulate our judgment; even to rectify our ideas, when unexpected
causes shall make them waver.

If the opinions even of the same individual, are fluctuating, subject to
vaccillate, how many changes must they experience in the various beings
who compose the human race? If there do not, perhaps, exist two persons
who see a physical object under the same exact form or colour, what much
greater variety must they not have in their mode of contemplating those
things which have existence only in their imagination? What an infinity
of combinations, what a multitude of ideas, must not minds essentially
different, form to themselves when they endeavour to compose an ideal
being, which each moment of their existence must present to them under a
different aspect? It would, then, be a most irrational enterprise, to
attempt to prescribe to man what he ought to think of superstition,
which is entirely under the cognizance of his imagination; for the
admeasurement of which, as we have very frequently repeated, mortals
will never have any common standard. To oppugn the superstitious
opinions of man, is to commence hostilities with his imagination--to
attack his fancy--to be at war with his organization--to enter the lists
with his habits, which are of themselves sufficient to identify with his
existence, the most absurd, the most unfounded ideas. The more
imagination man has, the greater enthusiast he will be in matters of
superstition; reason will have the less ability to undeceive him in his
chimeras. In proportion as his fancy is powerful, these chimeras
themselves will become food necessary to its ardency. In fine, to battle
with the superstitious notions of man, is to combat the passions he
usually indulges for the marvellous; it is to assail him on that side
where he is least vulnerable; to force him in that position where he
unites all his strength--where he keeps the most vigilant guard. In
despite of reason, those persons who have a lively imagination, are
perpetually re-conducted to those chimeras which habit renders dear to
them, even when they are found troublesome; although they should prove
fatal. Thus a tender soul hath occasion for a God that loveth him; the
happy enthusiast needeth a God who rewardeth him; the unfortunate
visionary wants a God who taketh part in his sorrows; the melancholy
devotee requireth a God who chastiseth him, who maintaineth him in that
trouble which has become necessary to his diseased organization; the
frantic penitent exacteth a God, who imposes upon him an obligation to
be inhuman towards himself; whilst the furious fanatic would believe
himself unhappy, if he was deprived of a God who commanded him to make
others experience the effect of his inflamed humours, of his unruly

He is, without question, a less dangerous enthusiast who feeds himself
with agreeable illusions, than he whose soul is tormented with odious
spectres. If a placid, tender soul, does not commit ravages in society,
a mind agitated by incommodious passions, cannot fall to become, sooner
or later, troublesome to his fellow creatures. The God of a Socrates, or
a Fenelon, may be suitable to souls as gentle as theirs; but he cannot
be that of a whole nation, in which it is extremely rare men of their
temper are found: if honest men only view their gods as fitted with
benefits; vicious, restless, inflexible individuals, will give them
their own peculiar character, from thence will authorize themselves to
indulge, a free course to their passions. Each will view his deities
with eyes only open to his own reigning prejudice; the number of those
who will paint them as afflicting will always be greater, much more to
be feared, than those who shall delineate them under seducing colors:
for one mortal that those ideas will render happy, there will be
thousands who will be made miserable; they will, sooner or later, become
an inexhaustible source of contention; a never failing spring of
extravagant folly; they will disturb the mind of the ignorant, over whom
impostors will always gain ascendancy--over whom fanatics will ever have
an influence: they will frighten the cowardly, terrify the
pussillanimous, whose imbecility will incline them to perfidy, whose
weakness will render them cruel; they will cause the most upright to
tremble, who, even while practising virtue, will fear incurring the
divine displeasure; but they will not arrest the progress of the wicked,
who will easily cast them aside, that they may the more commodiously
deliver themselves up to crime; or who will even take advantage of these
principles, to justify their transgression. In short, in the hands of
tyrants, these systems will only serve to crush the liberty of the
people; will be the pretext for violating, with impunity, all equitable
rights. In the hands of priests they will become talismans, suitable to
intoxicate the mind; calculated to hoodwink the people; competent to
subjugate equally the sovereign as the subject; in the hands of the
multitude, they will be a two-edged sword, with which they will inflict,
at the same moment, the most dreadful wounds on themselves--the most
serious injuries on their associates.

On the other hand, these theological systems, as we have seen, being
only an heap of contradictions, which represent the Divinity under the
most incompatible characters, seem to doubt his wisdom, when they invite
mortals to address their prayers to him, for the gratification of their
desires; to pray to him to grant that which he has not thought it proper
to accord to them. Is it not, in other words, to accuse him with
neglecting his creatures? Is it not to ask him to alter the eternal
decrees of his justice; to change the invariable laws which he hath
himself determined? Is it not to say to him, "O, my God! I acknowledge
thy wisdom, thine omniscience, thine infinite goodness; nevertheless,
thou forgettest thy servant; thou losest sight of thy creature; thou art
ignorant, or thou feignest ignorance, of that which he wanteth: dost
thou not see that I suffer from the marvellous arrangement, which thy
wise laws have made in the universe? Nature, against thy commands,
actually renders my existence painful: change then, I beseech thee, the
essence which thy will has given to all beings. Grant that the elements,
at this moment, lose in my favor their distinguishing properties; so
order it, that heavy bodies shall not fall, that fire shall not burn,
that the brittle frame which I have received at thine hands, shall not
suffer those shocks which it every instant experiences. Rectify, I pray
thee, for my happiness, the plan which thine infinite prudence hath
marked out from all eternity." Such is very nearly the euchology which
man adopts; such are the discordant, absurd requests which he
continually puts up to the Divinity, whose wisdom he extols; whose
intelligence he holds forth to admiration; whose providence he
eulogizes; whose equity he applauds; whilst he is hardly ever contented
with the effects of the divine perfections.

Man is not more consequent in those thanksgivings which he believes
himself obliged to offer to the throne of grace. Is it not just, he
exclaims, to thank the Divinity for his kindness? Would it not be the
height of ingratitude to refuse our homage to the Author of our
existence; to withhold our acknowledgements from the Giver of every
thing that contributes to render it agreeable? But does he not
frequently offer up his thanksgivings for actions that overwhelm his
neighbour with misery? Does not the husbandman on the hill, return
thanks for the rain that irrigates his lands parched with drought,
whilst the cultivator of the valley is imploring a cessation of those
showers which deluge his fields--that render useless the labour of his
hands? Thus each becomes thankful for that which his own limited views
points out to him as his immediate interest, regardless of the general
effect produced by those circumstances on the welfare of his fellows.
Each believes that it is either a peculiar dispensation of providence in
his own favor, or a signal of the heavenly wrath directed against
himself; whilst the slightest reflection would clearly evince it to be
nothing more than the inevitable order of things, which take place
without the least regard to his individual comforts. From this it will
be obvious, that these systems do not teach their votaries, practically,
to love their neighbour as themselves. But in matters of superstition,
mortals never reason; they only follow the impulse of their fears; the
direction of their imagination; the force of their temperament; the bent
of their own peculiar passions; or those of the guides, who have
acquired the right of controling their understanding. Fear has generally
created these systems; terror unceasingly accompanies them; it is
impossible to reason while we tremble.

We do not, however, flatter ourselves that reason will be capable, all
at once, to deliver the human race from those errors with which so many
causes united have contributed to poison him. The vainest of all
projects would be the expectation of curing, in an instant, those
epidemical follies, those hereditary fallacies, rooted during so many
ages; continually fed by ignorance; corroborated by custom; borne along
by the passions made inveterate by interest; grounded upon the fears,
established upon the ever regenerating calamities of nations. The
ancient disasters of the earth gave birth to the first systems of
theology, new revolutions would equally produce others; even if the old
ones should chance to be forgotton. Ignorant, miserable, trembling
beings, will always either form to themselves systems, or else adopt
those which imposture shall announce--which fanaticism shall be disposed
to give them.

It would therefore be useless to propose more than to hold out reason to
those who are competent to understand it; to present truth to those who
can sustain its lustre; who can with serenity contemplate its refulgent
beauty; to undeceive those who shall not be inclined to oppose obstacles
to demonstration; to enlighten those who shall not desire pertinaciously
to persist in error. Let us, then, infuse courage into those who want
power to break with their illusions; let us cheer up the honest man, who
is much more alarmed by his fears than the wicked, who, in despite of
his opinions, always follows the rule of his passions: let us console
the unfortunate, who groans under a load of prejudices which he has not
examined: let us dissipate the incertitude of those whose doubts render
them unhappy; who ingenuously seek after truth, but who find in
philosophy itself only wavering opinions little calculated to determine
their fluctuating minds. Let us banish from the man of genius those
chimerical speculations which cause him to waste his time; let us wrest
his gloomy superstition from the intimidated mortal, who, duped by his
vain fears, becomes useless to society; let us remove from the
atrabilarious being those systems that afflict him, that exasperate his
mind, that do nothing more than kindle his anger against his incredulous
neighbour; let us tear from the fanatic those terrible ideas which arm
him with poniards against the happiness of his fellows; let us pluck
from tyrants, let us snatch from impostors, those opinions which enable
them to terrify, to enslave, and to despoil the human species. In
removing from honest men their formidable notions let us not encourage
those of the wicked, who are the enemies of society; let us deprive the
latter of those illegitimate sources, upon which they reckon to expiate
their transgressions; let us substitute actual, present terrors, to
those which are distant and uncertain to those which do not arrest the
most licentious excesses; let us make the profligate blush at beholding
themselves what they really are; let the ministers of superstition
tremble at finding their conspiracies discovered; let them dread the
arrival of the day, when mortals, cured of those errors with which they
have abused them, will no longer be enslaved by their artifice.

If we cannot induce nations to lay aside their inveterate prejudices,
let us, at least, endeavour to prevent them from relapsing into those
excesses, to the commission of which superstition has so frequently
hurried them; let mankind form to himself chimeras, if he cannot do
without them; let him think as he may feel inclined, provided his
reveries do not make him forget that he is a man; that he does not cease
to remember that a sociable being is not formed to resemble the most
ferocious animals. Let us try to balance the fictitious interests of
superstition, by the more immediate advantages of the earth. Let
sovereigns, as well as their subjects, at length acknowledge that the
benefits resulting from truth, the happiness arising from justice, the
tranquillity springing out of wholesome laws, the blessings to be
derived from a rational education, the superiority to be obtained from a
physical, peaceable morality, are much more substantive than those they
vainly expect from their respective superstitious systems, Let them
feel, that advantages so tangible, benefits so precious, ought not to be
sacrificed to uncertain hopes, so frequently contradicted by experience.
In order to convince themselves of these truths, let every rational man
consider the numberless crimes which superstition has caused upon our
globe; let them study the frightful history of theology: let them read
over the biography of its more odious ministers, who have too often
fanned the spirit of discord--kindled the flame of fury--stirred up the
raging fire of madness: let the prince and the people, at least,
sometimes learn to resist the demoniacal passions of these interpreters
of unintelligible systems, which they acknowledge they do not themselves
at all understand, especially when they shall invoke them to be inhuman;
when they shall preach up intolerance; when they invite them to
barbarity; above all, when they shall command them, in the name of their
gods, to stifle the cries of nature; to put down the voice of equity; to
be deaf to the remonstrances of reason; to be blind to the interest of

Feeble mortals! led astray by error, how long will ye permit your
imagination, so active, so prompt to seize on the marvellous, to
continue to seek out of the universe pretexts to render you baneful to
yourselves, injurious to the beings with whom ye live in society?
Wherefore do ye not follow in peace, the simple, easy route marked out
for ye by nature? To what purpose do ye scatter thorns on the road of
life? What avails it, that ye multiply those sorrows to which your
destiny exposes ye? What advantages can ye derive from systems with
which the united efforts of the whole human species have not been
competent to bring ye acquainted? Be content, then, to remain ignorant
of that, which the human mind is not formed to comprehend; which human
intellect is not adequate to embrace: occupy yourselves with truth;
learn the invaluable art of living happy; perfection your morals; give
rationality to your governments; simplify your laws, and rest them on
the pillars of justice; watch over education, and see that it is of an
invigorating quality; give attention to agriculture, and encourage
beneficial improvements; foster those sciences which are actually
useful, and place their professors in the most honorable stations; labor
with ardour, and munificently reward those whose assiduity promotes the
general welfare; oblige nature by your industry to open her immense
stores, to become propitious to your exertions; do these things, and the
gods will oppose nothing to your felicity. Leave to idle thinkers, to
soporific dreamers, to waking visionaries, to useless enthusiasts, the
unproductive task, the unfruitful occupation, of fathoming depths, from
which ye ought sedulously to divert your attention; enjoy with
moderation, the benefits attached to your present existence; augment
their number when reason sanctions the multiplication; but never attempt
to spring yourselves forward, beyond the sphere destined for your
action. If you must have chimeras, permit your fellow creatures to have
theirs also; but never cut the throats of your brethren, when, they
cannot rave in your own manner. If ye will have unintelligible systems,
if ye cannot be contented without marvellous doctrines, if the
infirmities of your nature require an invisible crutch, adopt such as
may best suit with your humour; select those which you may think most
calculated to support your tottering frame; if ye can, let your own
imagination give birth to them; but do not insist on your neighbours
making the same choice with yourself: do not suffer these imaginary
theories to infuriate your mind: let them not so far intoxicate your
understandings, as to make ye mistake the duties ye owe to the real
beings with whom ye are associated. Always remember, that amongst these
duties, the foremost, the most consequential, the most immediate in its
bearing upon the felicity of the human race, stands, _a reasonable
indulgence for the foibles of others_.


_Defence of the Sentiments contained in this Work.--Of Impiety.--Do
there exist Atheists?_

What has been said in the course of this work, ought sufficiently to
undeceive those who are capable of reasoning on the prejudices to which
they attached so much importance. But the most evident truths frequently
crouch under fear; are kept at bay by habit; prove abortive against the
force of enthusiasm. Nothing is more difficult to remove from its
resting place than error, especially when long prescription has given it
full possession of the human mind. It is almost unassailable when
supported by general consent; when it is propagated by education; when
it has acquired inveteracy by custom: it commonly resists every effort
to disturb it, when it is either fortified by example, maintained by
authority, nourished by the hopes, or cherished by the fears of a
people, who have learned to look upon these delusions as the most potent
remedies for their sorrows. Such are the united forces which sustain the
empire of unintelligible systems over the inhabitants of this world;
they appear to give stability to their throne; to render their power
immoveable; to make their reign as lasting as the human race.

We need not, then, be surprised at seeing the multitude cherish their
own blindness; encourage their superstitious notions; exhibit the most
sensitive fear of truth. Every where we behold mortals obstinately
attached to phantoms from which they expect their happiness;
notwithstanding these fallacies are evidently the source of all their
sorrows. Deeply smitten with the marvellous, disdaining the simple,
despising that which is easy of comprehension, but little instructed in
the ways of nature, accustomed to neglect the use of their reason, the
uninformed, from age to age, prostrate themselves before those invisible
powers which they have been taught to adore. To these they address their
most fervent prayers; implore them in their misfortunes, offer them the
fruits of their labour; they are unceasingly occupied either with
thanking their vain idols for benefits they have not received at their
bands, or else in requesting from them favors which they can never
obtain. Neither experience nor reflection can undeceive them; they do
not perceive these idols, the work of their own hands, have always been
deaf to their intreaties; they ascribe it to their own conduct; believe
them to be violently irritated: they tremble, groan out the most dismal
lamentations; sigh bitterly in their temples; strew their altars with
presents; load their priests with their largesses; it never strikes
their attention that these beings, whom they imagine so powerful, are
themselves submitted to nature; are never propitious to their wishes,
but when nature herself is favourable. It is thus that nations are the
accomplices of those who deceive them; are themselves as much opposed to
truth as those who lead them astray.

In matters of superstition, there are very few persons who do not
partake, more or less, of the opinions of the illiterate. Every man who
throws aside the received ideas, is generally considered a madman; is
looked upon as a presumptuous being, who insolently believes himself
much wiser than his associates. At the magical sound of superstition, a
sudden panic, a tremulous terror takes possession of the human species:
whenever it is attacked, society is alarmed; each individual imagines he
already sees the celestial monarch lift his avenging arm against the
country in which rebellious nature has produced a monster with
sufficient temerity to brave these sacred opinions. Even the most
moderate persons tax with folly, brand with sedition, whoever dares
combat with these imaginary systems, the rights of which good sense has
never yet examined. In consequence, the man who undertakes to tear the
bandeau of prejudice, appears an irrational being--a dangerous citizen;
his sentence is pronounced with a voice almost unanimous; the public
indignation, roused by fanaticism, stirred up by imposture, renders it
impossible for him to be heard in his defence; every one believes
himself culpable, if he does not exhibit his fury against him; if he
does not display his zeal in hunting him down; it is by such means man
seeks to gain the favor of the angry gods, whose wrath is supposed to be
provoked. Thus the individual who consults his reason, the disciple of
nature, is looked upon as a public pest; the enemy to superstition is
regarded as the enemy to the human race; he who would establish a
lasting peace amongst men, is treated as the disturber of society; the
man who would be disposed to cheer affrighted mortals by breaking those
idols, before whom prejudice has obliged them to tremble, is unanimously
proscribed as an atheist. At the bare name of atheist the superstitious
man quakes; the deist himself is alarmed; the priest enters the
judgement chair with fury glaring in his eyes; tyranny prepares his
funeral pile, the vulgar applaud the punishments which irrational,
partial laws, decree against the true friend of the human species.

Such are the sentiments which every man must expect to excite, who shall
dare to present his fellow creatures with that truth which all appear to
be in search of, but which all either fear to find, or else mistake what
we are disposed to shew it to them. But what is this man, who is so
foully calumniated as an atheist? He is one who destroyeth chimeras
prejudicial to the human race; who endeavours to re-conduct wandering
mortals back to nature; who is desirous to place them upon the road of
experience; who is anxious that they should actively employ their
reason. He is a thinker, who, having meditated upon matter, its
energies, its properties, its modes of acting, hath no occasion to
invent ideal powers, to recur to imaginary systems, in order to explain
the phenomena of the universe--to develope the operations of nature; who
needs not creatures of the imagination, which far from making him better
understand nature, do no more than render it wholly inexplicable, an
unintelligible mass, useless to the happiness of mankind.

Thus, the only men who can have pure, simple, actual ideas of nature,
are considered either as absurd or knavish speculators. Those who form
to themselves distinct, intelligible notions of the powers of the
universe, are accused of denying the existence of this power: those who
found every thing that is operated in this world, upon determinate,
immutable laws, are accused with attributing every thing to chance; are
taxed with blindness, branded with delirium, by those very enthusiasts
themselves, whose imagination, always wandering in a vacuum, regularly
attribute the effects of nature to fictitious causes, which have no
existence but in their own heated brain; to fanciful beings of their own
creation; to chimerical powers, which they obstinately persist in
preferring to actual, demonstrable causes. No man in his proper senses
can deny the energy of nature, or the existence of a power by virtue of
which matter acts; by which it puts itself in motion; but no man can,
without renouncing his reason, attribute this power to an immaterial
substance; to a power placed out of nature; distinguished from matter;
having nothing in common with it. Is it not saying, this power does not
exist, to pretend that it resides in an unknown being, formed by an heap
of unintelligible qualities, of incompatible attributes, from whence
necessarily results a whole, impossible to have existence?
Indestructible elements, the atoms of Epicurus, of which it is said the
motion, the collision, the combination, have produced all beings, are,
unquestionably, much more tangible than the numerous theological
systems, broached in various parts of the earth. Thus, to speak
precisely, they are the partizans of imaginary theories, the advocates
of contradictory beings, the defenders of creeds, impossible to be
conceived, the contrivers of substances which the human mind cannot
embrace on any side, who are either absurd or knavish; those
enthusiasts, who offer us nothing but vague names, of which every thing
is denied, of which nothing is affirmed, are the real _Atheists_; those,
I say, who make such beings the authors of motion, the preservers of the
universe, are either blind or irrational. Are not those dreamers, who
are incapable of attaching any one positive idea to the causes of which
they unceasingly speak, true deniers? Are not those visionaries, who
make a pure nothing the source of all beings, men really groping in the
dark? Is it not the height of folly to personify abstractions, to
organize negative ideas, and then to prostrate ourselves before the
figments of our own brain?

Nevertheless, they are men of this temper who regulate the opinions of
the world; who hold up to public scorn, those who are consistent to
principle; who expose to the most infuriate vengeance, those who are
more rational than themselves. If you will but accredit those profound
dreamers, there is nothing short of madness, nothing on this side the
most complete derangement of intellect, that can reject a totally
incomprehensible motive-power in nature. Is it, then, delirium to prefer
the known to the unknown? Is it a crime to consult experience, to call
in the evidence of our senses, in the examination of that which we are
informed is the most important to be understood? Is it a horrid outrage
to address ourselves to reason; to prefer its oracles to the sublime
decisions of some sophists, who themselves acknowledge they do not
comprehend any thing of the systems they announce? Nevertheless,
according to these men, there is no crime more worthy of punishment--
there is no enterprize more dangerous to morals--no treason more
substantive against society, than to despoil these immaterial
substances, which they know nothing about, of those inconceivable
qualities which these learned doctors ascribe to them--of that equipage
with which a fanatical imagination has furnished them--of those
miraculous properties with which ignorance, fear, and imposture have
emulated each other in surrounding them: there is nothing more impious
than to call forth man's reason upon superstitious creeds; nothing more
heretical than to cheer up mortals against systems, of which the idea
alone is the source of all their sorrows; there is nothing more pious,
nothing more orthodox, than to exterminate those audacious beings who
have had sufficient temerity to attempt to break an invisible charm that
keeps the human species benumbed in error: if we are to put faith in the
asseverations of the hierarchy, to be disposed to break man's chains is
to rend asunder his most sacred bonds.

In consequence of these clamours, perpetually renovated by the disciples
of imposture, kept constantly afloat by the theologians, reiterated by
ignorance, those nations, which reason, in all ages, has sought to
undeceive, have never dared to hearken to its benevolent lessons: they
have stood aghast at the very name of physical truth. The friends of
mankind were never listened to, because they were the enemies to his
superstition--the examiners of the doctrines of his priest. Thus the
people continued to tremble; very few philosophers had the courage to
cheer them; scarcely any one dared brave public opinion; completely
inoculated by superstition, they dreaded the power of imposture, the
menaces of tyranny, which always sought to uphold themselves by
delusion. The yell of triumphant ignorance, the rant of haughty
fanaticism, at all time stifled the feeble voice of the disciple of
nature; his lessons were quickly forgotten; he was obliged to keep
silence; when he even dared to speak, it was frequently only in an
enigmatical language, perfectly unintelligible to the great mass of
mankind. How should the uninformed, who with difficulty compass the most
evident truths, those that are the most distinctly announced, be able to
comprehend the mysteries of nature, presented under half words, couched
under intricate emblems.

In contemplating the outrageous language which is excited among
theologians, by the opinions of those whom they choose to call atheists;
in looking at the punishments which at their instigation were frequently
decreed against them, should we not be authorized to conclude, that
these doctors either are not so certain as they say they are, of the
infallibility of their respective systems; or else that they do not
consider the opinions of their adversaries so absurd as they pretend? It
is always either distrust, weakness, or fear, frequently the whole
united, that render men cruel; they have no anger against those whom
they despise; they do not look upon folly as a punishable crime. We
should be content with laughing at an irrational mortal, who should deny
the existence of the sun; we should not think of punishing him, unless
we had, ourselves, taken leave of our senses. Theological fury never
proves more than the imbecility of its cause. Lucian describes Jupiter,
who disputing with Menippus, is disposed to strike him to the earth with
his thunder; upon which the philosopher says to him, "Ah! thou vexest
thyself, thou usest thy thunder! then thou art in the wrong." The
inhumanity of these men-monsters, whose profession it was to announce
chimerical systems to nations, incontestibly proves, that they alone
have an interest in the invisible powers they describe; of which they
successfully avail themselves to terrify, mortals: they are these
tyrants of the mind, however, who, but little consequent to their own
principles, undo with one hand that which they rear up with the other:
they are these profound logicians who, after having formed a deity
filled with goodness, wisdom and equity, traduce, disgrace, and
completely annihilate him, by saving he is cruel, capricious, unjust,
and despotic: this granted, these men are truly impious; decidedly

He who knoweth not this system, cannot do it any injury, consequently
cannot be called impious. "To he impious," says Epicurus, "is not to
take away from the illiterate the gods which they have; it is to
attribute to these gods the opinions of the vulgar." To be impious is to
insult systems which we believe; it is knowingly to outrage them. To be
impious, is to admit a benevolent, just God, at the same time we preach
up persecution and carnage. To be impious, is to deceive men in the name
of a Deity, whom we make use of as a pretext for our own unworthy
passions. To be impious, is to speak falsely on the part of a God, whom
we suppose to be the enemy of falsehood. In fine, to be impious, is to
make use of the name of the Divinity in order to disturb society--to
enslave it to tyrants--to persuade man that the cause of imposture is
the cause of God; it is to impute to God those crimes which would
annihilate his divine perfections. To be impious, and irrational, at the
same time, is to make, by the aggregation of discrepant qualities, a
mere chimera of the God we adore.

On the other hand, to be pious, is to serve our country with fidelity;
it is to be useful to our fellow creatures; to labour to the welfare of
society. Every one can put in his claim to this piety, according to his
faculties; he who meditates can render himself useful, when he has the
courage to announce truth--to attack error--to battle those prejudices
which everywhere oppose themselves to the happiness of mankind; it is to
be truly useful, it is even a duty, to wrest from the hands of mortals
those homicidal weapons which wretched fanatics so profusely distribute
among them; it is highly praiseworthy to deprive imposture of its
influence; it is loving our neighbour as ourself to despoil tyranny of
its fatal empire over opinion, which at all times it so successfully
employs to elevate knaves at the expence of public happiness; to erect
its power upon the ruins of liberty; to establish unruly passions upon
the wreck of public security. To be truly pious, is religiously to
observe the wholesome laws of nature; to follow up faithfully those
duties which she prescribes to us; in short, to be pious is to be
humane, equitable, benevolent: it is to respect the rights of mankind.
To be pious and rational at the same time, is to reject those reveries
which would be competent to make us mistake the sober counsels of

Thus, whatever fanaticism, whatever imposture may say, he who denieth
the solidity of systems which have no other foundation than an alarmed
imagination; he who rejecteth creeds continually in contradiction with
themselves; he who banisheth from his heart, doctrines perpetually
wrestling with nature, always in hostility with reason, ever at war with
the happiness of man; he, I repeat, who undeceiveth himself on such
dangerous chimeras, when his conduct shall not deviate from those
invariable rules which sound morality dictates, which nature approves,
which reason prescribes, may be fairly reputed pious, honest, and
virtuous. Because a man refuseth to admit contradictory systems, as well
as the obscure oracles, which are issued in the name of the gods, does
it then follow, that such a man refuses to acknowledge the evident, the
demonstrable laws of nature, upon which he depends, of which he in
obliged to fulfil the necessary duties, under pain of being punished in
this world; whatever he may be in the in the next? It is true, that if
virtue could by any chance consist in an ignominious renunciation of
reason, in a destructive fanaticism, in useless customs, the atheist, as
he is called, could not pass for a virtuous being: but if virtue
actually consists in doing to society all the good of which we are
capable, this miscalled atheist may fairly lay claim to its practice:
his courageous, tender soul, will not be found guilty, for hurling his
legitimate indignation against prejudices, fatal to the happiness of the
human species.

Let us listen, however, to the imputations which the theologians lay
upon those men they falsely denominate atheists; let us coolly, without
any peevish humour, examine the calumnies which they vomit forth against
them: it appears to them that atheism, (as they call differing in
opinion from themselves,) is the highest degree of delirium that can
assail the human mind; the greatest stretch of perversity that can
infect the human heart; interested in blackening their adversaries, they
make incredulity the undeniable offspring of folly; the absolute effect
of crime. "We do not," say they to us, "see those men fall into the
horrors of atheism, who have reason to hope the future state will be for
them a state of happiness." In short, according to these metaphysical
doctors, it is the interest of their passions which makes them seek to
doubt systems, at whose tribunals they are accountable for the abuses of
this life; it is the fear of punishment which is alone known to
atheists; they are unceasingly repeating the words of a Hebrew prophet,
who pretends that nothing but folly makes men deny these systems;
perhaps, however, if he had suppressed his negation, he would have more
closely aproximated the truth. Doctor Bentley, in his _Folly of
Atheism_, has let loose the whole Billingsgate of theological spleen,
which he has scattered about with all the venom of the most filthy
reptiles: if he and other expounders are to be believed, "nothing is
blacker than the heart of an atheist; nothing is more false than his
mind. Atheism," according to them, "can only be the offspring of a
tortured conscience, that seeks to disengage itself from the cause of
its trouble. We have a right", says Derham, "to look upon an atheist as
a monster among rational beings; as one of those extraordinary
productions which we hardly ever meet with in the whole human species;
and who, opposing himself to all other men, revolts not only against
reason and human nature, but against the Divinity himself."

We shall simply reply to all these calumnies by saying, it is for the
reader to judge if the system which these men call atheism, be as absurd
as these profound speculators (who are perpetually in dispute on the
uninformed, ill organized, contradictory, whimsical productions of their
own brain) would have it believed to be! It is true, perhaps, that the
system of naturalism hitherto has not been developed in all its extent:
unprejudiced persons however, will, at least, be enabled to know whether
the author has reasoned well or ill; whether or not he has attempted to
disguise the most important difficulties; distinctly to see if he has
been disingenuous; they will be competent to observe if, like unto the
enemies of human reason, he has recourse to subterfuges, to sophisms, to
subtle discriminations, which ought always to make it suspected of those
who use them, either that they do not understand or else that they fear
the truth. It belongs then to candour, it is the province of
disinterestedness, it is the duty of reason to judge, if the natural
principles which have been here ushered to the world be destitute of
foundation; it is to these upright jurisconsults that a disciple of
nature submits his opinions: he has a right to except against the
judgment of enthusiasm; he has the prescription to enter his caveat
against the decision of presumptuous ignorance; above all, he is
entitled to challenge the verdict of interested knavery. Those persons
who are accustomed to think, will, at least find reasons to doubt many
of those marvellous notions, which appear as incontestable truths only
to those, who have never assayed them by the standard of good sense.

We agree with Derham, that atheists are rare; but then we also say, that
superstition has so disfigured nature, so entangled her rights--
enthusiasm has so dazzled the human mind-terror has so disturbed the
heart of man--imposture has so bewildered his imagination--tyranny has
so enslaved his thoughts: in fine, error, ignorance, and delirium have
so perplexed and confused the clearest ideas, that nothing is more
uncommon than to find men who have sufficient courage to undeceive
themselves on notions which every thing conspires to identify with their
very existence. Indeed, many theologians in despite of those bitter
invectives with which they attempt to overwhelm the men they choose to
call atheists, appear frequently to have doubted whether any ever
existed in the world. Tertullian, who, according to modern systems,
would be ranked as an atheist, because he admitted a corporeal God,
says, "Christianity has dissipated the ignorance in which the Pagans
were immersed respecting the divine essence, and there is not an artizan
among the Christians who does not see God, and who does not know him."
This uncertainty of the theologic professors was, unquestionably,
founded upon those absurd ideas, which they ascribe to their
adversaries, whom they have unceasingly accused with attributing every
thing to chance--to blind causes--to dead, inert matter, incapable of
self-action. We have, I think, sufficiently justified the partizans of
nature against these ridiculous accusations; we have throughout the
whole proved, and we repeat it, that chance is a word devoid of sense,
which as well as all other unintelligible words, announces nothing but
ignorance of actual causes. We have demonstrated that matter is not
dead; that nature, essentially active and self-existent, has sufficient
energy to produce all the beings which she contains--all the phenomena
we behold. We have, throughout, made it evident that this cause is much
more tangible, more easy of comprehension, than the inconceivable theory
to which theology assigns these stupendous effects. We have represented,
that the incomprehensibility of natural effects was not a sufficient
reason for assigning to them a system still more incomprehensible than
any of those of which, at least, we have a slight knowledge. In fine, if
the incomprehensibility of a system does not authorize the denial of its
existence, it is at least certain that the incompatibility of the
attributes with which it is clothed, authorizes the assertion, that
those which unite them cannot be any thing more than chimeras, of which
the existence is impossible.

This granted, we shall be competent to fix the sense that ought to be
attached to the name of atheist; which, notwithstanding, the theologians
lavish on all those who deviate in any thing from their opinions. If, by
atheist, be designated a man who denieth the existence of a power
inherent in matter, without which we cannot conceive nature, and if it
be to this power that the name of God is given, then there do not exist
any atheists, and the word under which they are denominated would only
announce fools. But if by atheists be understood men without enthusiasm;
who are guided by experience; who follow the evidence of their senses;
who see nothing in nature but what they actually find to have existence,
or that which they are capacitated to know; who neither do, nor can
perceive any thing but matter essentially active, moveable, diversely
combined, in the full enjoyment of various properties, capable of
producing all the beings who display themselves to our visual faculties,
if by atheists be understood natural philosophers, who are convinced
that without recurring to chimerical causes, they can explain every
thing, simply by the laws of motion; by the relation subsisting between
beings; by their affinities; by their analogies; by their aptitude to
attraction; by their repulsive powers; by their proportions; by their
combinations; by their decomposition: if by atheists be meant these
persons who do not understand what _Pneumatology_ is, who do not
perceive the necessity of spiritualizing, or of rendering
incomprehensible, those corporeal, sensible, natural causes, which they
see act uniformly; who do not find it requisite to separate the motive-
power from the universe; who do not see, that to ascribe this power to
an immaterial substance, to that whose essence is from thenceforth
totally inconceivable, is a means of becoming more familiar with it: if
by atheists are to be pourtrayed those men who ingenuously admit that
their mind can neither receive nor reconcile the union of the negative
attributes and the theological abstractions, with the human and moral
qualities which are given to the Divinity; or those men who pretend that
from such an incompatible alliance, there could only result an imaginary
being; seeing that a pure spirit is destitute of the organs necessary to
exercise the qualities, to give play to the faculties of human nature:
if by atheists are described those men who reject systems, whose odious
and discrepant qualities are solely calculated to disturb the human
species--to plunge it into very prejudicial follies: if, I repeat it,
thinkers of this description are those who are called atheists, it is
not possible to doubt their existence; and their number would be
considerable, if the light of sound natural philosophy was more
generally diffused; if the torch of reason burnt more distinctly; or if
it was not obscured by the theological bushel: from thence, however,
they would be considered neither as irrational; nor as furious beings,
but as men devoid of prejudice, of whose opinions, or if they prefer it,
whose ignorance, would be much more useful to the human race, than those
ideal sciences, those vain hypotheses, which for so many ages have been
the actual causes of all man's tribulation.

Doctor Cudworth, in his _Intellectual System_, reckons four species of
atheists among the ancients.

First.--The disciples of Anaximander, called _Hylopathians_, who
attributed every thing to matter destitute of feeling. His doctrine was,
that men were born of earth united with water, and vivified by the beams
of the sun; his crime seems to have been, that he made the first
geographical maps and sun-dials; declared the earth moveable and of a
cylindrical form.

Secondly.--The _Atomists_, or the disciples of Democritus, who attribute
every thing, to the concurrence of atoms. His crime was, having first
taught that the milky way was occasioned by the confused light from a
multitude of stars.

Thirdly.--The _Stoics_, or the disciples of Zeno, who admitted a blind
nature acting after certain laws. His crime appears to be, that he
practised virtue with unwearied perseverance, and taught that this
quality alone would render mankind happy.

Fourthly.--The _Hylozoists_, or the disciples of Strato, who attributed
life to matter. His crime consisted in being one of the most acute
natural philosophers of his day, enjoying high favour with Ptolemy
Philadelphus, an intelligent prince, whose preceptor be was.

If, however, by atheists, are meant those men, who are obliged to avow,
that they have not one idea of the system they adore, or which they
announce to others; who cannot give any satisfactory account, either of
the nature or of the essence of their immaterial substances; who can
never agree amongst themselves on the proofs which they adduce in
support of their System; on the qualities or on the modes of action of
their incorporeities, which by dint of negations they render a mere
nothing; who either prostrate themselves, or cause others to bow down,
before the absurd fictions of their own delirium: if, I say, by
atheists, be denominated men of this stamp, we shall be under the
necessity of allowing, that the world is filled with them: we shall even
be obliged to place in this number some of the most active theologians,
who are unceasingly reasoning upon that Which they do not understand;
who are eternally disputing upon points which they cannot demonstrate;
who by their contradictions very efficaciously undermine their own
systems; who annihilate all their own assertions of perfection, by the
numberless imperfections with which they clothe them; who rebel against
their gods by the atrocious character under which they depict them. In
short, we shall be able to consider as true atheists, those credulous,
weak persons, who upon hearsay and from tradition, bend the knee before
idols, of whom they have no other ideas, than those which are furnished
them by their spiritual guides, who themselves acknowledge that they
comprehend nothing about the matter.

What has been said amply proves that the theologians themselves have not
always known the sense they could affix to the word atheist; they have
vaguely attacked, in an indistinct manner, calumniated with it, those
persons whose sentiments and principles were opposed to their own.
Indeed, we find that these sublime professors, always infatuated with
their own particular opinions, have frequently been extremely lavish in
their accusations of atheism, against all those whom they felt a desire
to injure; whose characters it was their pleasure to paint in
unfavourable colours; whose doctrines they wished to blacken; whose
systems they sought to render odious: they were certain of alarming the
illiterate, of rousing the antipathies of the silly, by a loose
imputation, or by a word, to which ignorance attaches the idea of
horror, merely because it is unacquainted with its true sense. In
consequence of this policy, it has been no uncommon spectacle to see the
partizans of the same sect, the adorers of the same gods, reciprocally
treat each other as atheists, in the fervour of their theological
quarrels; to be an atheist, in this sense, is not to have, in every
point, exactly the same opinions as those with whom we dispute, either
on superstitious or religious subjects. In all times the uninformed have
considered those as atheists, who did not think upon the Divinity
precisely in the same manner as the guides whom they were accustomed to
follow. Socrates, the adorer of a unique God, was no more than an
atheist in the eyes of the Athenian people.

Still more, as we have already observed, those persons have frequently
been accused of atheism, who have taken the greatest pains to establish
the existence of the gods, but who have not produced satisfactory
proofs: when their enemies wished to take advantage of them, it was easy
to make them pass for atheists, who had wickedly betrayed their cause,
by defending it too feebly. The theologians have frequently been very
highly incensed against those who believed they had discovered the most
forcible proof of the existence of their gods, because they were obliged
to discover that their adversaries could make very contrary inductions
from their propositions; they did not perceive that it was next to
impossible not to lay themselves open to attack, in establishing
principles visibly founded upon that which each man sees variously. Thus
Paschal says, "I have examined if this God, of whom all the world
speaks, might not have left some marks of himself. I look every where,
and every where I see nothing but obscurity. Nature offers one nothing,
that may not be a matter of doubt and inquietude. If I saw nothing in
nature which indicated a Divinity, I should determine with myself, to
believe nothing about it. If every where I saw the sign of a creator, I
should repose myself in peace, in the belief of one. But seeing too much
to deny, and too little to assure me of his existence, I am in a
situation that I lament, and in which I have an hundred times wished,
that if a God doth sustain nature, he would give unequivocal marks of
it, and that if the signs which he hath given be deceitful, that he
would suppress them entirely; that he said all or nothing, to the end
that I might see which side I ought to follow."

In a word, those who have most vigorously taken up the cause of the
theological systems, have been taxed with atheism and irreligion; the
most zealous partizans have been looked upon as deserters, have been
contemplated as traitors; the most orthodox theologians have not been
able to guarantee themselves from this reproach; they have mutually
bespatered each other; prodigally lavished, with malignant reciprocity,
the most abusive terms: nearly all have, without doubt, merited these
invectives, if in the term atheist be included those men who have not
any idea of their various systems, that does not destroy itself,
whenever they are willing to submit it to the touchstone of reason. From
whence we may conclude, without subjecting ourselves to the reproach of
being hasty, that error will not stand the test of investigation; that
it will not pass the ordeal of comparison; that it is in its hues a
perfect chamelion; that consequently it can never do more than lead to
the most absurd deductions: that the most ingenious systems, when they
have their foundations in hallucination, crumble like dust under the
rude band of the assayer; that the most sublimated doctrines, when they
lack the substantive quality of rectitude, evaporate under the scrutiny
of the sturdy examiner, who tries them in the crucible; that it is not
by levelling abusive language against those who investigate
sophisticated theories, they will either be purged of their absurdities,
acquire solidity, or find an establishment to give them perpetuity; that
moral obliquities, can never be made rectilinear by the mere application
of unintelligible terms, or by the inconsiderate jumble of discrepant
properties, however gaudy the assemblage: in short, that the only
criterion of truth is, _that it is ever consistent with itself_.


_Is what is termed Atheism compatible with Morality?_

After having proved the existence of those whom the superstitious bigot,

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