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

Part 6 out of 7

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the heated theologian, the inconsequent theist, calls _atheists_, let us
return to the calumnies which are so profusely showered upon them by the
deicolists. According to Abady, in his _Treatise on the Truth of the
Christian Religion_, "an atheist cannot be virtuous: to him virtue is
only a chimera; probity no more than a vain scruple; honesty nothing but
foolishness;--he knoweth no other law than his interest: where this
sentiment prevails, conscience is only a prejudice; the law of nature
only an illusion; right no more than an error; benevolence hath no
longer any foundation; the bonds of society are loosened; the ties of
fidelity are removed; friend is ready to betray friend; the citizen to
deliver up his country; the son to assassinate his father, in order to
enjoy his inheritance, whenever they shall find occasion, and that
authority or silence shall shield them from the arm of the secular
power, which alone is to be feared. The most inviolable rights, and most
sacred laws, must no longer be considered, except as dreams and
visions." Such, perhaps, would be the conduct, not of a feeling,
thinking, reflecting being, susceptible of reason; but of a ferocious
brute, of an irrational wretch, who should not have any idea of the
natural relations which subsist between beings, reciprocally necessary
to each other's happiness. Can it actually be supposed, that a man
capable of experience, furnished with the faintest glimmerings of sound
sense, would lend himself to the conduct which is here ascribed to the
atheist; that is to say, to a man who is conversant with the evidence of
facts; who ardently seeks after truth; who is sufficiently susceptible
of reflection, to undeceive himself by reasoning upon those prejudices
which every one strives to shew him as important; which all voices
endeavour to announce to him as sacred? Can it, I repeat, be supposed,
that any enlightened, any polished society, contains a citizen so
completely blind, not to acknowledge his most natural duties; so very
absurd, not to admit his dearest interests; so completely besotted not
to perceive the danger he incurs in incessantly disturbing his fellow
creatures; or in following no other rule, than his momentary appetites?
Is not every human being who reasons in the least possible manner,
obliged to feel that society is advantageous to him; that he hath need
of assistance; that the esteem of his fellows is necessary to his own
individual happiness; provoked, that he has every thing to fear from the
wrath of his associates; that the laws menace whoever shall dare to
infringe them? Every man who has received a virtuous education, who has
in his infancy experienced the tender cares of a parent; who has in
consequence tasted the sweets of friendship; who has received kindness;
who knows the worth of benevolence; who sets a just value upon equity;
who feels the pleasure which the affection of our fellow creatures
procures for us; who endures the inconveniences which result from their
aversion who smarts under the sting which is inflicted by their scorn,
is obliged to tremble at losing, by his measures, such manifest
advantages--at incurring such, imminent danger. Will not the hatred of
others, the fear of punishment, his own contempt of himself, disturb his
repose every time that, turning, inwardly upon his own conduct, he shall
contemplate it under the same perspective as does his neighbour? Is
there then no remorse but for those who believe in incomprehensible
systems? Is the idea that we are tinder the eye of beings of whom we
have but vague notions, more forcible than the thought that we are
viewed by our fellow men; than the fear of being detected by ourselves;
than the dread of exposure; than the cruel necessity of becoming
despicable in our own eyes; than the wretched alternative, to be
constrained to blush guiltily, when we reflect on our wild career, and
the sentiments which it must infallibly inspire?

This granted, we shall reply deliberately to this Abady, that an atheist
is a man who understands nature, who studies her laws; who knows his own
nature; who feels what it imposes upon him. An atheist hath experience;
this experience proves to him every moment that vice can injure him;
that his most concealed faults, his most secret dispositions, may be
detected--may display his character in open day; this experience proves
to him that society is useful to his happiness; that his interest
authoritatively demands he should attach himself to the country that
protects him, which enables him to enjoy in security the benefits of
nature; every thing shews him that in order to be happy he must make
himself beloved; that his parent is for him the most certain of friends;
that ingratitude would remove him from his benefactor; that justice is
necessary to the maintenance of every association; that no man, whatever
way he his power, can be content with himself, when he knows he is an
object of public hatred. He who has maturely reflected upon himself,
upon his own nature, upon that of his associates, upon his own wants,
upon the means of procuring them, cannot prevent himself from becoming
acquainted with his duties--from discovering the obligations he owes to
himself, as well as those which he owes to others; from thence he has
morality, he has actual motives to confirm himself to its dictates; he
is obliged to feel, that these duties are imperious: if his reason be
not disturbed by blind passions, if his mind be not contaminated by
vicious habits, he will find that virtue is the surest road to felicity.
The atheists, as they are styled, or the fatalists, build their system
upon necessity: thus, their moral speculations, founded upon the nature
of things, are at least much more permanent, much more invariable, than
those which only rest upon systems that alter their aspect according to
the various dispositions of their adherents--in conformity with the
wayward passions of those who contemplate, them. The essence of things,
and the immutable laws of nature, are not subject to fluctuate; it is
imperative with the atheist, as he is facetiously called by the
theologian, to call whatever injures himself either vice or folly; to
designate that which injures others, crime; to describe all that is
advantageous to society, every thing which contributes to its permanent
happiness, virtue.

It will be obvious, then, that the principles of the miscalled atheist
are much less liable to be shaken, than those of the enthusiast, who
shall have studied a baby from his earliest Infancy; who should have
devoted not only his days, but his nights, to gleaning the scanty
portion of actual information that he scatters through his volumes; they
will have a much more substantive foundation than those of the
theologian, who shall construct his morality upon the harlequin scenery
of systems that so frequently change, even in his own distempered brain.
If the atheist, as they please to call those who differ in opinion with
themselves, objects to the correctness, of--their systems, he cannot
deny his own existence, nor that of beings similar to himself, by whom
he is surrounded; he cannot doubt the reciprocity of the relations that
subsist between them; he cannot question the duties which spring out of
these relations; Pyrrhonism, then, cannot enter his mind upon the,
actual principles of morality; which is nothing more than the science of
the relations of beings living together in society.

If, however, satisfied with a barren, speculative knowledge of his
duties, the atheist of the theologian should not apply them in his
conduct--if, hurried along by the current of his ungovernable passions--
if, borne forward by criminal habits--if, abandoned to shameful vices-
if, possessing a vicious temperament, which he has not been sedulous to
correct--if, lending himself to the stream of outrageous desires, he
appears to forget his moral obligations, it by no means follows, either
that he hath no principles, or that his principles are false: it can
only be concluded from such conduct, that in the intoxication of his
passions, in the delirium of his habits, in the confusion of his reason,
he does not give activity to doctrines grounded upon truth; that he
forgets to give currency to ascertained principles; that he may follow
those propensities which lead him astray. In this, indeed, he will have
dreadfully descended to the miserable level of the theologian, but he
will nevertheless find him the partner of his folly--the partaker of his
insanity--the companion of his crime.

Nothing is, perhaps, more common among men, than a very marked
discrepancy between the mind and the heart; that is to say, between the
temperament, the passions, the habits the caprices, the imagination, and
the judgment, assisted by reflection. Nothing is, in fact, more rare,
than to find these harmoniously running upon all fours with each other;
it is, however, only when they do, that we see speculation influence
practice. The most certain virtues are those which are founded upon the
temperament of man. Indeed, do we not every day behold mortals in
contradiction with themselves? Does not their more sober judgment
unceasingly condemn the extravagancies to which their undisciplined
passions deliver them up? In short, doth not every thing prove to us
hourly, that men, with the very best theory, have sometimes the very
worst practice; that others with the most vicious theory, frequently
adopt the most amiable line of conduct? In the blindest systems, in the
most atrocious superstitions, in those which are most contrary to
reason, we meet with virtuous men, the mildness of whose character, the
sensibility of whose hearts, the excellence of whose temperament, re
conducts them to humanity, makes them fall back upon the laws of nature,
in despite of their furious theories. Among the adorers of the most
cruel, vindictive, jealous gods, are found peaceable, souls, who are
enemies to persecution; who set their faces against violence; who are
decidedly opposed to cruelty: among the disciples of a God filled with
mercy, abounding in clemency, are seen barbarous monsters; inhuman
cannibals: nevertheless, both the one and the other acknowledge, that
their gods ought to serve them for a model. Wherefore, then, do they not
in all things conform themselves? It is because the most wicked systems
cannot always corrupt a virtuous soul; that those which are most bland,
most gentle in their precepts, cannot always restrain hearts driven
along by the impetuosity of vice. The organization will, perhaps, be
always more potential than either superstition or religion. Present
objects, momentary interests, rooted habits, public opinion, have much
more efficacy than unintelligible theories, than imaginary systems,
which themselves depend upon the organic structure of the human frame.

The point in question then is, to examine if the principles of the
atheist, as he is erroneously called, be true, and not whether his
conduct be commendable? An atheist, having an excellent theory, founded
upon nature, grafted upon experience, constructed upon reason, who
delivers himself up to excesses, dangerous to himself, injurious to
society, is, without doubt, an inconsistent man. But he is not more to
be feared than a superstitious bigot; than a zealous enthusiast; or than
even a religious man who, believing in a good, confiding in an
equitable, relying on a perfect God, does not scruple to commit the most
frightful devastations in his name. An atheistical tyrant would
assuredly not be more to be dreaded than a fanatical despot. An
incredulous philosopher, however, is not so mischievous a being as an
enthusiastic priest, who either fans the flame of discord among his
fellow subjects, or rises in rebellion against his legitimate monarch.
Would, then, an atheist clothed with power, be equally dangerous as a
persecuting priest-ridden king; as a savage inquisitor; as a whimsical
devotee; or, as a morose bigot? These are assuredly more numerous in the
world than atheists, as they are ludicrously termed, whose opinions, or
whose vices are far from being in a condition to have an influence upon
society; which is ever too much hoodwinked by the priest, too much
blinded by prejudice, too much the slave of superstition, to be disposed
to give them a patient hearing.

An intemperate, voluptuous atheist, is not more dangerous to society
than a superstitions bigot, who knows how to connect licentiousness,
punic faith, ingratitude, libertinism, corruption of morals, with his
theological notions. Can it, however, be ingeniously imagined, that a
man, because he is falsely termed an atheist, or because he does not
subscribe to the vengeance of the most contradictory systems, will
therefore he a profligate debauchee, malicious, and persecuting; that he
will corrupt the wife of his friend; will turn his own wife adrift; will
consume both his time and his money in the most frivolous
gratifications; will be the slave to the most childish amusements; the
companion of the most dissolute men; that he will discard all his old
friends; that he will select his bosom confidents from the brazen
betrayers of their native land--from among the hoary despoilers of
connubial happiness--from out of the ranks of veteran gamblers; that he
will either break into his neighbour's dwelling, or cut his throat; in
short, that he will lend himself to all those excesses, the most
injurious to society, the most prejudicial to himself, the most
deserving public castigation? The blemishes of an atheist, then, as the
theologian styles him, have not any thing more extraordinary in them
than those of the superstitious man; they possess nothing with which his
doctrine can he fairly reproached. A tyrant, who should he incredulous,
would not be a more incommodious scourge to his subjects, than a
theological autocrat, who should wield his sceptre to the misery of his
people. Would the nation of the latter feel more happy, from the mere
circumstance that the tyger who governed it believed in the most
abstract systems, heaped the most sumptuous presents on the priests, and
humiliated himself at their shrine? At least it must be acknowledged,
according to the shewing of the theologian himself, that under the
dominion of the atheist, a nation would not have to apprehend
superstitious vexations; to dread persecutions for opinion; to fear
proscriptions for ill-digested systems; neither would it witness those
strange outrages that have sometimes been Committed for the interests of
heaven, even under the mildest monarchs. If it was the victim to the
turbulent passions of an unbelieving prince, the sacrifice to the folly
of a sovereign who should be an infidel, it would not, at least, suffer
from his blind infatuation, for theological systems which he does not
understand; nor from his fanatical zeal, which of all the passions that
infest monarchs, is ever the most destructive, always the most
dangerous. An atheistical tyrant, who should persecute for opinions,
would be a man not consistent with his own principles; he could not
exist; he would not, indeed, according to the theologian, be an atheist
at most, he would only furnish one more example, that mortals much more
frequently follow the blind impulse of their passions, the more
immediate stimulus of their interest, the irresistible torrent of their
temperament, than their speculations, however grave, however wise. It
is, at least, evident, that an atheist has one pretext less than a
credulous prince, for exercising his natural wickedness.

Indeed, if men condescended to examine things coolly, they would find
that on this earth the name of God is but too frequently made use of as
a motive to indulge the worst of human passions. Ambition, imposture,
and tyranny, have often formed a league to avail themselves of its
influence, to the end that they might blind the people, and bend them
beneath a galling yoke: the monarch sometimes employs it to give a
divine lustre to his person--the sanction of heaven to his rights--the
confidence of its votaries to his most unjust, most extravagant whims.
The priest frequently uses it to give currency to his pretensions, to
the end that he may with impunity gratify his avarice, minister to his
pride, secure his independence. The vindictive, enraged, superstitious
being, introduces the cause of his gods, that he may give free scope to
his fury, which he qualifies with zeal. In short, superstition becomes
dangerous, because it justifies those passions, lends legitimacy to
those crimes, holds forth as commendable those excesses, of which it
does not fail to gather the fruit: according to its ministers, every
thing is permitted to revenge the most high: thus the name of the
Divinity is made use of to authorize the most baneful actions, to
palliate the most injurious transgressions. The atheist, as he is
called, when he commits crimes, cannot, at least, pretend that it is his
gods who command them, or who clothe them with the mantle of their
approval, this is the excuse the superstitious being offers for his
perversity; the tyrant for his persecutions; the priest for his cruelty,
and for his sedition; the fanatic for the ebullition of his boiling
passions; the penitent for his inutility.

"They are not," says Bayle, "the general opinions of the mind, but the
passions, which determine us to act." Atheism, as it is called, is a
system which will not make a good man wicked but it may, perhaps, make a
wicked man good. "Those," says the same author, "who embraced the sect
of Epicurus, did not become debauchees because they had adopted the
doctrine of Epicurus; they only lent themselves to the system, then
badly understood, because they were debauchees." In the same manner, a
perverse man may embrace atheism, because he will flatter himself, that
this system will give full scope to his passions: he will nevertheless
be deceived. Atheism, as it is called, if well understood, is founded
upon nature and upon reason, which never can, like superstition, either
justify or expiate the crimes of the profligate.

From the diffusion of doctrines which make morality depend upon
unintelligible, incomprehensible systems, that are proposed to man for a
model, there has unquestionably resulted very great inconvenience.
Corrupt souls, in discovering, how much each of these suppositions are
erroneous or doubtful, give loose to the rein of their vices, and
conclude there are not more substantive motives for acting well; they
imagine that virtue, like these fragile systems, is merely chimerical;
that there is not any cogent solid reason for practising it in this
world. Nevertheless, it must be evident, that it is not as the disciples
of any particular tenet, that we are bound to fulfil the duties of
morality; it is as men, living together in society, as sensible beings
seeking to secure to ourselves a happy existence, that we should feel
the moral obligation. Whether these systems maintain their ground, or
whether the do not, our duties will remain the same; our nature, if
consulted, will incontestibly prove, that _vice is a decided evil, that
virtue is an actual, a substantial good_.

If, then, there be found atheists who have denied the distinction of
good and evil, or who have dared to strike at the foundations of
morality; we ought to conclude, that upon this point they have reasoned
badly; that they have neither been acquainted with the nature of man,
nor known the true source of his duties; that they have falsely imagined
that ethics, as well as theology, was only an ideal science; that the
fleeting systems once destroyed, there no longer remained any bonds to
connect mortals. Nevertheless, the slightest reflection would have
incontestibly proved, that morality is founded upon immutable relations
subsisting between sensible, intelligent, sociable beings; that without
virtue, no society can maintain itself; that without putting the curb on
his desires, no mortal can conserve himself: man is constrained from his
nature to love virtue, to dread crime, by the same necessity that
obliges him to seek happiness, and fly from sorrow: thus nature compels
him to place a distinction between those objects which please, and those
objects Which injure him. Ask a man, who is sufficiently irrational to
deny the difference between virtue and vice, if it would be indifferent
to him to be beaten, robbed, calumniated, treated with ingratitude,
dishonoured by his wife, insulted by his children, betrayed by his
friend? His answer will prove to you, that whatever he may say, he
discriminates the actions of mankind; that the distinction between good
and evil, does not depend either upon the conventions of men, or upon
the ideas which they may have of particular systems; upon the
punishments or upon the recompenses which attend mortals in a future

On the contrary, an atheist, as he is denominated, who should reason
with justness, would feel himself more interested than another in
practising those virtues to which he finds his happiness attached in
this world. If his views do not extend themselves beyond the limits of
his present existence, he must, at least, desire to see his days roll on
in happiness and in peace. Every man, who during the calm of his
passions, falls back upon himself, will feel that his interest invites
him to his own preservation; that his felicity rigorously demands he
should take the necessary means to enjoy life peaceably that it becomes
an imperative duty to himself to keep his actual abode free from alarm;
his mind untainted by remorse. Man oweth something to man, not merely
because he would offend any particular system, if he was to injure his
fellow creature; but because in doing him an injury he would offend a
man; would violate the laws of equity; in the maintenance of which every
human being finds himself interested.

We every day see persons who are possessed of great talents, who have
very extensive knowledge, who enjoy very keen penetration, join to these
advantages a very corrupt heart; who lend, themselves to the most
hideous vices: their opinions may be true in some respects, false in a
great many others; their principles may be just, but their inductions
are frequently defective; very often precipitate. A man may embrace
sufficient knowledge to detect some of his errors, yet command too
little energy to divest himself of his vicious propensities. Man is a
being whose character depends upon his organization, modified by habit--
upon his temperament, regulated by education--upon his propensities,
marshalled by example--upon his; passions, guided by his government; in
short, he is only what transitory or permanent circumstances make him:
his superstitious ideas are obliged to yield to this temperament; his
imaginary systems feel a necessity to accommodate themselves to his
propensities; his theories give way to his interests. If the system
which constitutes man an atheist in the eyes of this theologic friend,
does not remove him from the vices with which he was anteriorly tainted,
neither does it tincture him with any new ones; whereas, superstition
furnishes its disciples with a thousand pretexts for committing evil
without repugnance; induces them even to applaud themselves for the
commission of crime. Atheism, at least, leaves men such as they are; it
will neither increase a man's intemperance, nor add to his debaucheries,
it will not render him more cruel than his temperament before invited
him to be: whereas superstition either lacks the rein to the most
terrible passions, gives loose to the most abominable suggestions, or
else procures easy expiations for the most dishonourable vices.
"Atheism," says Chancellor Bacon, "leaves to man reason, philosophy,
natural piety, laws, reputation, and every thing that can serve to
conduct him to virtue; but superstition destroys all these things, and
erects itself into a tyranny over the understandings of men: this is the
reason why atheism never disturbs the government, but renders man more
clear-sighted, as seeing nothing beyond the bounds of this life." The
same author adds, "that the times in which men have turned towards
atheism, have been the most tranquil; whereas superstition has always
inflamed their minds, and carried them on to the greatest disorders;
because it infatuates the people with novelties, which wrest from and
carry with them all the authority of government."

Men, habituated to meditate, accustomed to make study a pleasure, are
not commonly dangerous citizens: whatever may be their speculations,
they never produce sudden revolutions upon the earth. The winds of the
people, at all times susceptible to be inflamed by the marvellous, their
dormant passions liable to be aroused by enthusiasm, obstinately resist
the light of simple truths; never heat themselves for systems that
demand a long train of reflection--that require the depth of the most
acute reasoning. The system of atheism, as the priests choose to
denominate it, can only be the result of long meditation; the fruit of
connected study; the produce of an imagination cooled by experience: it
is the child of reason. The peaceable Epicurus never disturbed Greece;
his philosophy was publicly taught in Athens during many centuries; he
was in incredible favour with his countrymen, who caused statues to be
erected to him; he had a prodigious number of friends, and his school
subsisted for a very long period. Cicero, although a decided enemy to
the Epicureans, gives a brilliant testimony to the probity both of
Epicurus and his disciples, who were remarkable for the inviolable
friendship they bore each other. In the time of Marcus Aurelius, there
was at Athens a public professor of the philosophy of Epicurus, paid by
that emperor, who was himself a stoic. Hobbes did not cause blood to
flow in England, although in his time, religious fanaticism made a king
perish on the scaffold. The poem of Lucretius caused no civil wars in
Rome; the writings of Spinosa did not excite the same troubles in
Holland as the disputes of Gomar and D'Arminius. In short, we can defy
the enemies to human reason to cite a single example, which proves in a
decisive manner that opinions purely philosophical, or directly contrary
to superstition, have ever excited disturbances in the state. Tumults
have generally arisen from theological notions, because both princes and
people have always foolishly believed they ought to take a part in them.
There is nothing so dangerous as that empty philosophy, which the
theologians have combined with their systems. It is to philosophy,
corrupted by priests, that it peculiarly belongs to blow up the embers
of discord; to invite the people to rebellion; to drench the earth with
human blood. There is, perhaps, no theological question, which has not
been the source of immense mischief to man; whilst all the writings of
those denominated atheists, whether ancient or modern, have never caused
any evil but to their authors; whom dominant imposture has frequently
immolated at his deceptive shrine.

The principles of atheism are not formed for the mass of the people, who
are commonly under the tutelage of their priests; they are not
calculated for those frivolous capacities, not suited to those
dissipated minds, who fill society with their vices, who hourly afford
evidence of their own inutility; they will not gratify the ambitious;
neither are they adapted to intriguers, nor fitted for those restless
beings who find their immediate interest in disturbing the harmony of
the social compact: much less are they made for a great number of
persons, who, enlightened in other respects, have not sufficient courage
to divorce themselves from the received prejudices.

So many causes unite themselves to confirm man in those errors which he
draws in with his mother's milk, that every step that removes him from
these endeared fallacies, costs him uncommon pain. Those persons who are
most enlightened, frequently cling on some side to the general
prepossession. By giving up these revered ideas, we feel ourselves, as
it were, isolated in society: whenever we stand alone in our opinions,
we no longer seem to speak the language of our associates; we are apt to
fancy ourselves placed on a barren, desert island, in sight of a
populous, fruitful country, which we can never reach: it therefore
requires great courage to adopt a mode of thinking that has but few
approvers. In those countries where human knowledge has made some
progress; where, besides, a certain freedom of thinking is enjoyed, may
easily be found a great number of deicolists, theists, or incredulous
beings, who, contented with having trampled under foot the grosser
prejudices of the illiterate, have not dared to go back to the source--
to cite the more subtle systems before the tribunal of reason. If these
thinkers did not stop on the road, reflection would quickly prove to
them that those systems which they have not the fortitude to examine,
are equally injurious to sound ratiocination, fully as revolting to good
sense, quite as repugnant to the evidence of experience, as any of those
doctrines, mysteries, fables, or superstitious customs, of which they
have already acknowledged the futility; they would feel, as we have
already proved, that all these things are nothing more than the
necessary consequences of those primitive errors which man has indulged
for so many ages in succession; that in admitting these errors, they no
longer have any rational cause to reject the deductions which the
imagination has drawn from them. A little attention would distinctly
shew them, that it is precisely these errors that are the true cause of
all the evils of society; that those endless disputes, those sanguinary
quarrels, to which superstition and the spirit of party every instant
give birth, are the inevitable effects of the importance they attach to
errors which possess all the means of distraction, that scarcely ever
fail to put the mind of man into a state of combustion. In short,
nothing is more easy than to convince ourselves that imaginary systems,
not reducible to comprehension, which are always painted under terrific
aspects, must act upon the imagination in a very lively manner, must
sooner or later produce disputes--engender enthusiasm--give birth to
fanaticism--end in delirium.

Many persons acknowledge, that the extravagances to which superstition
lends activity, are real evils; many complain of the abuse of
superstition, but there are very few who feel that this abuse, together
with the evils, are the necessary consequences of the fundamental
principles of all superstition; which are founded upon the most grievous
notions, which rest themselves on the most tormenting opinions. We daily
see persons undeceived upon superstitious ideas, who nevertheless
pretend that this superstition "is salutary for the people;" that
without its supernatural magic, they could not he kept within due
bounds; in other words, could not be made the voluntary slaves of the
priest. But, to reason thus, is it not to say, poison is beneficial to
mankind, that therefore it is proper to poison them, to prevent them
from making an improper use of their power? Is it not in fact to pretend
it is advantageous to render them absurd; that it is a profitable course
to make them extravagant; wholesome to give them an irrational bias;
that they have need of hobgoblins to blind them; require the most
incomprehensible systems to make them giddy; that it is imperative to
submit them either to impostors or to fanatics, who will avail
themselves of their follies to disturb the repose of the world? Again,
is it an ascertained fact, does experience warrant the conclusion, that
superstition has a useful influence over the morals of the people? It
appears much more evident, is much better borne out by observation,
falls more in with the evidence of the senses, that it enslaves them
without rendering them better; that it constitutes an herd of ignorant
beings, whom panic terrors keep under the yoke of their task-masters;
whom their useless fears render the wretched instruments of towering
ambition--of rapacious tyrants; of the subtle craft of designing
priests: that it forms stupid slaves, who are acquainted with no other
virtue, save a blind submission to the most futile customs, to which
they attach a much more substantive value than to the actual virtues
springing out of the duties of morality; or issuing from the social
compact which has never been made known to them. If by any chance,
superstition does restrain some few individuals, it has no effect on the
greater number, who suffer themselves to be hurried along by the
epidemical vices with which they are infected: they are placed by it
upon the stream of corruption, and the tide either sweeps them away, or
else, swelling the waters, breaks through its feeble mounds, and
involves the whole in one undistinguished mass of ruin. It is in those
countries where superstition has the greatest power, that will always be
found the least morality. Virtue is incompatible with ignorance; it
cannot coalesce with superstition; it cannot exist with slavery: slaves
can only be kept in subordination by the fear of punishment; ignorant
children are for a moment intimidated by imaginary terrors. But freemen,
the children of truth, have no fears but of themselves; are neither to
be lulled into submission by visionary duties, nor coerced by fanciful
systems; they yield ready obedience to the evident demonstrations of
virtue; are the faithful, the invulnerable supporters of solid systems;
cling with ardour to the dictates of reason; form impenetrable ramparts
round their legitimate sovereigns; and fix their thrones on an
immoveable basis, unknown to the theologian; that cannot be touched with
unhallowed hands; whose duration will be commensurate with the existence
of time itself. To form freemen, however, to have virtuous citizens, it
is necessary to enlighten them; it is incumbent to exhibit truth to
them; it is imperative to reason with them; it is indispensable to make
them feel their interests; it is paramount to learn them to respect
themselves; they must be instructed to fear shame; they must be excited
to have a just idea of honour; they must be made familiar with the value
of virtue, they must be shewn substantive motives for following its
lessons. How can these happy effects ever he expected from the polluted
fountains of superstition, whose waters do nothing more than degrade
mankind? Or how are they to be obtained from the ponderous, bulky yoke
of tyranny, which proposes nothing more to itself, than to vanquish them
by dividing them; to keep them in the most abject condition by means of
lascivious vices, and the most detestable crimes?

The false idea, which so many persons have of the utility of
superstition, which they, at least, judge to be calculated to restrain
the licentiousness of the illiterate, arise from the fatal prejudice
that it is a useful error; that truth may be dangerous. This principle
has complete efficacy to eternize the sorrows of the earth: whoever
shall have the requisite courage to examine these things, will without
hesitation acknowledge, that all the miseries of the human race are to
be ascribed to his errors; that of these, superstitious error must he
the most prejudicial, from the importance which is usually attached to
it; from the haughtiness with which it inspires sovereigns; from the
worthless condition which it prescribes to subjects; from the phrenzy
which it excites among the vulgar. We shall, therefore, be obliged to
conclude, that the superstitious errors of man, rendered sacred by time,
are exactly those which for the permanent interest of mankind, for the
well-being of society, for the security of the monarch himself, demand
the most complete destruction; that it is principally to their
annihilation, the efforts of a sound philosophy ought to be directed. It
is not to be feared, that this attempt will produce either disorders or
revolutions: the more freedom shall accompany the voice of truth, the
more convincing it will appear; although the more simple it shall be,
the less it will influence men, who are only smitten with the
marvellous; even those individuals who most sedulously seek after truth,
who pursue it with the greatest ardour, have frequently an irresistible
inclination, that urges them on, and incessantly disposes them to
reconcile error with its antipode. That great master of the art of
thinking, who holds forth to his disciples such able advice, says, with
abundant reason, "that there is nothing but a good and solid philosophy,
which can, like another Hercules, exterminate those monsters called
popular errors: it is that alone which can give freedom to the human

Here is, unquestionably, the true reason why atheism, as it is called,
of which hitherto the principles have not been sufficiently developed,
appears to alarm even those persons who are the most destitute of
prejudice. They find the interval too great between vulgar superstition
and an absolute renunciation of it; they imagine they take a wise medium
in compounding with error; they therefore reject the consequences, while
they admit the principle; they preserve the shadow and throw away the
substance, without foreseeing that, sooner or later, it must, by its
obstetric art, usher into the world, one after another, the same follies
which now fill the heads of bewildered human beings, lost in the
labyrinths of incomprehensible systems. The major part of the
incredulous, the greater number of reformers, do no more than prune a
cankered tree, to whose root they dare not apply the axe; they do not
perceive that this tree will in the end produce the same fruit.
Theology, or superstition, will always be an heap of combustible matter:
brooded in the imagination of mankind, it will always finish by causing
the most terrible explosions. As long as the sacerdotal order shall have
the privilege of infecting youth--of habituating their minds to tremble
before unmeaning words--of alarming nations with the most terrific
systems, so long will fanaticism be master of the human mind; imposture
will, at its pleasure, cast the apple of discord among the members of
the state. The most simple error, perpetually fed, unceasingly modified,
continually exaggerated by the imagination of man, will by degrees
assume a collossal figure, sufficiently powerful to upset every
institution; amply competent to the overthrow of empires. Theism is a
system at which the human mind cannot make a long sojourn; founded upon
error, it will, sooner or later, degenerate into the most absurd, the
most dangerous superstition.

Many incredulous beings, many theists, are to be met with in those
countries where freedom of opinion reigns; that is to say, where the
civil power has known how to balance superstition. But, above all,
atheists as they are termed, will be found in those nations where,
superstition, backed by the sovereign authority, most enforces the
ponderosity of its yoke; most impresses the volume of its severity;
imprudently abuses its unlimited power. Indeed, when in these kind of
countries, science, talents, the seeds of reflection, are not entirely
stifled, the greater part of the men who think, revolt at the crying
abuses of superstition; are ashamed of its multifarious follies; are
shocked at the corruption of its professors; scandalized at the tyranny
of its priests: are struck with horror at those massive chains which it
imposes on the credulous. Believing with great reason, that they can
never remove themselves too far from its savage principles, the system
that serves for the basis of such a creed, becomes as odious as the
superstition itself; they feel that terrific systems can only be
detailed by cruel ministers; these become detestable objects to every
enlightened, to every honest mind, in which either the love of equity,
or the sacred fire of freedom resides; to every one who is the advocate
of humanity--the indignant spurner of tyranny. Oppression gives a spring
to the soul; it obliges man to examine closely into the cause of his
sorrows; misfortune is a powerful incentive, that turns the mind to the
side of truth. How formidable a foe must not outraged reason be to
falsehood? It at least throws it into confusion, when it tears away its
mask; when it follows it into its last entrenchment; when it proves,
beyond contradiction, that _nothing is so dastardly as delusion
detected, or tyrannic power held at bay._


_Of the motives which lead to what is falsely called Atheism.--Can this
System be dangerous?--Can it be embraced by the Illiterate?_

The reflections, as well as the facts which have preceded, will furnish
a reply to those who inquire what interest man has in not admitting
unintelligible systems? The tyrannies, the persecutions, the numberless
outrages committed under these systems; the stupidity, the slavery, into
which their ministers almost every where plunge the people; the
sanguinary disputes to which they give birth; the multitude of unhappy
beings with which their fatal notions fill the world; are surely
abundantly sufficient to create the most powerful, the most interesting
motives, to determine all sensible men, who possess the faculty of
thought, to examine into the authenticity of doctrines, which cause so
many serious evils to the inhabitants of the earth.

A theist, very estimable for his talents, asks, "if there can be any
other cause than an evil disposition, which can make men atheists?" I
reply to him, yes, there are other causes. There is the desire, a very
laudable one, of having a knowledge of interesting truths; there is the
powerful interest of knowing what opinions we ought to hold upon the
object which is announced to us as the most important; there is the fear
of deceiving ourselves upon systems which are occupied with the opinions
of mankind, which do not permit he should deceive himself respecting
them with impunity. But when these motives, these causes, should not
subsist, is not indignation, or if they will, an evil disposition, a
legitimate cause, a good and powerful motive, for closely examining the
pretensions, for searching into the rights of systems, in whose name so
many crimes are perpetrated? Can any man who feels, who thinks, who has
any elasticity in his soul, avoid being incensed against austere
theories, which are visibly the pretext, undeniably the source, of all
those evils, which on every side assail the human race? Are they not
these fatal systems which are at once the cause and the ostensible
reason of that iron yoke that oppresses mankind; of that wretched
slavery in which he lives; of that blindness which hides from him his
happiness; of that superstition, which disgraces him; of those
irrational customs which torment him; of those sanguinary quarrels which
divide him; of all the outrages which he experiences? Must not every
breast in which humanity is not extinguished, irritate itself against
that theoretical speculation, which in almost every country is made to
speak the language of capricious, inhuman, irrational tyrants?

To motives so natural, so substantive, we shall join those which are
still more urgent, more personal to every reflecting man: namely, that
benumbing terror, that incommodious fear, which must be unceasingly
nourished by the idea of capricious theories, which lay man open to the
most severe penalties, even for secret thoughts, over which he himself
has not any controul; that dreadful anxiety arising out of inexorable
systems, against which he may sin without even his own knowledge; of
morose doctrines, the measure of which he can never be certain of having
fulfilled; which so far from being equitable, make all the obligations
lay on one side; which with the most ample means of enforcing restraint,
freely permit evil, although they hold out the most excruciating
punishments for the delinquents? Does it not then, embrace the best
interests of humanity, become of the highest importance to the welfare
of mankind, of the greatest consequence to the quiet of his existence,
to verify the correctness of these systems? Can any thing be more
rational than to probe to the core these astounding theories? Is it
possible that any thing can be more just, than to inquire rigorously
into the rights, sedulously to examine the foundations, to try by every
known test, the stability of doctrines, that involve in their
operations, consequences of such colossal magnitude; that embrace, in
their dictatory mandates, matters of such high behest; that implicate
the eternal felicity of such countless millions in the vortex of their
action? Would it not be the height of folly to wear such a tremendous
yoke without inquiry; to let such overwhelming notions pass current
unauthenticated; to permit the soi-disant ministers of these terrific
systems to establish their power, without the most ample verification of
their patents of mission? Would it, I repeat, be at all wonderful, if
the frightful qualities of some of these systems, as exhibited by their
official expounders, whom the accredited functionaries of similar
systems, do not scruple, in the face of day, to brand as impostors,
should induce rational beings to drive them entirely from their hearts;
to shake off such an intolerable burden of misery; to even deny the
existence of such appalling doctrines, of such petrifying systems, which
the superstitious themselves, whilst paying them their homage,
frequently curse from the very bottom of their hearts?

The theist, however, will not fail to tell the atheist, as he calls him,
that these systems are not such as superstition paints them; that the
colours are coarse, too glaring, ill assorted, the perspective out of
all keeping; he will then exhibit his own picture, in which the tints
are certainly blended with more mellowness, the colouring of a more
pleasing hue, the whole more harmonious, but the distances equally
indistinct: the atheist, in reply, will say, that superstition itself,
with all the absurd prejudices, all the mischievous notions to which it
gives birth, are only corollaries drawn from the fallacious ideas, from
those obscure principles, which the deicolist himself indulges. That his
own incomprehensible system authorizes the incomprehensible absurdities,
the inconceivable mysteries, with which superstition abounds; that they
flow consecutively from his own premises; that when once the mind of
mortals is bewildered in the dark, inextricable mazes of an ill-directed
imagination, it will incessantly multiply its chimeras. To assure the
repose of mankind, fundamental errors must be annihilated; that he may
understand his true relations, be acquainted with his imperative duties,
primary delusions must be rectified; to procure him that serenity of
soul, without which there can be no substantive happiness, original
fallacies must be undermined. If the systems of the superstitious be
revolting, if their theories be gloomy, if their dogmas are
unintelligible, those of the theist will always be contradictory; will
prove fatal, when he shall be disposed to meditate upon them; will
become the source of illusions, with which, sooner or later, imposture
will not omit to abuse his credulity. Nature alone, with the truths she
discovers, is capable of lending to the human mind that firmness which
falsehood will never be able to shake; to the human heart that self-
possession, against which imposture will in vain direct its attacks.

Let us again reply to those who unceasingly repeat that the interest of
the passions alone conduct man to what is termed atheism: that it is the
dread of future punishment that determines corrupt individuals to make
the most strenuous efforts to break up a system they have reason to
dread. We shall, without hesitation, agree that it is the interest of
man's passions which excites him to make inquiries; without interest, no
man is tempted to seek; without passion, no man will seek vigorously.
The question, then, to be examined, is, if the passions and interests,
which determine some thinkers to dive into the stability or the systems
held forth to their adoption, are or are not legitimate? These interests
have, already been exposed, from which it has been proved, that every
rational man finds in his inquietudes, in his fears, reasonable motives
to ascertain, whether or not it be necessary to pass his life in
perpetual dread; in never ceasing agonies? Will it be said, that an
unhappy being, unjustly condemned to groan in chains, has not the right
of being willing to render them asunder; to take some means to liberate
himself from his prison; to adopt some plan to escape from those
punishments, which every instant threaten him? Will it be pretended that
his passion for liberty has no legitimate foundation, that he does an
injury to the companions of his misery, in withdrawing himself from the
shafts of tyrannical infliction; or in furnishing, them also with means
to escape from its cruel strokes? Is, then, an incredulous man, any
thing more than one who has taken flight from the general prison, in
which despotic superstition detains nearly all mankind? Is not an
atheist, as he is called, who writes, one who has broken his fetters,
who supplies to those of his associates who have sufficient courage to
follow him, the means of setting themselves free from the terrors that
menace them? The priests unceasingly repeat that it is pride, vanity,
the desire of distinguishing himself from the generality of mankind,
that determines man to incredulity. In this they are like some of those
wealthy mortals, who treat all those as insolent who refuse to cringe
before them. Would not every rational man have a right to ask the
priest, where is thy superiority in matters of reasoning? What motives
can I have to submit my reason to thy delirium? On the other hand, way
it not be said to the hierarchy, that it is interest which makes them
priests; that it is interest which renders them theologians; that it is
for the interest of their passions, to inflate their pride, to gratify
their avarice, to minister to their ambition, &c. that they attach
themselves to systems, of which they alone reap the benefits? Whatever
it may be, the priesthood, contented with exercising their power over
the illiterate, ought to permit those men who do think, to be excused
from bending the knee before their vain, illusive idols.

We also agree, that frequently the corruption of morals, a life of
debauchery, a licentiousness of conduct, even levity of mind, may
conduct man to incredulity; but is it not possible to be a libertine, to
be irreligious, to make a parade of incredulity, without being on that
account an atheist? There is unquestionably a difference between those
who are led to renounce belief in unintelligible systems by dint of
reasoning, and those who reject or despise superstition, only because
they look upon it as a melancholy object, or an incommodious restraint.
Many persons, no doubt, renounce received prejudices, through vanity or
upon hearsay; these pretended strong minds have not examined any thing
for themselves; they act upon the authority of others, whom they suppose
to have weighed things more maturely. This kind of incredulous beings,
have not, then, any distinct ideas, any substantive opinions, and are
but little capacitated to reason for themselves; they are indeed hardly
in a state to follow the reasoning of others. They are irreligious in
the same manner as the majority of mankind are superstitious, that is to
say, by credulity like the people; or through interest like the priest.
A voluptuary devoted to his appetites; a debauchee drowned in
drunkenness; an ambitious mortal given up to his own schemes of
aggrandizement; an intriguer surrounded by his plots; a frivolous,
dissipated mortal, absorbed by his gewgaws, addicted to his puerile
pursuits, buried in his filthy enjoyments; a loose woman abandoned to
her irregular desires; a choice spirit of the day: are these I say,
personages, actually competent to form a sound judgment of superstition,
which they have never examined? Are they in a condition to maturely
weigh theories that require the utmost depth of thought? Have they the
capabilities to feel the force of a subtle argument; to compass the
whole of a system: to embrace the various ramifications of an extended
doctrine? If some feeble scintillations occasionally break in upon the
cimmerian darkness of their minds; if by any accident they discover some
faint glimmerings of truth amidst the tumult of their passions; if
occasionally a sudden calm, suspending, for a short season, the tempest
of their contending vices, permits the bandeau of their unruly desires
by which they are blinded, to drop for an instant from their hoodwinked
eyes, these leave on them only evanescent traces; scarcely sooner
received than obliterated. Corrupt men only attack the gods when they
conceive them to be the enemies to their vile passions. Arrian says,
"that when men imagine the gods are in opposition to their passions,
they abuse them, and overturn their altars." The Chinese, I believe, do
the same. The honest man makes war against systems which he finds are
inimical to virtue--injurious to his own happiness--baneful to that of
his fellow mortals--contradictory to the repose, fatal to the interests
of the human species. The bolder, therefore, the sentiments of the
honest atheist, the more strange his ideas, the more suspicious they
appear to other men, the more strictly he ought to observe his own
obligations; the more scrupulously he should perform his duties;
especially if he be not desirous that his morals shall calumniate his
system; which duly weighed, will make the necessity of sound ethics, the
certitude of morality, felt in all its force; but which every species of
superstition tends to render problematical, or to corrupt.

Whenever our will is moved by concealed and complicated motives, it is
extremely difficult to decide what determines it; a wicked man may be
conducted to incredulity or to scepticism by those motives which he dare
not avow, even to himself; in believing he seeks after truth, he may
form an illusion to his mind, only to follow the interest of his
passions; the fear of an avenging system will perhaps determine him to
deny their existence without examination; uniformly because he feels
them incommodious. Nevertheless, the passions sometimes happen to be
just; a great interest carries us on to examine things more minutely; it
may frequently make a discovery of the truth, even to him who seeks
after it the least, or who is only desirous to be lulled to sleep, who
is only solicitous to deceive himself. It is the same with a perverse
man who stumbles upon truth, as it is with him, who flying from an
imaginary danger, should encounter in his road a dangerous serpent,
which in his haste he should destroy; he does that by accident, without
design, which a man, less disturbed in his mind, would have done with
premeditated deliberation.

To judge properly of things, it is necessary to be disinterested; it is
requisite to have an enlightened mind, to have connected ideas to
compass a great system. It belongs, in fact, only to the honest man to
examine the proofs of systems--to scrutinize the principles of
superstition; it belongs only to the man acquainted with nature,
conversant with her ways, to embrace with intelligence the cause of the
SYSTEM OF NATURE. The wicked are incapable of judging with temper; the
ignorant are inadequate to reason with accuracy; the honest, the
virtuous, are alone competent judges in so weighty an affair. What do I
say? Is not the virtuous man, from thence in a condition to ardently
desire the existence of a system that remunerates the goodness of men?
If he renounces those advantages, which his virtue confers upon him the
right to hope, it is, undoubtedly, because he finds them imaginary.
Indeed, every man who reflects will quickly perceive, that for one timid
mortal, of whom these systems restrain the feeble passions, there are
millions whose voice they cannot curb, of whom, on the contrary, they
excite the fury; for one that they console, there are millions whom they
affright, whom they afflict; whom they make unhappy: in short, he finds,
that against one inconsistent enthusiast, which these systems, which are
thought so excellent, render happy, they carry discord, carnage,
wretchedness into vast countries; plunge whole nations into misery;
deluge them with tears.

However this may be, do not let us inquire into motives which may
determine a man to embrace a system; let us rather examine the system
itself; let us convince ourselves of its rectitude; if we shall find
that it is founded upon truth, we shall never, be able to esteem it
dangerous. It is always falsehood that is injurious to man; if error be
visibly the source of his sorrows, reason is the true remedy for them;
this is the panacea that can alone carry consolation to his afflictions.
Do not let us farther examine the conduct of a man who presents us with
a system; his ideas, as we have already said, may be extremely sound,
when even his actions are highly deserving of censure. If the system of
atheism cannot make him perverse, who is not so by his temperament, it
cannot render him good, who does not otherwise know the motives that
should conduct him to virtue. At least we have proved, that the
superstitious man, when he has strong passions, when he possesses a
depraved heart, finds even in his creed a thousand pretexts more than
the atheist, for injuring the human species. The atheist has not, at
least, the mantle of zeal to cover his vengeance; he has not the command
of his priest to palliate his transports; he has not the glory of his
gods to countenance his fury; the atheist does not enjoy the faculty of
expiating, at the expence of a sum of money, the transgressions of his
life; of availing himself of certain ceremonies, by the aid of which he
may atone for the outrages he may have committed against society; he has
not the advantage of being able to reconcile himself with heaven, by
some easy custom; to quiet the remorse of his disturbed conscience, by
an attention to outward forms: if crime has not deadened every feeling
of his heart, he is obliged continually to carry within himself an
inexorable judge, who unceasingly reproaches him for his odious conduct;
who forces him to blush for his own folly; who compels him to hate
himself; who imperiously obliges him to fear examination, to dread the
resentment of others. The superstitious man, if he be wicked, gives
himself up to crime, which is followed by remorse; but his superstition
quickly furnishes him with the means a getting rid of it; his life is
generally no more than a long series of error and grief, of sin and
expiation, following each other in alternate succession; still more, he
frequently, as we have seen, perpetrates crimes of greater magnitude, in
order to wash away the first. Destitute of any permanent ideas on
morality, he accustoms himself to look upon nothing as criminal, but
that which the ministers, the official expounders of his system, forbid
him to commit: he considers actions of the blackest dye as virtues, or
as the means of effacing those transgressions, which are frequently held
out to him as faithfully executing the duties of his creed. It is thus
we have seen fanatics expiate their adulteries by the most atrocious
persecutions; cleanse their souls from infamy by the most unrelenting
cruelty; make atonement for unjust wars by the foulest means; qualify
their usurpations by outraging every principle of virtue; in order to
wash away their iniquities, bathe themselves in the blood of those
superstitious victims, whose infatuation made them martyrs.

An atheist, as he is falsely called, if he has reasoned justly, if he
has consulted nature, hath principles more determinate, more humane,
than the superstitious; his system, whether gloomy or enthusiastic,
always conducts the latter either to folly or cruelty; the imagination
of the former will never be intoxicated to that degree, to make him
believe that violence, injustice, persecution, or assassination are
either virtuous or legitimate actions. We every day see that
superstition, or the cause of heaven, as it is called, hoodwinks even
those persons who on every other occasion are humane, equitable, and
rational; so much so, that they make it a paramount duty to treat with
determined barbarity, those men who happen to step aside from their mode
of thinking. An heretic, an incredulous being, ceases to be a man, in
the eyes of the superstitious. Every society, infected with the venom of
bigotry, offers innumerable examples of juridical assassination, which
the tribunals commit without scruple, even without remorse. Judges who
are equitable on every other occasion, are no longer so when there is a
question of theological opinions; in steeping their hands in the blood
of their victims, they believe, on the authority of the priests, they
conform themselves to the views of the Divinity. Almost every where the
laws are subordinate to superstition; make themselves accomplices in its
fanatical fury; they legitimate those actions most opposed to the gentle
voice of humanity; they even transform into imperative duties, the most
barbarous cruelties. The president Grammont relates, with a satisfaction
truly worthy of a cannibal, the particulars of the punishment of Vanini,
who was burned at Thoulouse, although he had disavowed the opinions with
which he was accused; this president carries his demoniac prejudices so
far, as to find wickedness in the piercing cries, in the dreadful
howlings, which torment wrested from this unhappy victim to
superstitious vengeance. Are not all these avengers of the gods
miserable men, blinded by their piety, who, under the impression of
duty, wantonly immolate at the shrine of superstition, those wretched
victims whom the priests deliver over to them? Are they not savage
tyrants, who have the rank injustice to violate thought; who have the
folly to believe they can enslave it? Are they not delirious fanatics,
on whom the law, dictated by the most inhuman prejudices, imposes the
necessity of acting like ferocious brutes? Are not all those sovereigns,
who to gratify the vanity of the priesthood, torment and persecute their
subjects, who sacrifice to their anthropophagite gods human victims, men
whom superstitious zeal has converted into tygers? Are not those
priests, so careful of the soul's health, who insolently break into the
sacred sanctuary of man's mind, to the end that they may find in his
opinions motives for doing him an injury, abominable knaves, disturbers
of the public repose, whom superstition honours, but whom virtue
detests? What villains are more odious in the eyes of humanity, what
depredators more hateful to the eye of reason, than those infamous
inquisitors, who by the blindness of princes, by the delirium of
monarchs, enjoy the advantage of passing judgment on their own enemies;
who ruthlessly commit them to the charity of the flames? Nevertheless,
the fatuity of the people makes even these monsters respected; the
favour of kings covers them with kindness; the mantle of superstitious
opinion shields them from the effect of the just execration of every
honest man. Do not a thousand examples prove, that superstition has
every where produced the most frightful ravages: that it has continually
justified the most unaccountable horrors? Has it not a thousand times
armed its votaries with the dagger of the homicide; let loose passions
much wore terrible than those which it pretended to restrain; broken up
the most sacred bonds by which mortals are connected with each other?
Has it not, under the pretext of duty, under the colour of faith, under
the semblance of zeal, under the sacred name of piety, favoured
cupidity, lent wings to ambition, countenanced cruelty, given a spring
to tyranny? Has it not legitimatized murder; given a system to perfidy;
organized rebellion; made a virtue of regicide? Have not those princes
who have been foremost as the avengers of heaven, who have been the
lictors of superstition, frequently themselves become its victims? In
short, has it not been the signal for the most dismal follies, the most
wicked outrages, the most horrible massacres? Has not its altars been
drenched with human gore? Under whatever form it has been exhibited, has
it not always been the ostensible cause of the most bare-faced
violation--of the sacred rights of humanity?

Never will an atheist, as he is called, as called, as he enjoys his
proper senses, persuade himself that similar actions can be justifiable;
never will he believe that he who commits them can be an estimable man;
there is no one but the superstitious, whose blindness makes him forget
the most evident principles of morality, whose callous soul renders him
deaf to the voice of nature, whose zeal causes him to overlook the
dictates of reason, who can by any possibility imagine the most
destructive crimes are the most prominent features of virtue. If the
atheist be perverse, he, at least, knows that he acts wrong; neither
these systems, nor their priests, will be able to persuade him that he
does right: one thing, however, is certain, whatever crimes he may allow
himself to commit, he will never be capable of exceeding those which
superstition perpetrates without scruple; that it encourages in those
whom it intoxicates with its fury; to whom it frequently holds forth
wickedness itself, either as expiations for offences, or else as
orthodox, meritorious actions.

Thus the atheist, however wicked he may be supposed, will at most be
upon a level with the devotee, whose superstition encourages him to
commit crimes, which it transforms into virtue. As to conduct, if he be
debauched, voluptuous, intemperate, adulterous, the atheist in this
differs in nothing from the most credulously superstitious, who
frequently knows how to connect these vices with his credulity, to blend
with his superstition certain atrocities, for which his priests,
provided he renders due homage to their power, especially if he augments
their exchequer, will always find means to pardon him. If he be in
Hindoostan, his brahmins will wash him in the sacred waters of the
Ganges, while reciting a prayer. If he be a Jew, upon making an
offering, his sins will be effaced. If he be in Japan, he will be
cleansed by performing a pilgrimage. If he be a Mahometan, he will be
reputed a saint, for having visited the tomb of his prophet; the Roman
pontiff himself will sell him indulgences; but none of them will ever
censure him for those crimes he may have committed in the support of
their several faiths.

We are constantly told, that the indecent behaviour of the official
expounders of superstition, the criminal conduct of the priests, or of
their sectaries, proves nothing against the goodness of their systems.
Admitted: but wherefore do they not say the same thing of the conduct of
those whom they call atheists, who, as we have already proved, way have
a very substantive, a very correct system of morality, even while
leading a very dissolute life? If it be necessary to judge the opinions
of mankind according to their conduct, which is the theory that would
bear the scrutiny? Let us, then, examine the opinion of the atheist,
without approving his conduct; let us adopt his mode of thinking, if we
find it marked by the truth; if it shall appear useful; if it shall be
proved rational; but let us reject his mode of action, if that should be
found blameable. At the sight of a work performed with truth, we do not
embarrass ourselves with the morals of the workman: of what importance
is it to the universe, whether the illustrious Newton was a sober,
discreet citizen, or a debauched intemperate man? It only remains for us
to examine his theory; we want nothing more than to know whether he has
reasoned acutely; if his principles be steady; if the parts of his
system are connected; if his work contains more demonstrable truths,
than bold ideas? Let us judge in the same manner of the principles of
the atheist; if they appear strange, if they are unusual, that is a
solid reason for probing them more strictly; if he has spoken truth, if
he has demonstrated his positions, let us yield to the weight of
evidence; if he be deceived in some parts, let us distinguish the true
from the false; but do not let us fall into the hacknied prejudice,
which on account of one error in the detail, rejects a multitude of
incontestible truisms. Doctor Johnson, I think, says in his preface to
his Dictionary, "when a man shall have executed his task with all the
accuracy possible, he will only be allowed to have done his duty; but if
he commits the slightest error, a thousand snarlers are ready to point
it out." The atheist, when he is deceived, has unquestionably as much
right to throw his faults on the fragility of his nature, as the
superstitious man. An atheist may have vices, may be defective, he may
reason badly; but his errors will never have the consequences of
superstitious novelties; they will not, like these, kindle up the fire
of discord in the bosom of nations; the atheist will not justify his
vices, defend his wanderings by superstition; he will not pretend to
infallibility, like those self-conceited theologians who attach the
Divine sanction to their follies; who initiate that heaven authorizes
those sophisms, gives currency to those falsehoods, approves those
errors, which they believe themselves warranted to distribute over the
face of the earth.

It will perhaps be said, that the refusal to believe in these systems,
will rend asunder one of the most powerful bonds of society, by making
the sacredness of an oath vanish. I reply, that perjury is by no means
rare, even in the most superstitious nations, nor even among the most
religious, or among those who boast of being the most thoroughly
convinced of the rectitude of their theories. Diagoras, superstitious as
he was, and it was not well possible to be more so, it is said became an
atheist, on seeing that the gods did not thunder their vengeance on a
man who had taken them as evidence to a falsity. Upon this principle,
how many atheists ought there to be? From the systems that have made
invisible unknown beings the depositaries of man's engagements, we do
not always see it result that they are better observed; or that the most
solemn contracts have acquired a greater solidity. If history was
consulted, it would now and then be in evidence, that even the
conductors of nations, those who have said they were the images of the
Divinity, who have declared that they held their right of governing
immediately from his hands, have sometimes taken the Deity as the
witness to their oaths, have made him the guarantee of their treaties,
without its having had all the effect that might have been expected,
when very trifling interests have intervened; it would appear, unless
historians are incorrect, that they did not always religiously observe
those sacred engagements they made with their allies, much less with
their subjects. To form a judgment from these historic documents, we
should be inclined to say, there have been those who had much
superstition, joined with very little probity; who made a mockery both
of gods and men; who perhaps blushed when they reviewed their own
conduct: nor can this be at all surprising, when it not unfrequently
happened that superstition itself absolved them from their oaths. In
fact, does not superstition sometimes inculcate perfidy; prescribe
violation of plighted faith? Above all, when there is a question of its
own interests, does it not dispense with engagements, however solemn,
made with those whom it condemns? It is, I believe, a maxim in the
Romish church, that _"no faith is to be held with heretics."_ The
general council of Constance decided thus, when, notwithstanding the
emperor's passport, it decreed John Hus and Jerome of Prague to be
burnt. The Roman pontiff has, it is well known, the right of relieving
his sectaries from their oaths; of annulling their vows: this same
pontiff has frequently arrogated to himself the right of deposing kings;
of absolving their subjects from their oaths of fidelity. Indeed, it is
rather extraordinary that oaths should be prescribed, by the laws of
those nations which profess Christianity, seeing that Christ has
expressly forbidden the use of them. If things were considered
attentively, it would be obvious that under such management,
superstition and politics are schools of perjury. They render it common:
thus knaves of every description never recoil, when it is necessary to
attest the name of the Divinity to the most manifest frauds, for the
vilest interests. What end, then, do oaths answer? They are snares, in
which simplicity alone can suffer itself to be caught: oaths, almost
every where, are vain formalities, that impose nothing upon villains;
nor do they add any thing to the sacredness of the engagements of honest
men; who would neither have the temerity nor the wish to violate them;
who would not think themselves less bound without an oath. A perfidious,
perjured, superstitious being, has not any advantage over an atheist,
who should fail in his promises: neither the one nor the other any
longer deserves the confidence of their fellow citizens nor the esteem
of good men; if one does not respect his gods, in whom he believes, the
other neither respects his reason, his reputation, nor public opinion,
in which all rational men cannot refuse to believe. Hobbes says, "an
oath adds nothing to the obligation. For a covenant, if lawful, binds in
the sight of God, without the oath, as much as with it: if unlawful,
bindeth not at all: though it be confirmed with an oath." The heathen
form was, "let Jupiter kill me else, as I kill this beast." Adjuration
only augments, in the imagination of him who swears, the fear of
violating an engagement, which he would have been obliged to keep, even
without the ceremony of an oath.

It has frequently been asked, if there ever was a nation that had no
idea of the Divinity: and if a people, uniformly composed of atheists,
would be able to subsist? Whatever some speculators may say, it does not
appear likely that there ever has been upon our globe, a numerous people
who have not had an idea of some invisible power, to whom they have
shewn marks of respect and submission: it has been sometimes believed
that the Chinese were atheists: but this is an error, due to the
Christian missionaries, who are accustomed to treat all those as
atheists, who do not hold opinions similar with their own upon Divinity.
It always appears that the Chinese are a people extremely addicted to
superstition, but that they are governed by chiefs who are not so,
without however their being atheists for that reason. If the empire of
China be as flourishing as it is said to be, it at least furnishes a
very forcible proof that those who govern have no occasion to be
themselves superstitious, in order to govern with propriety a people who
are so. It is pretended that the Greenlanders have no idea of the
Divinity. Nevertheless, it is difficult to believe it of a nation so
savage. Man, inasmuch as he is a fearful, ignorant animal, necessarily
becomes superstitious in his misfortunes: either he forms gods for
himself, or he admits the gods which others are disposed to give him; it
does not then appear, that we can rationally suppose there may have
been, or that there actually is, a people on the earth a total stranger
to some Divinity. One will shew us the sun, the moon, or the stars; the
other will shew us the sea, the lakes, the rivers, which furnish him his
subsistence, the trees which afford him an asylum against the inclemency
of the weather; another will shew us a rock of an odd form; a lofty
mountain; or a volcano that frequently astonishes him by its emission of
lava; another will present you with his crocodile, whose malignity he
fears; his dangerous serpent, the reptile to which he attributes his
good or bad fortune. In short, each individual will make you behold his
phantasm or his tutelary or domestic gods with respect.

But from the existence of his gods, the savage does not draw the same
inductions as the civilized, polished man: the savage does not believe
it a duty to reason continually upon their qualities; he does not
imagine that they ought to influence his morals, nor entirely occupy his
thoughts: content with a gross, simple, exterior worship, he does not
believe that these invisible powers trouble themselves with his conduct
towards his fellow creatures; in short, he does not connect his morality
with his superstition. This morality is coarse, as must be that of all
ignorant people; it is proportioned to his wants, which are few; it is
frequently irrational, because it is the fruit of ignorance; of
inexperience; of the passions of men but slightly restrained, or to say
thus, in their infancy. It is only numerous, stationary, civilized
societies, where man's wants are multiplied, where his interests clash,
that he is obliged to have recourse to government, to laws, to public
worship, in order to maintain concord. It is then, that men
approximating, reason together, combine their ideas, refine their
notions, subtilize their theories; it is then also, that those who
govern them avail themselves of invisible powers, to keep them within
bounds, to render them docile, to enforce their obedience, to oblige
them to live peaceably. It was thus, that by degrees, morals and
politics found themselves associated with superstitious systems. The
chiefs of nations, frequently, themselves, the children of superstition,
but little enlightened upon their actual interests; slenderly versed in
sound morality; with an extreme exilty of knowledge on the actuating
motives of the human heart; believed they had effected every thing
requisite for the stability of their own authority; as well as achieved
all that could guarantee the repose of society, that could consolidate
the happiness of the people, in rendering their subjects superstitious
like themselves; by menacing them with the wrath of invisible powers; in
treating them like infants who are appeased with fables, like children
who are terrified by shadows. By the assistance of these marvellous
inventions, to which even the chiefs, the conductors of nations, are
themselves frequently the dupes; which are transmitted as heirlooms from
race to race; sovereigns were dispensed from the trouble of instructing
themselves in their duties; they in consequence neglected the laws,
enervated themselves in luxurious ease, rusted in sloth; followed
nothing but their caprice: the care of restraining their subjects was
reposed in their deities; the instruction of the people was confided to
their priests, who were commissioned to train them to obedience, to make
them submissive, to render them devout, to teach them at an early age to
tremble under the yoke of both the visible and invisible gods.

It was thus that nations, kept by their tutors in a perpetual state of
infancy, were only restrained by vain, chimerical theories. It was thus
that politics, jurisprudence, education, morality, were almost every
where infected with superstition; that man no longer knew any duties,
save those which grew out of its precepts: the ideas of virtue were thus
falsely associated with those of imaginary systems, to which imposture
generally gave that language which was most conducive to its own
immediate interests: mankind thus fully persuaded, that without these
marvellous systems, there could not exist any sound morality, princes,
as well as subjects, equally blind to their actual interests, to the
duties of nature, to their reciprocal rights, habituated themselves to
consider superstition as necessary to mortals--as indispensibly
requisite to govern men--as the most effectual method of preserving
power--as the most certain means of attaining happiness.

It is from these dispositions, of which we have so frequently
demonstrated the fallacy, that so many persons, otherwise extremely
enlightened, look upon it as an impossibility that a society formed of
atheists, as they are termed, could subsist for any length of time. It
does not admit a question, that a numerous society, who should neither
have religion, morality, government, laws, education, nor principles,
could not maintain itself; that it would simply congregate beings
disposed to injure each other, or children who would follow nothing but
the blindest impulse; but then is it not a lamentable fact, that with
all the superstition that floats in the world, the greater number of
human societies are nearly in this state? Are not the sovereigns of
almost every country in a continual state of warfare with their
subjects? Are not the people, in despite of their superstition, not
withstanding the terrific notions which it holds forth, unceasingly
occupied with reciprocally injuring each other; with rendering
themselves mutually unhappy? Does not superstition itself, with its
supernatural notions, unremittingly flatter the vanity of monarchs,
unbridle the passions of princes, throw oil into the fire of discord,
which it kindles between those citizens who are divided in their
opinion? Could those infernal powers, who are supposed to be ever on the
alert to mischief mankind, be capable of inflicting greater evils upon
the human race than spring from fanaticism, than arise out of the fury
to which theology gives birth? Could atheists, however irrational they
may be supposed, if assembled together in society, conduct themselves in
a more criminal manner? In short, is it possible they could act worse
than the superstitious, who, saturated with the most pernicious vices,
guided by the most extravagant systems, during so many successive ages,
have done nothing more than torment themselves with the most cruel
inflictions; savagely cut each other's throats, without a shadow of
reason; make a merit of mutual extermination? It cannot be pretended
they would. On the contrary, we boldly assert, that a community of
atheists, as the theologian calls them, because they cannot fall in with
his mysteries, destitute of all superstition, governed by wholesome
laws, formed by a salutary education, invited to the practice of virtue
by instantaneous recompences, deterred from crime by immediate
punishments, disentangled from illusive theories, unsophisticated by
falsehood, would be decidedly more honest, incalculably more virtuous,
than those superstitious societies, in which every thing contributes to
intoxicate the mind; where every thing conspires to corrupt the heart.

When we shall be disposed usefully to occupy ourselves with the
happiness of mankind, it is with superstition that the reform must
commence; it is by abstracting these imaginary theories, destined to
affright the ignorant, who are completely in a state of infancy, that we
shall be able to promise ourselves the desirable harvest of conducting
man to a state of maturity. It cannot be too often repeated, there can
be no morality without consulting the nature of man, without studying
his actual relations with the beings of his own species; there can be no
fixed principle for man's conduct, while it is regulated upon unjust
theories; upon capricious doctrines; upon corrupt systems; there can be
no sound politics without attending to human temperament, without
contemplating him as a being associated for the purpose of satisfying
his wants, consolidating his happiness, and assuring its enjoyment. No
wise government can found itself upon despotic systems; they will always
make tyrants of their representatives. No laws can be wholesome, that do
not bottom themselves upon the strictest equity; which have not for
their object the great end of human society. No jurisprudence can be
advantageous for nations, if its administration be regulated by
capricious systems, or by human passions deified. No education can be
salutary, unless it be founded upon reason; to be efficacious to its
proposed end, it must neither be construed upon chimerical theories, nor
upon received prejudices. In short, there can be no probity, no talents,
no virtue, either under corrupt masters, or under the conduct of those
priests who render man the enemy to himself--the determined foe to
others; who seek to stifle in his bosom the germ of reason; who
endeavour to smother science, or who try to damp his courage.

It will, perhaps, be asked, if we can reasonably flatter ourselves with
ever reaching the point to make a whole people entirely forget their
superstitious opinions; or abandon the ideas which they have of their
gods? I reply, that the thing appears utterly impossible; that this is
not the end we can propose to ourselves. These ideas, inculcated from
the earliest ages, do not appear of a nature to admit eradication from
the mind of the majority of mankind: it would, perhaps be equally
arduous to give them to those persons, who, arrived at a certain time of
life, should never have heard them spoken of, as to banish them from the
minds of those, who have been imbued with them from their tenderest
infancy. Thus, it cannot be reckoned possible to make a whole nation
pass from the abyss of superstition, that is to say, from the bosom of
ignorance, from the ravings of delirium, into absolute naturalism, or as
the priests of superstition would denominate it, into atheism; which
supposes reflection--requires intense study--demands extensive
knowledge--exacts a long series of experience--includes the habit of
contemplating nature--the faculty of observing her laws; which, in
short, embraces the expansive science of the causes producing her
various phenomena; her multiplied combinations, together with the
diversified actions of the beings she contains, as well as their
numerous properties. In order to be an atheist, or to be assured of the
capabilities of nature, it is imperative to have meditated her
profoundly: a superficial glance of the eye will not bring man
acquainted with her resources; optics but little practised on her
powers, will unceasingly be deceived; the ignorance of actual causes
will always induce the supposition of those which are imaginary;
credulity will, thus re-conduct the natural philosopher himself to the
feet of superstitious phantoms, in which either his limited vision, or
his habitual sloth, will make him believe he shall find the solution to
every difficulty.

Atheism, then, as well as philosophy, like all profound abstruse
sciences, is not calculated for the vulgar; neither is it suitable to
the great mass of mankind. There are, in all populous, civilized
nations, persons whose circumstances enable them to devote their time to
meditation, whose easy finances afford them leisure to make deep
researches into the nature of things, who frequently make useful
discoveries, which, sooner or later, after they have been submitted to
the infallible test of experience, when they have passed the fiery
ordeal of truth, extend widely their salutary effects, become extremely
beneficial to society, highly advantageous to individuals. The
geometrician, the chemist, the mechanic, the natural philosopher, the
civilian, the artizan himself, are industriously employed, either in
their closets, or in their workshops, seeking the means to serve
society, each in his sphere: nevertheless, not one of their sciences or
professions are familiar to the illiterate; not one of the arts with
which they are respectively occupied, are known to the uninitiated:
these, however, do not fail, in the long run, to profit by them, to reap
substantive advantages from those labours, of which they themselves have
no idea. It is for the mariner, that the astronomer explores his arduous
science; it is for him the geometrician calculates; for his use the
mechanic plies his craft: it is for the mason, for the carpenter, for
the labourer, that the skilful architect studies his orders, lays down
well-proportioned elaborate plans. Whatever may be the pretended utility
of Pneumatology, whatever may be the vaunted advantages of superstitious
opinions, the wrangling polemic, the subtle theologian, cannot boast
either of toiling, of writing, or of disputing for the advantage of the
people, whom, notwithstanding, he contrives to tax, very exorbitantly,
for those systems they can never understand; from whom he levies the
most oppressive contributions, as a remuneration for the detail of those
mysteries, which under any possible circumstances, cannot, at any time
whatever, be of the slightest benefit to them. It is not, then, for the
multitude that a philosopher should propose to himself, either to write
or to meditate: the Code of Nature, or the principles of atheism, as the
priest calls it, are not, as we have shewn, even calculated for the
meridian of a great number of persons, who are frequently too much
prepossessed in favour of the received prejudices, although extremely
enlightened on other points. It is extremely rare to find men, who, to
an enlarged mind, extensive knowledge, great talents, join either a well
regulated imagination, or the courage necessary to successfully oppugn
habitual errors; triumphantly to attack those chimerical systems, with
which the brain has been inoculated from the first hour of its birth. A
secret bias, an invincible inclination, frequently, in despite of all
reasoning, re-conducts the most comprehensive, the best fortified, the
most liberal minds, to those prejudices which have a wide-spreading
establishment; of which they have themselves taken copious draughts
during the early stages of life. Nevertheless, those principles, which
at first appear strange, which by their boldness seem revolting, from
which timidity flies with trepidation, when they have the sanction of
truth, gradually insinuate themselves into the human mind, become
familiar to its exercise, extend their happy influence on every side,
and finally produce the most substantive advantages to society. In time,
men habituate themselves to ideas which originally they looked upon as
absurd; which on a superficial glance they contemplated as either
noxious or irrational: at least, they cease to consider those as odious,
who profess opinions upon subjects on which experience makes it evident
they may be permitted to have doubts, without imminent danger to public

Then the diffusion of ideas among mankind is not an event to be dreaded:
if they are truths, they will of necessity be useful: by degrees they
will fructify. The man who writes, must neither fix his eyes upon the
time in which he lives, upon his actual fellow citizens, nor upon the
country he inhabits. He must speak to the human race; he must instruct
future generations; he must extend his views into the bosom of futurity;
in vain he will expect the eulogies of his contemporaries; in vain will
he flatter himself with seeing his reasoning adopted; in vain he will
soothe himself with the pleasing reflection, that his precocious
principles will be received with kindness; if he has exhibited truisms,
the ages that shall follow will do justice to his efforts; unborn
nations shall applaud his exertions; his future countrymen shall crown
his sturdy attempts with those laurels, which interested prejudice
withholds from him in his own days; it must therefore be from posterity,
he is to expect the need of applause due to his services; the present
race is hermetically sealed against him: meantime let him content
himself with having done well; with the secret suffrages of those few
friends to veracity who are so thinly spread over the surface of the
earth. It is after his death, that the trusty reasoner, the faithful
writer, the promulgator of sterling principles, the child of simplicity,
triumphs; it is then that the stings of hatred, the shafts of envy, the
arrows of malice, either exhausted or blunted, enable mankind to judge
with impartiality; to yield to conviction; to establish eternal truth
upon its own imperishable altars, which from its essence must survive
all the error of the earth. It is then that calumny, crushed like the
devouring snail by the careful gardener, ceases to besmear the character
of an honest man, while its venomous slime, glazed by the sun, enables
the observant spectator to trace the filthy progress it had made.

It is a problem with many people, _if truth may not be injurious?_ The
best intentioned persons are frequently in great doubt upon this
important point. The fact is, _it never injures any but those who
deceive mankind_: this has, however, the greatest interest in being
undeceived. Truth may be injurious to the individual who announces it,
but it can never by any possibility harm the human species; never can it
be too distinctly presented to beings, always either little disposed to
listen to its dictates, or too slothful to comprehend its efficacy. If
all those who write to publish important truths, which, of all others,
are ever considered the most dangerous, were sufficiently ardent for the
public welfare to speak freely, even at the risk of displeasing their
readers, the human race would be much more enlightened, much happier
than it now is. To write in ambiguous terms, is very frequently to write
to nobody. The human mind is idle; we must spare it, as much as
possible, the trouble of reflection; we must relieve it from the
embarrassment of intense thinking. What time does it not consume, what
study does it not require, at the present day, to unravel the
amphibological oracles of the ancient philosophers, whose actual
sentiments are almost entirely lost to the present race of men? If truth
be useful to human beings, it is an injustice to deprive them of its
advantages; if truth ought to be admitted, we must admit its
consequences, which are also truths. Man, taken generally, is fond of
truth, but its consequences often inspire him with so much dread, so
alarm his imbecility, that, frequently, he prefers remaining in error,
of which a confirmed habit prevents him from feeling the deplorable
effects. Besides, we shall say with Hobbes, "that we cannot do men any
harm by proposing truth to them; the worst mode is to leave them in
doubt, to let them remain in dispute." If an author who writes be
deceived, it is because he may have reasoned badly. Has he laid down
false principles? It remains to examine them. Is his system fallacious?
Is it ridiculous? It will serve to make truth appear with the greatest
splendor: his work will fall into contempt; the writer, if he be witness
to its fall, will be sufficiently punished for his temerity; if he be
defunct, the living cannot disturb his ashes. No man writes with a
design to injure his fellow creatures; he always proposes to himself to
merit their suffrages, either by amusing them, by exciting their
curiosity, or by communicating to them discoveries, which he believes
useful. Above all, no work can be really dangerous, if it contains
truth. It would not be so, even if it contained principles evidently
contrary to experience--opposed to good sense. Indeed, what would result
from a work that should now tell us the sun is not luminous; that
parricide is legitimate; that robbery is allowable; that adultery is not
a crime? The smallest reflection would make us feet the falsity of these
principles; the whole human race would protest against them. Men would
laugh at the folly of the author; presently his book, together with his
name, would be known only by its ridiculous extravagancies. There is
nothing but superstitious follies that are pernicious to mortals; and
wherefore? It is because authority always pretends to establish them by
violence; to make them pass for substantive virtues; rigorously punishes
those who shall he disposed to smile at their inconsistency, or examine
into their pretensions. If man was more rational, he would examine
superstitious opinions as he examines every thing else; he would look
upon theological theories with the same eyes that he contemplates
systems of natural philosophy, or problems in geometry: the latter never
disturbs the repose of society, although they sometimes excite very warm
disputes in the learned world. Theological quarrels would never be
attended with any evil consequences, if man could gain the desirable
point of making those who exercise power, feel that the disputes of
persons, who do not themselves understand the marvellous questions upon
which they never cease wrangling, ought not to give birth to any other
sensations than those of indifference; to rouse no other passion than
that of contempt.

It is, at least, this indifference not speculative theories, so just, so
rational, so advantageous for states, that sound philosophy may propose
to introduce, gradually, upon the earth. Would not the human race be
much happier--if the sovereigns of the world, occupied with the welfare
of their subjects, leaving to superstitious theologians their futile
contests, making their various systems yield to healthy politics;
obliged these haughty ministers to become citizens; carefully prevented
their disputes from interrupting the public tranquillity? What advantage
might there not result to science; what a start would be given to the
progress of the human mind, to the cause of sound morality, to the
advancement of equitable jurisprudence, to the improvement of
legislation, to the diffusion of education, from an unlimited freedom of
thought? At present, genius every where finds trammels; superstition
invariably opposes itself to its course; man, straitened with bandages,
scarcely enjoys the free use of any one of his faculties; his mind
itself is cramped; it appears continually wrapped up in the swaddling
clothes of infancy. The civil power, leagued with spiritual domination,
appears only disposed to rule over brutalized slaves, shut up in a dark
prison, where they reciprocally goad each other with the efferverscence
of their mutual ill humour. Sovereigns, in general, detest liberty of
thought, because they fear truth; this appears formidable to them,
because it would condemn their excesses; these irregularities are dear
to them, because they do not, better than their subjects, understand
their true interests; properly considered, these ought to blend
themselves into one uniform mass.

Let not the courage of the philosopher, however, be abated by so many
united obstacles, which would appear for ever to exclude truth from its
proper dominion; to banish reason from the mind of man; to spoil nature
of her imprescriptible rights. The thousandth part of those cares which
are bestowed to infect the human mind, would be amply sufficient to make
it whole. Let us not, then, despair of the case: do not let us do man
the injury to believe that truth is not made for him; his mind seeks
after it incessantly; his heart desires it faithfully; his happiness
demands it with an imperious voice; he only either fears it, or mistakes
it, because superstition, which has thrown all his ideas into confusion,
perpetually keeps the bandeau of delusion fast bound over his eyes;
strives, with an almost irresistible force, to render him an entire
stranger to virtue.

Maugre the prodigious exertions that are made to drive truth from the
earth; in spite of the extraordinary pains used to exile reason--of the
uninterrupted efforts to expel true science from the residence of
mortals; time, assisted by the progressive knowledge of ages, may one
day be able to enlighten even those princes who are the most outrageous
in their opposition to the illumination of the human mind; who appear
such decided enemies to justice, so very determined against the
liberties of mankind. Destiny will, perhaps, when least expected,
conduct these wandering outcasts to the throne of some enlightened,
equitable, courageous, generous, benevolent sovereign, who, smitten with
the charms of virtue, shall throw aside duplicity, frankly acknowledge
the true source of human misery, and apply to it those remedies with
which wisdom has furnished him: perhaps he may feel, that those systems,
from whence it is pretended he derives his power, are the true scourges
of his people; the actual cause of his own weakness: that the official
expounders of these systems are his most substantial enemies--his most
formidable rivals; he may find that superstition, which he has been
taught to look upon as the main support to his authority, in point of
fact only enfeebles it--renders it tottering: that superstitious
morality, false in its principles, is only calculated to pervert his
subjects; to break down their intrepidity; to render them perfidious; in
short, to give them the vices of slaves, in lieu of the virtues of
citizens. A prince thus disentangled from prejudice, will perhaps
behold, in superstitious errors, the fruitful source of human sorrows,
and commiserations, the condition of his race, it may be, will
generously declare, that they are incompatible with every equitable

Until this epoch, so desirable for humanity, shall arrive, the
principles of naturalism will be adopted only by a small number of
liberal-minded men, who shall dive below the surface; these cannot
flatter themselves either with making proselytes, or having a great
number of approvers: on the contrary, they will meet with zealous
adversaries, with ardent contemners, even in those persons who upon
every other subject discover the most acute minds; display the most
consummate knowledge. Those men who possess the greatest share of
ability, as we have already observed, cannot always resolve to divorce
themselves completely from their superstitious ideas; imagination, so
necessary to splendid talents, frequently forms in them an
insurmountable obstacle to the total extinction of prejudice; this
depends much more upon the judgment than upon the mind. To this
disposition, already so prompt to form illusions to them, is also to be
joined the force of habit; to a great number of men, it would he
wresting from them a portion of themselves to take away their
superstitious notions; it would be depriving them of an accustomed
aliment; plunging them into a dreadful vacuum: obliging their
distempered minds to perish for want of exercise. Menage remarks, "that
history speaks of very few incredulous women, or female atheists:" this
is not surprising; their organization renders them fearful; their
nervous system undergoes periodical variations; the education they
receive disposes them to credulity. Those among them who have a sound
constitution, who have a well ordered imagination, have occasion for
chimeras suitable to occupy their leisure; above all, when the world
abandons them, then superstitious devotion, with its attractive
ceremonies, becomes either a business or an amusement.

Let us not be surprised, if very intelligent, extremely learned men,
either obstinately shut their eyes, or run counter to their ordinary
sagacity, every time there is a question respecting an object which they
have not the courage to examine with that attention they lend to many
others. Lord Chancellor Bacon pretends, "that a little philosophy
disposes men to atheism, but that great depth re-conducts them to
religion." If we analyze this proposition, we shall find it signifies,
that even moderate, indifferent thinkers, are quickly enabled to
perceive the gross absurdities of superstition; but that very little
accustomed to meditate, or else destitute of those fixed principles
which could serve them for a guide, their imagination presently replaces
them in the theological labyrinth, from whence reason, too weak for the
purpose, appeared disposed to withdraw them: these timid souls, who fear
to take courage, with minds disciplined to be satisfied with theological
solutions, no longer see in nature any thing but an inexplicable enigma;
an abyss which it is impossible for them to fathom: these, habituated to
fix their eyes upon an ideal, mathematical point, which they have made
the centre of every thing, whenever they lose sight of it, find the
universe becomes an unintelligible jumble to them; then the confusion in
which they feel themselves involved, makes them rather prefer returning
to the prejudices of their infancy, which appear to explain every thing,
than to float in the vacuum, or quit a foundation which they judge to be
immoveable. Thus the proposition of Bacon should seem, to indicate
nothing, except it be that the most experienced persons cannot at all
times defend themselves against the illusions of their imagination; the
impetuosity of which resists the strongest reasoning.

Nevertheless, a deliberate study of nature is sufficient to undeceive
every man who will calmly consider things: he will discover that the
phenomena of the world is connected by links, invisible to superficial
notice, equally concealed from the too impetuous observer, but extremely
intelligible to him who views her with serenity. He will find that the
most unusual, the most marvellous, as well as the most trifling, or
ordinary effects, are equally inexplicable, but that they all equally
flow from natural causes; that supernatural causes, under whatever name
they way be designated, with whatever qualities they may be decorated,
will never do more than increase difficulties; will only make chimeras
multiply. The simplest observation will incontestibly prove to him that
every thing is necessary; that all the effects he perceives are
material; that they can only originate in causes of the same nature,
when he even shall not be able to recur to them by the assistance of his
senses. Thus his mind, properly directed, every where show him nothing
but matter, sometimes acting in a manner which his organs permit him to
follow, at others in a mode imperceptible by the faculties he possesses:
he will see that all beings follow constant invariable laws, by which
all combinations are united and destroyed; he will find that all forms
change, but that, nevertheless, the great whole ever remains the same.
Thus, cured of the idle notions with which he was imbued, undeceived in
those erroneous ideas, which from habit be attached to imaginary
systems, he will cheerfully consent to be ignorant of whatever his
organs do not enable him to compass; he will know that obscure terms,
devoid of sense, are not calculated to explain difficulties; guided by
reason, be will throw aside all hypothesis of the imagination; the
champion of rectitude, he will attach himself to realities, which are
confirmed by experience, which are evidenced by truth.

The greater number of those who study nature, frequently do not
consider, that prejudiced eyes will never discover more than that which
they have previously determined to find: as soon as they perceive facts
contrary to their own ideas, they quickly turn aside, and believe their
visual organs have deceived them; if they return to the task, it is in
hopes to find means by which they may reconcile the facts to the notions
with which their own mind is previously tinctured. Thus we find
enthusiastic philosophers, whose determined prepossession shews them
what they denominate incontestible evidences of the systems with which
they are pre-occupied, even in those things, that most openly contradict
their hypothesis: hence those pretended demonstrations of the existence
of theories, which are drawn from final causes--from the order of
nature--from the kindness evinced to man, &c. Do these same enthusiasts
perceive disorder, witness calamities? They induct new proofs of the
wisdom, fresh evidence of the intelligence, additional testimony to the
bounty of their system, whilst all these occurrences as visibly
contradict these qualities, as the first seem to confirm or to establish
them. These prejudiced observers are in an ecstacy at the sight of the
periodical motions of the planets; at the order of the stars; at the
various productions of the earth; at the astonishing harmony in the
component parts of animals: in that moment, however, they forget the
laws of motion; the powers of gravitation; the force of attraction and
repulsion; they assign all these striking phenomena to unknown causes,
of which they have no one substantive idea. In short, in the fervor of
their imagination they place man in the centre of nature; they believe
him to be the object, the end, of all that exists; that it is for his
convenience every thing is made; that it is to rejoice his mind, to
pleasure his senses, that the whole was created; whilst they do not
perceive, that very frequently the entire of nature appears to be loosed
against his weakness; that the elements themselves overwhelm him with
calamity; that destiny obstinately persists in rendering him the most
miserable of beings. The progress of sound philosophy will always be
fatal to superstition, whose notions will he continually contradicted by

Astronomy has caused judiciary astrology to vanish; experimental
philosophy, the study of natural history and chemistry, have rendered it
impossible for jugglers, priests or sorcerers, any longer to perform
miracles. Nature, profoundly studied, must necessarily cause the
overthrow of those chimerical theories, which ignorance has substituted
to her powers.

Atheism, as it is termed, is only so rare, because every thing conspires
to intoxicate man with a dazzling enthusiasm, from his most tender age;
to inflate him from his earliest infancy, with systematic error, with
organized ignorance, which of all others is the most difficult to
vanquish, the most arduous to root out. Theology is nothing more than a
science of words, which by dint of repetition we accustom ourselves to
substitute for things: as soon as we feel disposed to analyze them, we
are astonished to find they do not present us with any actual sense.
There are, in the whole world, very few men who think deeply: who render
to themselves a faithful account of their own ideas; who have keen
penetrating minds. Justness of intellect is one of the rarest gifts
which nature bestows on the human species. It is not, however, to be
understood by this, that nature has any choice in the formation of her
beings; it is merely to be considered, that the circumstances very
rarely occur which enable the junction of a certain quantity of those
atoms or parts, necessary to form the human machine in such due
proportions, that one disposition shall not overbalance the others; and
thus render the judgment erroneous, by giving it a particular bias. We
know the general process of making gunpowder; nevertheless, it will
sometimes happen that the ingredients have been so happily blended, that
this destructive article is of a superior quality to the general produce
of the manufactory, without, however, the chemist being on that account
entitled to any particular commendation; circumstances have been
decidedly favorable, and these seldom occur. Too lively an imagination,
an over eager curiosity, are as powerful obstacles to the discovery of
truth, as too much phlegm, a slow conception, indolence of mind, or the
want of a thinking habit: all men have more or less imagination,
curiosity, phlegm, bile, indolence, activity: it is from the happy
equilibrium which nature has observed in their organization, that
depends that invaluable blessing, correctness of mind. Nevertheless, as
we have heretofore said, the organic structure of man is subject to
change; the accuracy of his mind varies with the mutations of his
machine: from hence may be traced those almost perpetual revolutions
that take place in the ideas of mortals; above all when there is a
question concerning those objects, upon which experience does not
furnish any fixed basis whereon to rest their merits.

To search after right, to discover truth, requires a keen, penetrating,
just, active mind; because every thing strives to conceal from us its
beauties: it needs an upright heart, one in good faith with itself,
joined to an imagination tempered with reason, because our habitual
fears make us frequently dread its radiance, sometimes bursting like a
meteor on our darkened faculties; besides, it not unfrequently happens,
that we are actually the accomplices of those who lead us astray, by an
inclination we too often manifest to dissimilate with ourselves on this
important measure. Truth never reveals itself either to the enthusiast
smitten with his own reveries; to the fellifluous fanatic enslaved by
his prejudices; to the vain glorious mortal puffed up with his own
presumptuous ignorance; to the voluptuary devoted to his pleasures; or
to the wily reasoner, who, disingenuous with himself, has a peculiar
spontaneity to form illusions to his mind. Blessed, however, with a
heart, gifted with a mind such as described, man will surely discover
this _rara avis:_ thus constituted, the attentive philosopher, the
geometrician, the moralist, the politician, the theologian himself, when
he shall sincerely seek truth, will find that the corner-stone which
serves for the foundation of all superstitious systems, is evidently
rested upon fiction. The philosopher will discover in matter a
sufficient cause for its existence; he will perceive that its motion,
its combination, its modes of acting, are always regulated by general
laws, incapable of variation. The geometrician, without quiting nature,
will calculate the active force of matter; it will then become obvious
to him, that to explain its phenomena, it is by no means necessary to
have recourse to that which is incommensurable with all known powers.
The politician, instructed in the true spring which can act upon the
mind of nations, will feel distinctly, that it is not imperative to
recur to imaginary theories, whilst there are actual motives to give
play to the volition of the citizens; to induce them to labour
efficaciously to the maintenance of their association; he will readily
acknowledge that fictitious systems are calculated either to slaken the
exertions, or to disturb the motion of so complicated a machine an human
society. He who shall more honor truth than the vain subtilities of
theology, will quickly perceive that this pompous science is nothing
more than an unintelligible jumble of false hypothesis; that it
continually begs its principles; is full of sophisms; contains only
vitiated circles; embraces the most subdolous distinctions; is ushered
to mankind by the most disingenuous arguments, from which it is not
possible, under any given circumstances, there should result any thing
but puerilities--the most endless disputes. In short, all men who have
sound ideas of morality, whose notions of virtue are correct, who
understand what is useful to the human being in society, whether it be
to conserve himself individually, or the body of which he is a member,
will acknowledge, that in order to discover his relations, to ascertain
his duties, he has only to consult his own nature; that he ought to be
particularly careful neither to found them upon discrepant systems, nor
to borrow them from models that never can do more than disturb his mind;
that will only render his conduct fluctuating; that will leave him for
ever uncertain of its proper character.

Thus, every rational thinker, who renounces his prejudices, will be
enabled to feel the inutility, to comprehend the fallacy of so many
abstract systems; he will perceive that they have hitherto answered no
other purpose than to confound the notions of mankind; to render
doubtful the clearest truths. In quitting the regions of the empyreum,
where his mind can only bewilder itself, in re-entering his proper
sphere, in consulting reason, man will discover that of which he needs
the knowledge; he will be able to undeceive himself upon those
chimerical theories, which enthusiasm has substituted for actual natural
causes; to detect those figments, by which imposture has almost every
where superseded the real motives that can give activity in nature; out
of which the human mind never rambles, without going woefully astray;
without laying the foundation of future misery.

The Deicolists, as well as the theologians, continually reproach their
adversaries with their taste for paradoxes--with their attachment to
systems; whilst they themselves found all their reasoning upon imaginary
hypothesis--upon visionary theories; make a principle of submitting
their understanding to the yoke of authority; of renouncing experience;
of setting down as nothing the evidence of their senses. Would it not be
justifiable in the disciples of nature, to say to these men, who thus
despise her, "We only assure ourselves of that which we see; we yield to
nothing but evidence; if we have a system, it is one founded upon facts;
we perceive in ourselves, we behold every where else, nothing but
matter; we therefore conclude from it that matter can both feel and
think: we see that the motion of the universe is operated after
mechanical laws; that the whole results from the properties, is the
effect of the combination, the immediate consequence of the modification
of matter; thus, we are content, we seek no other explication of the
phenomena which nature presents. We conceive only an unique world, in
which every thing is connected; where each effect is linked to a natural
cause, either known or unknown, which it produces according to necessary
laws; we affirm nothing that is not demonstrable; nothing that you are
not obliged to admit as well as ourselves: the principles we lay down
are distinct: they are self-evident: they are facts. If we find some
things unintelligible, if causes frequently become arduous, we
ingenuously agree to their obscurity; that is to say, to the limits of
our own knowledge. But in order to explain these effects, we do not
imagine an hypothesis; we either consent to be for ever ignorant of
them, or else we wait patiently until time, experience, with the
progress of the human mind, shall throw them into light: is not, then,
our manner of philosophizing consistent with truth? Indeed, in whatever
we advance upon the subject of nature, we proceed precisely in the same
manner as our opponents themselves pursue in all the other sciences,
such as natural history, experimental philosophy, mathematics,
chemistry, &c. We scrupulously confine ourselves to what comes to our
knowledge through the medium of our senses; the only instruments with
which nature has furnished us to discover truth. What is the conduct of
our adversaries? In order to expound things of which they are ignorant,
they imagine theories still more incomprehensible than what they are
desirous to explain; theories of which they themselves are obliged to
acknowledge they have not the most slender notion. Thus they invert the
true principles of logic, which require we should proceed gradually from
that which is most known, to that with which we are least acquainted.
Again, upon what do they found the existence of these theories, by whose
aid they pretend to solve all difficulties? It is upon the universal
ignorance of mankind; upon the inexperience of man; upon his fears; upon
his disordered imagination; upon a pretended _intimate sense_, which in
reality is nothing more than the effect of vulgar prejudice; the result
of dread; the consequence of the want of a reflecting habit, which
induces them to crouch to the opinions of others; to be guided by the
mandates of authority, rather than take the trouble to examine for their
own information. Such, O theologians! are the ruinous foundations upon
which you erect the superstructure of your doctrine. Accordingly, you
find it impossible to form to yourselves any distinct idea of those
theories which serve for the basis of your systems; you are unable to
comprehend either their attributes, their existence, the nature of their
localities, or their mode of action. Thus, even by your own confession,
ye are in a state of profound ignorance, on the primary elements of that
which ye constitute the cause of all that exists: of which, according to
your own account, it is imperative to have a correct knowledge. Under
whatever point of view, therefore, ye are contemplated, it must be
admitted ye are the founders of aerial systems; of fanciful theories: of
all systematizers, ye are consequently the most absurd; because in
challenging your imagination to create a cause, this cause, at least,
ought to diffuse light over the whole; it would be upon this condition
alone that its incomprehensibility could be pardonable; but to speak
ingenuously, does this cause serve to explain any thing? Does it make us
conceive more clearly the origin of the world; bring us more distinctly
acquainted with the actual nature of man; does it more intelligibly
elucidate the faculties of the soul; or point out with more perspicuity
the source of good and evil? No! unquestionably: these subtle theories
explain nothing, although they multiply to infinity their own
difficulties; they, in fact, embarrass elucidation, by plunging into
greater obscurity those matters in which they are interposed. Whatever
may be the question agitated, it becomes complicated: as soon as these
theories are introduced, they envelope the most demonstrable sciences
with a thick, impenetrable mist; render the most simple notions complex;
give opacity to the most diaphanous ideas; turn the most evident
opinions into insolvable enigmas. What exposition of morality does the
theories, upon which ye found all the virtue, present to man? Do not all
your oracles breathe inconsistency? Does not your doctrines embrace
every gradation of character, however discrepant: every known property,
however opposed. All your ingenious systems, all your mysteries, all the
subtilties which ye have invented, are they capable of reconciling that
discordant assemblage of amiable and unamiable qualities, with which ye
have dressed up your figments? In short, is it not by these theories
that ye disturb the harmony of the universe; is it not in their name ye
follow up your barbarous proscriptions; in their support, that ye so
inhumanly exterminate all who refuse to subscribe to your organized
reveries; who withhold assent to those efforts of the imagination which
ye have collectively decorated with the pompous name of religion; but
which, individually, ye brand as superstition, always excepting that to
which ye lend yourselves. Agree, then, O Theologians! Acknowledge, then,
ye subtle metaphysicians! Consent, then, ye organizers of fanciful
theories! that not only are ye systematically absurd, but also that ye
finish by being atrocious; because whenever ye obtain the ascendancy one
over the other, your unfortunate pre-eminence is distinguished by the
most malevolent persecution; your domination is ushered in with cruelty;
your career is described with blood: from the importance which your own
interest attaches to your ruinous dogmas; from the pride with which ye
tumble down the less fortunate systems of those who started with you for
the prize of plunder; _from that savage ferocity, under which ye equally
overwhelm human reason, the happiness of the individual, and the
felicity of nations._"


_A Summary of the Code of Nature_.

Truth is the only object worthy the research of every wise man; since
that which is false cannot be useful to him: whatever constantly injures
him cannot be founded upon truth; consequently, ought to be for ever
proscribed. It is, then, to assist the human mind, truly to labour for
his happiness, to point out to him the clew by which he may extricate
himself from those frightful labyrinths in which his imagination
wanders; from those sinuosities whose devious course makes him err,
without ever finding a termination to his incertitude. Nature alone,
known through experience, can furnish him with this desirable thread;
her eternal energies can alone supply the means of attacking the
Minotaur; of exterminating the figments of hypocrisy; of destroying
those monsters, who during so many ages, have devoured the unhappy
victims, which the tyranny of the ministers of Moloch have exacted as a
cruel tribute from affrighted mortals. By steadily grasping this
inestimable clew, rendered still more precious by the beauty of the
donor, man can never be led astray--will never ramble out of his course;
but if, careless of its invaluable properties, for a single instant he
suffers it to drop from his hand; if, like another Theseus, ungrateful
for the favour, he abandons the fair bestower, he will infallibly fall
again into his ancient wanderings; most assuredly become the prey to the
cannibal offspring of the White Bull. In vain shall he carry his views
above his head, to find resources which are at his feet; so long as man,
infatuated with his superstitious notions, shall seek in an imaginary
world the rule of his earthly conduct, he will be without principles;
while he shall pertinaciously contemplate the regions of a distempered
fancy, so long he will grope in those where he actually finds himself;
his uncertain steps will never encounter the welfare he desires; never
lead him to that repose after which he so ardently sighs, nor conduct
him to that surety which is so decidedly requisite to consolidate his

But man, blinded by his prejudices; rendered obstinate in injuring his
fellow, by his enthusiasm; ranges himself in hostility even against
those who are sincerely desirous of procuring for him the most
substantive benefits. Accustomed to be deceived, he is in a state of
continual suspicion; habituated to mistrust himself, to view his reason
with diffidence, to look upon truth as dangerous, he treats as enemies
even those who most eagerly strive to encourage him; forewarned in early
life against delusion, by the subtilty of imposture, he believes himself
imperatively called upon to guard with the most sedulous activity the
bandeau with which they have hoodwinked him; he thinks his eternal
welfare involved in keeping it for ever over his eyes; he therefore
wrestles with all those who attempt to tear it from his obscured optics.
If his visual organs, accustomed to darkness, are for a moment opened,
the light offends them; he is distressed by its effulgence; he thinks it
criminal to be enlightened; he darts with fury upon those who hold the
flambeau by which he is dazzled. In consequence, the atheist, as the
arch rogue from whom he differs ludicrously calls him, is looked upon as
a malignant pest, as a public poison, which like another Upas, destroys
every thing within the vortex of its influence; he who dares to arouse
mortals from the lethargic habit which the narcotic doses administered
by the theologians have induced passes for a perturbator; he who
attempts to calm their frantic transports, to moderate the fury of their
maniacal paroxysms, is himself viewed as a madman, who ought to be
closely chained down in the dungeons appropriated to lunatics; he who
invites his associates to rend their chains asunder, to break their
galling fetters, appears only like an irrational, inconsiderate being,
even to the wretched captives themselves: who have been taught to
believe that nature formed them for no other purpose than to tremble:
only called them into existence that they might be loaded with shackles.
In consequence of these fatal prepossessions, the _Disciple of Nature_
is generally treated as an assassin; is commonly received by his fellow
citizens in the same manner as the feathered race receive the doleful
bird of night, which as soon as it quits its retreat, all the other
birds follow with a common hatred, uttering a variety of doleful cries.

No, mortals blended by terror! The friend of nature is not your enemy;
its interpreter is not the minister of falsehood; the destroyer of your
vain phantoms is not the devastator of those truths necessary to your
happiness; the disciple of reason is not an irrational being, who either
seeks to poison you, or to infect you with a dangerous delirium. If he
is desirous to wrest the thunder from those terrible theories that
affright ye, it is that ye way discontinue your march, in the midst of
storms, over roads that ye can only distinguish by the sudden, but
evanescent glimmerings of the electric fluid. If he breaks those idols,
which fear has served with myrrh and frankencense--which superstition
has surrounded by gloomy despondency--which fanaticism has imbrued with
blood; it is to substitute in their place those consoling truths that
are calculated to heal the desperate wounds ye have received; that are
suitable to inspire you with courage, sturdily to oppose yourselves to
such dangerous errors; that have power to enable you to resist such
formidable enemies. If he throws down the temples, overturns the altars,
so frequently bathed with the bitter tears of the unfortunate, blackened
by the most cruel sacrifices, smoked with servile incense, it is that he
may erect a fane sacred to peace; a hall dedicated to reason; a durable
monument to virtue, in which ye may at all times find an asylum against
your own phrenzy; a refuge from your own ungovernable passions; a
sanctuary against those powerful dogmatists, by whom ye are oppressed.
If he attacks the haughty pretensions of deified tyrants, who crush ye
with an iron sceptre, it is that ye may enjoy the rights of your nature;
it is to the end that ye may be substantively freemen, in mind as well
as in body; that ye may not be slaves, eternally chained to the oar of
misery; it is that ye may at length be governed by men who are citizens,
who may cherish their own semblances, who way protect mortals like
themselves, who may actually consult the interests of those from whom
they hold their power. If he battles with imposture, it is to re-
establish truth in those rights which have been so long usurped by
fiction. If he undermines the base of that unsteady, fanatical morality,
which has hitherto done nothing more than perplex your minds, without
correcting your hearts; it is to give to ethics an immovable basis, a
solid foundation, secured upon your own nature; upon the reciprocity of
those wants which are continually regenerating in sensible beings: dare,
then, to listen to his voice; you will find it much more intelligible
than those ambiguous oracles, which are announced to you as the
offspring of capricious theories; as imperious decrees that are
unceasingly at variance with themselves. Listen then to nature, she
never contradicts her own eternal laws.

"O thou!" cries this nature to man, "who, following the impulse I have
given you, during your whole existence, incessantly tend towards
happiness, do not strive to resist my sovereign law. Labour to your own
felicity; partake without fear of the banquet which is spread before
you, with the most hearty welcome; you will find the means legibly
written on your own heart. Vainly dost thou, O superstitious being! seek
after thine happiness beyond the limits of the universe, in which my
hand hath placed thee: vainly shalt thou search it in those inexorable
theories, which thine imagination, ever prone to wander, would establish
upon my eternal throne: vainly dost thou expect it in those fanciful
regions, to which thine own delirium hath given a locality and a shame:
vainly dost thou reckon upon capricious systems, with whose advantages
thou art in such ecstasies; whilst they only fill thine abode with
calamity--thine heart with dread--thy mind with illusions--thy bosom
with groans. Know that when thou neglectest my counsels, the gods will
refuse their aid. Dare, then, to affranchise thyself from the trammels
of superstition, my self-conceited, pragmatic rival, who mistakes my
rights; renounce those empty theories, which are usurpers of my
privileges; return under the dominion of my laws, which, however severe,
are mild in comparison with those of bigotry. It is in my empire alone
that true liberty reigns. Tyranny is unknown to its soil; equity
unceasingly watches over the rights of all my subjects, maintains them
in the possession of their just claims; benevolence, grafted upon
humanity, connects them by amicable bonds; truth enlightens them; never
can imposture blind them with his obscuring mists. Return, then, my
child, to thy fostering mother's arms! Deserter, trace back thy
wandering steps to nature! She will console thee for thine evils; she

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