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

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PRODUCTION NOTES: First published in French in 1770 under the
pseudonym of Mirabaud. This e-book based on a facsimile reprint
of an English translation originally published 1820-21.
This e-text covers the second of the original two volumes.



of the




PART II. Of the Divinity.--Proofs of his existence.--
Of his attributes.--Of his influence over the happiness of man.

CHAP. I. The origin of man's ideas upon the Divinity.

CHAP. II. Of mythology.--Of theology

CHAP. III. Of the confused and contradictory ideas of theology.

CHAP. IV. Examination of the proofs of the existence of the Divinity,
as given by Clarke.

CHAP. V. Examination of the proofs offered by Descartes, Malebranche,
Newton, &c.

CHAP. VI. Of Pantheism; or of the natural ideas of the Divinity.

CHAP. VII. Of Theism--Of the System of Optimism--Of Final Causes

CHAP. VIII. Examination of the Advantages which result from Man's
Notions on the Divinity;--of their Influence upon Morals;--upon
Politics;--upon Science;--upon the Happiness of Nations, and that
of individuals.

CHAP. IX. Theological Notions cannot be the Basis of Morality.--
Comparison between Theological Ethics and Natural Morality--
Theology prejudicial to the Human Mind.

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

CHAP. XI Defence of the Sentiments contained in this Work.--Of Impiety.--
Do there exist Atheists?

CHAP. XII. Is what is termed Atheism, compatible with Morality?

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

CHAP. XIV. A summary of the Code of Nature.

A Brief Sketch of the Life and Writings of M. de Mirabaud


Translated from the Original




_The Origin of Man's Ideas upon the Divinity._

If man possessed the courage, if he had the requisite industry to recur
to the source of those opinions which are most deeply engraven on his
brain; if he rendered to himself a faithful account of the reasons which
make him hold these opinions as sacred; if he coolly examined the basis
of his hopes, the foundation of his fears, he would find that it very
frequently happens, those objects, or those ideas which move him most
powerfully, either have no real existence, or are words devoid of
meaning, which terror has conjured up to explain some sudden disaster;
that they are often phantoms engendered by a disordered imagination,
modified by ignorance; the effect of an ardent mind distracted by
contending passions, which prevent him from either reasoning justly, or
consulting experience in his judgment; that this mind often labours with
a precipitancy that throws his intellectual faculties into confusion;
that bewilders his ideas; that consequently he gives a substance and a
form to chimeras, to airy nothings, which he afterwards idolizes from
sloth, reverences from prejudice.

A sensible being placed in a nature where every part is in motion, has
various feelings, in consequence of either the agreeable or disagreeable
effects which he is obliged to experience from this continued action and
re-action; in consequence he either finds himself happy or miserable;
according to the quality of the sensations excited in him, he will love
or fear, seek after or fly from, the real or supposed causes of such
marked effects operated on his machine. But if he is ignorant of nature,
if he is destitute of experience, he will frequently deceive himself as
to these causes; for want of either capability or inclination to recur
back to them, he will neither have a true knowledge of their energy, nor
a clear idea of their mode of acting: thus until reiterated experience
shall have formed his ideas, until the mirror of truth shall have shewn
him the judgment he ought to make, he will be involved in trouble, a
prey to incertitude, a victim to credulity.

Man is a being who brings with him nothing into the world save an
aptitude to feeling in a manner more or less lively according to his
individual organization: he has no innate knowledge of any of the causes
that act upon him: by degrees his faculty of feeling discovers to him
their various qualities; he learns to judge of them; time familiarizes
him with their properties; he attaches ideas to them, according to the
manner in which they have affected him; these ideas are correct or
otherwise, in a ratio to the soundness of his organic structure: his
judgment is faulty or not, as these organs are either well or ill-
constituted; in proportion as they are competent to afford him sure and
reiterated experience.

The first moments of man are marked by his wants; that is to say, the
first impulse he receives is to conserve his existence; this he would
not be able to maintain without the concurrence of many analogous
causes: these wants in a sensible being, manifest themselves by a
general languor, a sinking, a confusion in his machine, which gives him
the consciousness of a painful sensation: this derangement subsists, is
even augmented, until the cause suitable to remove it re-establishes the
harmony so necessary to the existence of the human frame. Want,
therefore, is the first evil man experiences; nevertheless it is
requisite to the maintenance of his existence. Was it not for this
derangement of his body, which obliges him to furnish its remedy, he
would not be warned of the necessity of preserving the existence he has
received. Without wants man would be an insensible machine, similar to a
vegetable; like that he would be incapable of preserving himself; he
would not be competent to using the means required to conserve his
being. To his wants are to be ascribed his passions; his desires; the
exercise of his corporeal functions; the play of his intellectual
faculties: they are his wants that oblige him to think; that determine
his will, that induce him to act; it is to satisfy them or rather to put
an end to the painful sensations excited by their presence, that
according to his capacity, to the natural sensibility of his soul, to
the energies which are peculiar to himself, he gives play to his
faculties, exerts the activity of his bodily strength, or displays the
extensive powers of his mind. His wants being perpetual, he is obliged
to labour without relaxation, to procure objects competent to satisfy
them. In a word, it is owing to his multiplied wants that man's energy
is kept in a state of continual activity: as soon as he ceases to have
wants, he falls into inaction--becomes listless--declines into apathy--
sinks into a languor that is incommodious to his feelings or prejudicial
to his existence: this lethargic state of weariness lasts until new
wants, by giving him fresh activity, rouse his dormant faculties--throw
off his stupor--re-animate his vigour, and destroy the sluggishness to
which he had become a prey.

From hence it will be obvious that evil is necessary to man; without it
he would neither be in a condition to know that which injures him; to
avoid its presence; or to seek his own welfare: without this stimulus,
he would differ in nothing from insensible, unorganized beings: if those
evanescent evils which he calls _wants_, did not oblige him to call
forth his faculties, to set his energies in motion, to cull experience,
to compare objects, to discriminate them, to separate those which have
the capabilities to injure him, from those which possess the means to
benefit him, he would be insensible to happiness--inadequate to
enjoyment. In short, _without evil man would be ignorant of good_; he
would be continually exposed to perish like the leaf on a tree. He would
resemble an infant, who, destitute of experience, runs the risque of
meeting his destruction at every step he takes, unguarded by his nurse.
What the nurse is to the child, experience is to the adult; when either
are wanting, these children of different lustres generally go astray:
frequently encounter disaster. Without evil he would be unable to judge
of any thing; he would have no preference; his will would be without
volition, he would be destitute of passions; desire would find no place
in his heart; he would not revolt at the most disgusting objects; he
would not strive to put them away; he would neither have stimuli to
love, nor motives to fear any thing; he would be an insensible
automaton; he would no longer be a man.

If no evil had existed in this world, man would never have dreamt of
those numerous divinities, to whom he has rendered such various modes of
worship. If nature had permitted him easily to satisfy all his
regenerating wants, if she had given him none but agreeable sensations,
his days would have uninterruptedly rolled on in one perpetual
uniformity; he would never have discovered his own nakedness; he would
never have had motives to search after the unknown causes of things--to
meditate in pain. Therefore man, always contented, would only have
occupied himself with satisfying his wants; with enjoying the present,
with feeling the influence of objects, that would unceasingly warn him
of his existence in a mode that he must necessarily approve; nothing
would alarm his heart; every thing would be analogous to his existence:
he would neither know fear, experience distrust, nor have inquietude for
the future: these feelings can only be the consequence of some
troublesome sensation, which must have anteriorly affected him, or which
by disturbing the harmony of his machine, has interrupted the course of
his happiness; which has shewn him he is naked.

Independent of those wants which in man renew themselves every instant;
which he frequently finds it impossible to satisfy; every individual
experiences a multiplicity of evils--he suffers from the inclemency of
the seasons--he pines in penury--he is infected with plague--he is
scourged by war--he is the victim of famine--he is afflicted with
disease--he is the sport of a thousand accidents, &c. This is the reason
why all men are fearful; why the whole human race are diffident. The
knowledge he has of pain alarms him upon all unknown causes, that is to
say, upon all those of which he has not yet experienced the effect; this
experience made with precipitation, or if it be preferred, by instinct,
places him on his guard against all those objects from the operation of
which he is ignorant what consequences may result to himself.

His inquietude is in proportion; his fears keep pace with the extent of
the disorder which these objects produce in him; they are measured by
their rarity, that is to say, by the inexperience he has of them; by the
natural sensibility of the soul; and by the ardour of his imagination.
The wore ignorant man is, the less experience he has, the more he is
susceptible of fear; solitude, the obscurity of a forest, silence, and
the darkness of night, desolate ruins, the roaring of the wind, sudden,
confused noises, are objects of terror to all who are unaccustomed to
these things. The uninformed man is a child whom every thing astonishes;
who trembles at every thing he encounters: his alarms disappear, his
fears diminish, his mind becomes calm, in proportion as experience
familiarizes him, more or less, with natural effects; his fears cease
entirely, as soon as he understands, or believes he understands, the
causes that act; or when he knows how to avoid their effects. But if he
cannot penetrate the causes which disturb him, if he cannot discover the
agents by whom he suffers, if he cannot find to what account to place
the confusion he experiences, his inquietude augments; his fears
redouble; his imagination leads him astray; it exaggerates his evil;
paints in a disorderly manner these unknown objects of his terror;
magnifies their powers; then making an analogy between them and those
terrific objects, with whom he is already acquainted, he suggests to
himself the means he usually takes to mitigate their anger; to
conciliate their kindness; he employs similar measures to soften the
anger, to disarm the power, to avert the effects of the concealed cause
which gives birth to his inquietudes, which fills him with anxiety,
which alarms his fears. It is thus his weakness, aided by ignorance,
renders him superstitious.

There are very few men, even in our own day, who have sufficiently
studied nature, who are fully apprised of physical causes, or with the
effects they must necessarily produce. This ignorance, without doubt,
was much greater in the more remote ages of the world, when the human
mind, yet in its infancy, had not collected that experience, taken that
expansion, made those strides towards improvement, which distinguishes
the present from the past. Savages dispersed, erratic, thinly scattered
up and down, knew the course of nature either very imperfectly or not at
all; society alone perfects human knowledge: it requires not only
multiplied but combined efforts to unravel the secrets of nature. This
granted, all natural causes were mysteries to our wandering ancestors;
the entire of nature was an enigma to them; all its phenomena was
marvellous, every event inspired terror to beings who were destitute of
experience; almost every thing, they saw must have appeared to them
strange, unusual, contrary to their idea of the order of things.

It cannot then furnish matter for surprise, if we behold men in the
present day trembling at the sight of those objects which have formerly
filled their fathers with dismay. _Eclipse, comets, meteors_, were, in
ancient days, subjects of alarm to all the people of the earth: these
effects, so natural in the eyes of the sound philosopher, who has by
degrees fathomed their true causes, have yet the right, possess the
power, to alarm the most numerous, to excite the fears of the least
instructed part of modern nations. The people of the present day, as
well as their ignorant ancestors, find something marvellous, believe
there is a supernatural agency in all those objects to which their eyes
are unaccustomed; they consider all those unknown causes as wonderful,
that act with a force of which their mind has no idea it is possible the
known agents are capable. The ignorant see wonders _prodigies,
miracles_, in all those striking effects of which they are unable to
render themselves a satisfactory account; all the causes which produce
them they think _supernatural_; this, however, really implies nothing
more than that they are not familiar to them, or that they have not
hitherto witnessed natural agents, whose energy was equal to the
production of effects so rare, so astonishing, as those with which their
sight has been appalled.

Besides the ordinary phenomena to which nations were witnesses without
being competent to unravel the causes, they have in times very remote
from ours, experienced calamities, whether general or local, which
filled them with the most cruel inquietude; which plunged them into an
abyss of consternation. The traditions of all people, the annals of all
nations, recal, even at this day, melancholy events, physical disasters,
dreadful catastrophes, which had the effect of spreading universal
terror among our forefathers, But when history should he silent on these
stupendous revolutions, would not our own reflection on what passes
under our eyes be sufficient to convince us, that all parts of our globe
have been, and following the course of things, will necessarily be again
violently agitated, overturned, changed, overflowed, in a state of
conflagration? Vast continents have been inundated, seas breaking their
limits have usurped the dominion of the earth; at length retiring, these
waters have left striking, proofs of their presence, by the marine
vestiges of shells, skeletons of sea fish, &c. which the attentive
observer meets with at every step, in the bowels of those fertile
countries we now inhabit--subterraneous fires have opened to themselves
the most frightful volcanoes, whose craters frequently issue destruction
on every side. In short, the elements unloosed, have at various times,
disputed among themselves the empire of our globe; this exhibits
evidence of the fact, by those vast heaps of wreck, those stupendous
ruins spread over its surface. What, then, must have been the fears of
mankind, who in those countries believed he beheld the entire of nature
armed against his peace, menacing with destruction his very abode? What
must have been the inquietude of a people taken thus unprovided, who
fancied they saw nature cruelly labouring to their annihilation? Who
beheld a world ready to be dashed into atoms; who witnessed the earth
suddenly rent asunder; whose yawning chasm was the grave of large
cities, whole provinces, entire nations? What ideas must mortals, thus
overwhelmed with terror, form to themselves of the irresistible cause
that could produce such extended effects? Without doubt they did not
attribute these wide spreading calamities to nature; neither did they
conceive they were mere physical causes; they could not suspect she was
the author, the accomplice of the confusion she herself experienced;
they did not see that these tremendous revolutions, these overpowering
disorders, were the necessary result of her immutable laws; that they
contributed to the general order by which she subsists; that, in point
of fact, there was nothing more surprising in the inundation of large
portions of the earth, in the swallowing up an entire nation, in a
volcanic conflagration spreading destruction over whole provinces, than
there is in a stone falling to the earth, or the death of a fly; that
each equally has its spring in the necessity of things.

It was under these astounding circumstances, that nations, bathed in the
most bitter tears, perplexed with the most frightful visions,
electrified with terror, not believing there existed on this mundane
ball, causes sufficiently powerful to operate the gigantic phenomena
that filled their minds with dismay, carried their streaming eyes
towards heaven, where their tremulous fears led them to suppose these
unknown agents, whose unprovoked enmity destroyed, their earthly
felicity, could alone reside.

It was in the lap of ignorance, in the season of alarm, in the bosom of
calamity, that mankind ever formed his first notions of the _Divinity_.
From hence it is obvious that his ideas on this subject are to be
suspected, that his notions are in a great measure false, that they are
always afflicting. Indeed, upon whatever part of our sphere we cast our
eyes, whether it be upon the frozen climates of the north, upon the
parching regions of the south, or under the more temperate zones, we
every where behold the people when assailed by misfortunes, have either
made to themselves national gods, or else have adopted those which have
been given them by their conquerors; before these beings, either of
their own creation or adoption, they have tremblingly prostrated
themselves in the hour of calamity, soliciting relief; have ignorantly
attributed to blocks of stone, or to men like themselves, those natural
effects which were above their comprehension; the inhabitants of many
nations, not contented with the national gods, made each to himself one
or more gods, which he supposed presided exclusively over his own
household, from whom he supposed he derived his own peculiar happiness,
to whom he attributed all his domestic misfortunes. The idea of these
powerful agents, these supposed distributors of good and evil, was
always associated with that of terror; their name was never pronounced
without recalling to man's wind either his own particular calamities or
those of his fathers. In many places man trembles at this day, because
his progenitors have trembled for thousands of years past. The thought
of his gods always awakened in man the most afflicting ideas. If he
recurred to the source of his actual fears, to the commencement of those
melancholy impressions that stamp themselves in his mind when their name
is announced, he would find it in the conflagrations, in the
revolutions, in those extended disasters, that have at various times
destroyed large portions of the human race; that overwhelmed with dismay
those miserable beings who escaped the destruction of the earth; these
in transmitting to posterity, the tradition of such afflicting events,
have also transmitted to him their fears; have delivered down to their
successors, those gloomy ideas which their bewildered imaginations,
coupled with their barbarous ignorance of natural causes, had formed to
them of the anger of their irritated gods, to which their alarm falsely
attributed these sweeping disasters.

If the gods of nations had their birth in the bosom of alarm, it was
again in that of despair that each individual formed the unknown power
that he made exclusively for himself. Ignorant of physical causes,
unpractised in their mode of action, unaccustomed to their effects,
whenever he experienced any serious misfortune, whenever he was
afflicted with any grievous sensation, he was at a loss how to account
for it; he therefore attributed it to his household gods, to whom he
made an immediate supplication for assistance, or rather for forbearance
of further affliction: this disposition in man has been finely
pourtrayed by Aesop in his fable of "the Waggoner and Hercules." The
motion which in despight of himself was excited in his machine, his
diseases, his troubles, his passions, his inquietude, the painful
alterations his frame underwent, without his being able to fathom the
true causes; at length death, of which the aspect in so formidable to a
being strongly attached to existence, were effects he looked upon either
as supernatural, or else he conceived they were repugnant to his actual
nature; he attributed them to some mighty cause, which maugre all his
efforts, disposed of him at each, moment. Thus palsied with alarm,
benumbed with terror, he pensively meditated upon his sorrows; agitated
with fear, he sought for means to avert the calamities that threatened
him with destruction; his imagination, thus rendered desperate by his
endurance of evils which he found inevitable, formed to him those
phantoms which he called gods; before whom he trembled from a
consciousness of his own weakness; thus disposed, he endeavoured by
prostration, by sacrifices, by prayers, to disarm the anger of these
imaginary beings to which his trepidation had given birth; whom he
ignorantly imagined to be the cause of his misery, whom his fancy
painted to him as endowed with the power of alleviating his sufferings:
it was thus in the extremity of his grief, in the exacerbation of his
mind, weighed down with misfortune, that unhappy man fashioned those
chimeras which filled him with the most gloomy ideas, which he
transmitted to his posterity, as the surest means of avoiding the evils
to which he had been himself subjected.

Man never judges of those objects of which he is ignorant, but through
the medium of those which come within his knowledge: thus man, taking
himself for the model, ascribed will, intelligence, design, projects,
passions; in a word, qualities analogous to his own, to all those
unknown causes of which he experienced the action. As soon as a visible
or supposed cause affects him in an agreeable manner, or in a mode
favourable to his existence, he concludes it to be good, to be well
intentioned towards him: on the contrary, he judges all those to be bad
in their nature, evilly disposed, to have the intention of injuring him,
which cause him any painful sensations. He attributes views, plans, a
system of conduct like his own, to every thing which to his limited
ideas appears of itself to produce connected effects; to act with
regularity; to constantly operate in the same manner; that uniformly
produces the same sensations in his own person. According to these
notions, which he always borrows from himself, from his own peculiar
mode of action, he either loves or fears those objects which have
affected him; he in consequence approaches them with confidence or
timidity; seeks after them or flies from them in proportion as the
feelings they have excited are either pleasant or painful. Having
travelled thus far, he presently addresses them; he invokes their aid;
prays to them for succour; conjures them to cease his afflictions; to
forbear tormenting him; as he finds himself sensible to presents,
pleased with submission, he tries to win them to his interests by
humiliation, by sacrifices; he exercises towards them the hospitality he
himself loves; he gives them an asylum; he builds them a dwelling; he
furnishes them with costly raiment; he makes their altars smoke with
delicious food; he proffers to their acceptance the earliest flowers of
spring; the finest fruits of autumn; the rich grain of summer; in short
he sets before them all those things which he thinks will please them
the most, because he himself places the highest value on them. These
dispositions enable us to account for the formation of tutelary gods, of
lares, of larvae, which every man makes to himself in savage and
unpolished nations. Thus we perceive that weak superstitious mortals,
ignorant of truth, devoid of experience, regard as the arbiters of their
fate, as the dispensers of good and evil, animals, stones, unformed
inanimate substances, which the effort of their heated imaginations
transform into gods, whom they invest with intelligence, whom they
clothe with desires, to whom they give volition.

Another disposition which serves to deceive the savage man, which will
equally deceive those whom reason shall not enlighten on these subjects,
is his attachment to omens; or the fortuitous concurrence of certain
effects, with causes which have not produced them; the co-existence of
these effects with certain causes, which have not the slightest
connection with them, has frequently led astray very intelligent beings;
nations who considered themselves very enlightened; who have either been
disinclined or unable to disentangle the one from the other: thus the
savage attributes bounty or the will to render him service, to any
object whether animate or inanimate, such as a stone of a certain form,
a rock, a mountain, a tree, a serpent, an owl, &c. if every time he
encounters these objects in a certain position, it should so happen that
he is more than ordinarily successful in hunting, that he should take an
unusual quantity of fish, that he should be victorious in war, or that
he should compass any enterprize whatever that he may at that moment
undertake: the same savage will be quite as gratuitous in attaching
malice, wickedness, the determination to injure him, to either the same
object in a different position, or any others in a given posture, which
way have met his eyes on those days when he shall have suffered some
grievous accident, have been very unsuccessful in his undertakings,
unfortunate in the chace, disappointed in his draught of fish: incapable
of reasoning he connects these effects with causes, that reflection
would convince him have nothing in common with each other; that are
entirely due to physical causes, to necessary circumstances, over which
neither himself nor his omens have the least controul: nevertheless he
finds it much easier to attribute them to these imaginary causes; he
therefore _deifies_ them; looks upon them as either his guardian angels,
or else as his most inveterate enemies. Having invested them with
supernatural powers, he becomes anxious to explain to himself their mode
of action; his self-love prevents his seeking elsewhere for the model:
thus he assigns them all those motives that actuate himself; he endows
them with passions; he gives them design--intelligence--will--imagines
they can either injure him or benefit him, as be may render them
propitious or otherwise to his views: he ends with worshipping them;
with paying them divine honours; he appoints them priests; or at least
always consults them before he undertakes any object of moment: such is
their influence, that if they put on the evil position, he will lay
aside the most important undertaking. The savage in this is never more
than an infant, that is angry with the object that displeases him; just
like the dog who gnaws the stone by which he has been wounded, without
recurring to the hand by which it was thrown.

Such is the foundation of man's faith, in either happy or unhappy omens:
devoid of experience, unaccustomed to reason with precision, fearing to
call in the evidence of truth, he looks upon them either as gods
themselves, or else as warnings given him by his other gods, to whom he
attributes the faculties of sagacity and foresight, of which he is
himself miserably deficient. Ignorance, when involved in disaster, when
immersed in trouble, believes a stone, a reptile, a bird, much better
instructed than himself. The slender observation of the ignorant only
serves to render him more superstitious; he sees certain birds announce
by their flight, by their cries, certain changes in the weather, such as
cold, heat, rain, storms; he beholds at certain periods, vapours arise
from the bottom of some particular caverns? there needs nothing further
to impress upon him the belief, that these beings possess the knowledge
of future events; enjoy the gifts of prophecy: he looks upon them as
supernatural agents, employed by his gods: it is thus he becomes the
dupe to his own credulity.

If by degrees the truth flashing occasionally on his mind, experience
and reflection arrive at undeceiving him, with respect to the power, the
intelligence, the virtues actually residing in these objects; he at
least supposes them put in activity by some secret, some hidden cause;
that they are the instruments, employed by some invisible agent, who is
either friendly or inimical to his welfare. To this concealed agent,
therefore, he addresses himself; pays him his vows; emplores his
assistance; deprecates his wrath; seeks to propitiate him to his
interests; is willing to soften his anger; for this purpose he employs
the same means, of which he avails himself, either to appease or gain
over the beings of his own species.

Societies in their origin, seeing themselves frequently afflicted by
nature, supposed either the elements, or the concealed powers who
regulated them, possessed a will, views, wants, desires, similar to
their own. From hence, the sacrifices imagined to nourish them; the
libations poured out to them; the steams, the incense to gratify their
olfactory nerves. Their superstition led them to believe these elements
or their irritated movers were to be appeased like irritated man, by
prayers, by humiliation, by presents. Their imagination was ransacked to
discover the presents that would be most acceptable in their eyes; to
ascertain the oblations that would be most agreeable, the sacrifices
that would most surely propitiate their kindness: as these did not make
known their inclinations, man differed with his fellow on those most
suitable; each followed his own disposition; or rather each offered what
was most estimable in his own eyes; hence arose differences never to be
reconciled the bitterest animosities; the most unconquerable aversions;
the most, destructive jealousies! Thus some brought the fruits of the
earth, others offered sheaves of corn: some strewed flowers over their
fanes; some decorated them with the most costly jewels; some served them
with meats; others sacrificed lambs, heifers, bulls; at length such was
their delirium, such the wildness of their imaginations, that they
stained their altars with human gore, made oblations of young children
immolated virgins, to appease the anger of these supposed deities.

The old men, as having the most experience, were usually charged with
the conduct of these peace-offerings, from whence, the name PRIEST;
[Greek letters], _presbos_, in the Greek meaning an old man. These
accompanied them with ceremonies, instituted rites, used precautions by
consulting omens; adopted formalities, retraced to their fellow citizens
the notions transmitted to them by their forefathers; collected the
observations made by their ancestors; repeated the fables they had
received; added commentaries of their own; subjoined supplications to
the idols at whose shrine they were sacrificing. It is thus the
sacerdotal order was established; thus that public worship was
established; by degrees each community formed a body of tenets to be
observed by the citizens; these were transmitted from race to race; held
sacred out of reverence for their fathers; at length it was deemed
sacrilege to doubt these pandects in any one particular; even the
errors, that had crept into them with time, were beheld with reverential
awe; he that ventured to reason upon them, was looked upon as an enemy
to the commonwealth; as one whose impiety drew down upon them the
vengeance of these adored beings, to which alone imagination had given
birth; not contented with adopting the rituals, with following the
ceremonies invented by themselves, one community waged war against
another, to oblige it to receive their particular creeds; which the old
men who regulated them, declared would infallibly win them the favor of
their tutelary deities: thus very often to conciliate their favor, the
victorious party immolated on the altars of their gods, the bodies of
their unhappy captives; frequently they carried their savage barbarity
the length of exterminating whole nations, who happened to worship gods
different from their own: thus it frequently happened, that the friends
of the serpent, when victorious, covered his altars with the mangled
carcases of the worshippers of the stone, whom the fortune of war had
placed in their hands: such were the unformed, the precarious elements
of which rude nations every where availed themselves to compose their
superstitions: they were always a system of conduct invented by
imagination: conceived in ignorance, organized in misfortune, to render
the unknown powers, to whom they believed nature was submitted, either
favorable to their views, or to, induce them to cease those afflictions,
which natural causes, for the wisest purposes, were continually heaping
upon them; thus some irascible, at the same time placable being, was
always chosen for the basis of the adopted superstition; it was upon
these puerile tenets, upon these absurd notions, that the old men or the
priests rested their doctrines; founded their rights; established their
authority: it was to render these fanciful beings friendly to the race
of man, that they erected, temples, raised altars, loaded them with
wealth; in short, it was from such rude foundations, that arose the
magnificent structure of superstition; under which man trembled for
thousands of years: which governed the condition of society, which
determined the actions of the people, gave the tone to the character,
deluged the earth with blood, for such a long series of ages. But
although these superstitions were originally invented by savages, they
still have the power of regulating the fate of many civilized nations,
who are not less tenacious of their chimeras, than their rude
progenitors. These systems, so ruinous in their principles, have been
variously modified by the human mind, of which it is the essence, to
labour incessantly on unknown objects; it always, commences by attaching
to these, a very first-rate importance, which it afterwards never dares
coolly to examine.

Such was the course of man's imagination, in the successive ideas which
he either formed to himself, or which he received from his fathers, upon
the divinity. The first theology of man was grounded on fear, modelled
by ignorance: either afflicted or benefitted by the elements, he adored
these elements themselves; by a parity of reasoning, if reasoning it can
be called, he extended his reverence to every material, coarse object;
he afterwards rendered his homage to the agents he supposed presiding
over these elements; to powerful genii; to inferior genii; to heroes; to
men endowed with either great or striking qualities. Time, aided by
reflection, with here and there a slight corruscation of truth, induced
him in some places to relinquish his original ideas; he believed he
simplified the thing by lessening the number of his gods, but he
achieved nothing by this towards attaining to the truth; in recurring
from cause to cause man finished by losing sight of every thing; in this
obscurity, in this dark abyss, his mind still laboured, he formed new
chimeras, he made new gods, or rather he formed a very complex
machinery; still, as before, whenever he could not account for any
phenomenon that struck his sight, he was unwilling to ascribe it to
physical causes; and the name of his Divinity, whatever that might
happen to be, was always brought in to supply his own ignorance of
natural causes.

If a faithful account was rendered of man's ideas upon the Divinity, he
would be obliged to acknowledge, that for the most part the word _Gods_
has been used to express the concealed, remote, unknown causes of the
effects he witnessed; that he applies this term when the spring of
natural, the source of known causes ceases to be visible: as soon as he
loses the thread of these causes, or as soon as his mind can no longer
follow the chain, he solves the difficulty, terminates his research, by
ascribing it to his gods; thus giving a vague definition to an unknown
cause, at which either his idleness, or his limited knowledge, obliges
him to stop. When, therefore, he ascribes to his gods the production of
some phenomenon, the novelty or the extent of which strikes him with
wonder, but of which his ignorance precludes him from unravelling the
true cause, or which he believes the natural powers with which he is
acquainted are inadequate to bring forth; does he, in fact, do any thing
more than substitute for the darkness of his own mind, a sound to which
he has been accustomed to listen with reverential awe? Ignorance may be
said to be the inheritance of the generality of men; these attribute to
their gods not only those uncommon effects that burst upon their senses
with an astounding force, but also the most simple events, the causes of
which are the most easy to be known to whoever shall be willing to
meditate upon them. In short, man has always respected those unknown
causes, those surprising effects which his ignorance prevented him from

But does this afford us one single, correct idea of the _Divinity_? Can
it be possible we are acting rationally, thus eternally to make him the
agent of our stupidity, of our sloth, of our want of information on
natural causes? Do we, in fact, pay any kind of adoration to this being,
by thus bringing him forth on every trifling occasion, to solve the
difficulties ignorance throws in our way? Of whatever nature this great
cause of causes may be, it is evident to the slightest reflection that
he has been sedulous to conceal himself from our view; that he has
rendered it impossible for us to have the least acquaintance with him,
except through the medium of nature, which he has unquestionably
rendered competent to every thing: this is the rich banquet spread
before man; he is invited to partake, with a welcome he has no right to
dispute; to enjoy therefore is to obey; to be happy is to render that
worship which must make him most acceptable; _to be happy himself is to
make others happy; to make others happy is to be virtuous; to be
virtuous he must revere truth: to know what truth is, he must examine
with caution, scrutinize with severity, every opinion he adopts:_ this
granted, is it at all consistent with the majesty of the Divinity, is it
not insulting to such a being to clothe him with our wayward passions;
to ascribe to him designs similar to our narrow view of things; to give
him our filthy desires; to suppose he can be guided by our finite
conceptions; to bring him on a level with frail humanity, by investing
him with our qualities, however much we may exaggerate them; to indulge
an opinion that he can either act or think as we do; to imagine he can
in any manner resemble such a feeble play-thing, as is the greatest, the
most distinguished man? No! it is to degrade him in the eye of reason;
to violate every regard for truth; to set moral decency at defiance; to
fall back into the depth of cimmerian darkness. Let man therefore sit
down cheerfully to the feast; let him contentedly partake of what he
finds; but let him not worry the Divinity with his useless prayers, with
his shallow-sighted requests, to solicit at his hands that which, if
granted, would in all probability be the most injurious for himself;
these supplications are, in fact, at once to say, that with our limited
experience, with our slender knowledge, we better understand what is
suitable to our condition, what is convenient to our welfare, than the
mighty _Cause of all causes_ who has left us in the hands of nature: it
is to be presumptuous in the highest degree of presumption; it is
impiously to endeavour to lift up a veil which it is evidently forbidden
man to touch; that even his most strenuous efforts attempt in vain.

It remains, then, to inquire, if man can reasonably flatter himself with
obtaining a perfect knowledge of the power of nature; of the properties
of the beings she contains; of the effects which may result from their
various combinations? Do we know why the magnet attracts iron? Are we
better acquainted with the cause of polar attraction? Are we in a
condition to explain the phenomena of light, electricity, elasticity? Do
we understand the mechanism by which that modification of our brain,
which we tall volition, puts our arm or our legs into motion? Can we
render to ourselves an account of the manner in which our eyes behold
objects, in which our ears receive sounds, in which our mind conceives
ideas? All we know upon these subjects is, that they are so. If then we
are incapable of accounting for the most ordinary phenomena, which
nature daily exhibits to us, by what chain of reasoning do we refuse to
her the power of producing other effects equally incomprehensible to us?
Shall we be more instructed, when every time we behold an effect of
which we are not in a capacity to develope the cause, we may idly say,
this effect is produced by the power, by the will of God? Undoubtedly it
is the great _Cause of causes_ must have produced every thing; but is it
not lessening the true dignity of the Divinity, to introduce him as
interfering in every operation of nature; nay, in every action of so
insignificant a creature as man? As a mere agent executing his own
eternal, immutable laws; when experience, when reflection, when the
evidence of all we contemplate, warrants the idea, that this ineffable
being has rendered nature competent to every effect, by giving her those
irrevocable laws, that eternal, unchangeable system, according to which
all the beings she contains must eternally act? Is it not more worthy
the exalted mind of the GREAT PARENT OF PARENTS, _ens entium_, more
consistent with truth, to suppose that his wisdom in giving these
immutable, these eternal laws to the macrocosm, foresaw every thing that
could possibly be requisite for the happiness of the beings contained in
it; that therefore he left it to the invariable operation of a system,
which never can produce any effect that is not the best possible that
circumstances however viewed will admit: that consequently the natural
activity of the human mind, which is itself the result of this eternal
action, was purposely given to man, that he might endeavour to fathom,
that he might strive to unravel, that he might seek out the
concatenation of these laws, in order to furnish remedies against the
evils produced by ignorance. How many discoveries in the great science
of natural philosophy has mankind progressively made, which the ignorant
prejudices of our forefathers on their first announcement considered as
impious, as displeasing to the Divinity, as heretical profanations,
which could only be expiated by the sacrifice of the enquiring
individuals; to whose labour their posterity owes such an infinity of
gratitude? Even in modern days we have seen a SOCRATES destroyed, a
GALLILEO condemned, whilst multitudes of other benefactors to mankind
have been held in contempt by their uninformed cotemporaries, for those
very researches into nature which the present generation hold in the
highest veneration. _Whenever ignorant priests are permitted to guide
the opinions of nations, science can make but a very slender progress:_
natural discoveries will be always held inimical to the interest of
bigotted superstitious men. It may, to the minds of infatuated mortals,
to the shallow comprehension of prejudiced beings, appear very pious to
reply on every occasion our gods do this, our gods do that; but to the
contemplative philosopher, to the man of reason, to the real adorers of
the great _Cause of causes_, it will never be convincing, that a sound,
a mere word, can attach the reason of things; can have more than a fixed
sense; can suffice to explain problems. The word GOD is for the most
part used to denote the impenetrable cause of those effects which
astonish mankind; which man is not competent to explain. But is not this
wilful idleness? Is it not inconsistent with our nature? Is it not being
truly impious, to sit down with those fine faculties we have received,
and give the answer of a child to every thing we do not understand; or
rather which our own sloth, or our own want of industry has prevented us
from knowing? Ought we not rather to redouble our efforts to penetrate
the cause of those phenomena which strike our mind? Is not this, in
fact, the duty we owe to the great, the universal Parent? When we have
given this answer, what have we said? nothing but what every one knows.
Could the great _Cause of causes_ make the whole, without also making
its part? But does it of necessity follow that he executes every
trifling operation, when he has so noble an agent as his own nature,
whose laws he has rendered unchangeable, whose scale of operations can
never deviate from the eternal routine he has marked out for her and all
the beings she embraces? Whose secrets, if sought out, contain the true
balsam of life--the sovereign remedy for all the diseases of man.

When we shall be ingenuous with ourselves, we shall be obliged to agree
that it was uniformly the ignorance in which our ancestors were
involved, their want of knowledge of natural causes, their unenlightened
ideas on the powers of nature, which gave birth to the gods they
worshipped; that it is, again, the impossibility which the greater part
of mankind find to withdraw, themselves out of this ignorance, the
difficulty they consequently find to form to themselves simple ideas of
the formation of things, the labour that is required to discover the
true sources of those events, which they either admire or fear, that
makes them believe these ideas are necessary to enable them to render an
account of those phenomena, to which their own sluggishness renders them
incompetent to recur. Here, without doubt, is the reason they treat all
those as irrational who do not see the necessity of admitting an unknown
agent, or some secret energy, which for want of being acquainted with
Nature, they have placed out of herself.

The phenomena of nature necessarily breed various sentiments in man:
some he thinks favorable to him, some prejudicial, while the whole is
only what it can be. Some excite his love, his admiration, his
gratitude; others fill him with trouble, cause aversion, drive him to
despair. According to the various sensations he experiences, he either
loves or fears the causes to which he attributes the effects, which
produce in him these different passions: these sentiments are
commensurate with the effects he experiences; his admiration is
enhanced, his fears are augmented, in the same ratio as the phenomena
which strikes his senses are more or less extensive, more or less
irresistible or interesting to him. Man necessarily makes himself the
centre of nature; indeed he can only judge of things, as he is himself
affected by them; he can only love that which he thinks favorable to his
being; he hates, he fears every thing which causes him to suffer: in
short, as we have seen in the former volume, he calls confusion every
thing that deranges the economy of his machine; he believes all is in
order, as soon as he experiences nothing but what is suitable to his
peculiar mode of existence. By a necessary consequence of these ideas,
man firmly believes that the entire of nature was made for him alone;
that it was only himself which she had in view in all her works; or
rather that the powerful cause to which this nature was subordinate, had
only for object man and his convenience, in all the stupendous effects
which are produced in the universe.

If there existed on this earth other thinking beings besides man, they
would fall exactly into similar prejudices with himself; it is a
sentiment founded upon that predilection which each individual
necessarily has for himself; a predilection that will subsist until
reason, aided by experience, in pointing out the truth, shall have
rectified his errors.

Thus, whenever man is contented, whenever every thing is in order with
respect to himself, he either admires or loves the causes to which he
believes he is indebted for his welfare; when he becomes discontented
with his mode of existence, he either fears or hates the cause which he
supposes has produced these afflicting effects. But his welfare
confounds itself with his existence; it ceases to make itself felt when
it has become habitual, when it has been of long continuance; he then
thinks it is inherrent to his essence; he concludes from it that he is
formed to be always happy; he finds it natural that every thing should
concur to the maintenance of his being. It is by no means the same when
he experiences a mode of existence that is displeasing to himself: the
man who suffers is quite astonished at the change which his taken place
in his machine; he judges it to be contrary to the entire of nature,
because it is incommodious to his own particular nature; he, imagines
those events by which he is wounded, to be contrary to the order of
things; he believes that nature is deranged every time she does not
procure for him that mode of feeling which is suitable to his ideas: he
concludes from these suppositions that nature, or rather that the agent
who moves her; is irritated against him.

It is thus that man, almost insensible to good, feels evil in a very
lively manner; the first he believes natural, the other he thinks
opposed to nature. He is either ignorant, or forgets, that he
constitutes part of a whole, formed by the assemblage of substances, of
which some are analogous, others heterogeneous; that the various beings
of which nature is composed, are endowed with a variety of properties,
by virtue of which they act diversely on the bodies who find themselves
within the sphere of their action; that some have an aptitude to
attraction, whilst it is of the essence of others to repel; that even
those bodies that attract at one distance, repel at another; that the
peculiar attractions and repulsions of the particles of bodies
perpetually oppose, invariably counteract the general ones of the masses
of matter: he does not perceive that these beings, as destitute of
goodness, as devoid of malice, act only according to their respective
essences; follow the laws their properties impose upon them; without
being in capacity to act otherwise than they do. It is, therefore, for
want of being acquainted with these things, that he looks upon the great
Author of nature, the great _Cause of causes_, as the immediate cause of
those evils to which he is submitted; that he judges erroneously when he
imagines that the Divinity is exasperated against him.

The fact is, man believes that his welfare is a debt due to him from
nature; that when he suffers evil she does him an injustice; fully
persuaded that this nature was made solely for himself, he cannot
conceive she would make him, who is her lord paramount, suffer, if she
was not moved thereto by a power who is inimical to his happiness; who
has reasons with which he is unacquainted for afflicting, who has
motives which he wishes to discover, for punishing him. From hence it
will be obvious, that evil, much more than good, is the true motive of
those researches which man has made concerning the Divinity--of those
ideas which he has formed to himself--of the conduct he has held towards
him. The admiration of the works of nature, or the acknowledgement of
its goodness, seem never alone to have determined the human species to
recur painfully by thought to the source of these things; familiarized
at once with all those effects which are favourable to his existence, he
does not by any means give himself the same trouble to seek the causes,
that he does to discover those which disquiet him, or by which he is
afflicted. Thus, in reflecting upon the Divinity, it was generally upon
the cause of his evils that man meditated; his meditations were
fruitless, because the evil he experiences, as well as the good he
partakes, are equally necessary effects of natural causes, to which his
mind ought rather to have bent its force, than to have invented
fictitious causes of which he never could form to himself any but false
ideas; seeing that he always borrowed them, from his own peculiar
mariner of existing, acting, and feeling. Obstinately refusing to see
any thing, but himself, he never became acquainted with that universal
nature of which he constitutes such a very feeble part.

The slightest reflection, however, would have been sufficient to
undeceive him on these erroneous ideas. Everything tends to prove that
good and evil are modes of existence that depend upon causes by which a
man is moved; that a sensible being is obliged to experience them. In a
nature composed of a multitude of beings infinitely varied, the shock
occasioned by the collision of discordant matter must necessarily
disturb the order, derange the mode of existence of those beings who
have no analogy with them: these act in every thing they do after
certain laws, which are in themselves immutable; the good or evil,
therefore, which man experiences, are necessary consequences of the
qualities inherent to the beings, within whose sphere of action he is
found. Our birth, which we call a benefit, is an effect as necessary as
our death, which we contemplate as an injustice of fate: it is of the
nature of all analogous beings to unite themselves to form a whole: it
is of the nature of all compound beings to be destroyed, or to dissolve
themselves; some maintain their union for a longer period than others;
some disperse very quickly, as the ephemeron; some endure for ages, as
the planets; every being in dissolving itself gives birth to new beings;
these are destroyed in their turn; to execute the eternal, the immutable
laws of a nature that only exists by the continual changes that all its
parts undergo. Thus nature cannot be accused of malice, since every
thing that takes place in it is necessary--is produced by an invariable
system, to which every other being, as well as herself, is eternally
subjected. The same igneous matter that in man is the principle of life,
frequently becomes the principle of his destruction, either by the
conflagration of a city, the explosion of a volcano, or his mad passion
for war. The aqueous fluid that circulates through his machine, so
essentially necessary to his actual existence, frequently becomes too
abundant, and terminates him by suffocation; is the cause of those
inundations which sometimes swallow up both the earth and its
inhabitants. The air, without which he is not able to respire, is the
cause of those hurricanes, of those tempests, which frequently render
useless the labour of mortals. These elements are obliged to burst their
bonds, when they are combined in a certain manner; their necessary but
fatal consequences are those ravages, those contagions, those famines,
those diseases, those various scourges, against which man, with
streaming eyes and violent emotions, vainly implores the aid of those
powers who are deaf to his cries: his prayers are never granted; but the
same necessity which afflicted him, the same immutable laws which
overwhelmed him with trouble, replaces things in the order he finds
suitable to his species: a relative order of things which was, is, and
always will be the only standard of his judgment.

Man, however, made no such simple reflections: he either did not or
would not perceive that every thing in nature acted by invariable laws;
he continued stedfast in contemplating the good of which he was
partaker, as a favor; in considering the evil he experienced, as a sign
of anger in this nature, which he supposed to be animated by the same
passions as himself or at least that it was governed by secret agents,
who acted after his own manner, who obliged it to execute their will,
that was sometimes favourable, sometimes inimical to the human species.
It was to these supposed agents, with whom in the sunshine of his
prosperity he was but little occupied, that in the bosom of his calamity
he addressed his prayers; he thanked them, however, for their favours,
fearing lest their ingratitude might farther provoke their fury: thus
when assailed by disaster, when afflicted with disease, he invoked them
with fervor: he required them to change in his favor the mode of acting
which was the very essence of beings; he was willing that to make the
slightest evil he experienced cease, that the eternal chain of things
might be broken; and the unerring, undeviating course of nature might he

It was upon such ridiculous pretensions, that were founded those
supplications, those fervent prayers, which mortals, almost always
discontented with their fate, never in accord in their respective
desires, addressed to their gods. They were unceasingly upon their knees
before the altars, were ever prostrate before the power of the beings,
whom they judged had the right of commanding nature; who they supposed
to have sufficient energy to divert her course; who they considered to
possess the means to make her subservient to their particular views;
thus each hoped by presents, by humiliation, to induce them to oblige
this nature, to satisfy the discordant desires of their race. The sick
man, expiring in his bed, asks that the humours accumulated in his body
should in an instant lose those properties which renders them injurious
to his existence; that by an act of their puissance, his gods should
renew or recreate the springs of a machine worn out by infirmities. The
cultivator of a low swampy country, makes complaint of the abundance of
rain with which his fields are inundated; whilst the inhabitant of the
hill, raises his thanks for the favors he receives, solicits a
continuance of that which causes the despair of his neighbour. In this,
each is willing to have a god for himself, and asks according to his
momentary caprices, to his fluctuating wants, that the invariable
essence of things, should be continually changed in his favour.

From this it must be obvious, that man every moment asks a _miracle_ to
be wrought in his support. It is not, therefore, at all surprising that
he displayed such ready credulity, that he adopted with such facility
the relation of the marvellous deeds which were universally announced to
him as the acts of the power, or the effects of the benevolence, of the
various gods which presided over the nations of the earth: these
wonderful tales, which were offered to his acceptance, as the most
indubitable proofs of the empire of these gods over nature, which man
always found deaf to his entreaties, were readily accredited by him; in
the expectation, that if he could gain them over to his interest, this
nature, which he found so sullen, so little disposed to lend herself to
his views, would then be controuled in his own favor.

By a necessary consequence of these ideas, nature was despoiled of all
power; she was contemplated only as a passive instrument, who acted at
the will, under the influence of the numerous, all-powerful agents to
whom the various superstitions had rendered her subordinate. It was thus
for want of contemplating nature under her true point of view, that man
has mistaken her entirely, that he believed her incapable of producing
any thing by herself; that he ascribed the honor of all those
productions, whether advantageous or disadvantageous to the human
species, to fictitious powers, whom he always clothed with his own
peculiar dispositions, only he aggrandized their force. In short, it was
upon the ruins of nature, that man erected the imaginary colossus of
superstition, that he reared the _altars of a Jupiter, the temples of an

If the ignorance of nature gave birth to such a variety of gods, the
knowledge of this nature is calculated to destroy them. As soon as man
becomes enlightened, his powers augment, his resources increase in a
ratio with his knowledge; the sciences, the protecting arts, industrious
application, furnish him assistance; experience encourages his progress,
truth procures for him the means of resisting the efforts of many
causes, which cease to alarm him as soon as he obtains a correct
knowledge of them. In a word, his terrors dissipate in proportion as his
mind becomes enlightened, because his trepidation is ever commensurate
with his ignorance, and furnishes this great lesson, that _man,
instructed by truth, ceases to be superstitious_.


_Of Mythology, and Theology_.

The elements of nature were, as we have shewn, the first divinities of
man; he has generally commenced with adoring material beings; each
individual, as we have already said, as may be still seen in savage
nations, made to himself a particular god, of some physical object,
which he supposed to be the cause of those events, in which he was
himself interested; he never wandered to seek out of visible nature, the
source either of what happened to himself, or of those phenomena to
which he was a witness. As he every where saw only material effects, he
attributed them to causes of the same genus; incapable in his infancy of
those profound reveries, of those subtle speculations, which are the
fruit of time, the result of leisure, he did not imagine any cause
distinguished from the objects that met his sight, nor of any essence
totally different from every thing he beheld.

The observation of nature was the first study of those who had leisure
to meditate: they could not avoid being struck with the phenomena of the
visible world. The rising and setting of the sun, the periodical return
of the seasons, the variations of the atmosphere, the fertility and
sterility of the earth, the advantages of irrigation, the damage caused
by floods, the useful effects of fire, the terrible consequences of
conflagration, were proper and suitable objects to occupy their
thoughts. It was natural for them to believe that those beings they saw
move of themselves, acted by their own peculiar energies; according as
their influence over the inhabitants of the earth was either favorable
or otherwise, they concluded them to have either the power to injure
them, or the disposition to confer benefits. Those who first acquired
the knowledge of gaining an ascendancy over man, then savage, wandering,
unpolished, or dispersed in woods, with but little attachment to the
soil, of which he had not yet learned to reap the advantage, were always
more practised observers--individuals more instructed in the ways of
nature, than the people, or rather the scattered hordes, whom they found
ignorant and destitute of experience: their superior knowledge placed
them in a capacity to render these services--to discover to them useful
inventions, which attracted the confidence of the unhappy beings to whom
they came to offer an assisting hand; savages who were naked, half
famished, exposed to the injuries of the weather, obnoxious to the
attacks of ferocious beasts, dispersed in caverns, scattered in forests,
occupied with hunting, painfully labouring to procure themselves a very
precarious subsistence, had not sufficient leisure to make discoveries
calculated to facilitate their labour, or to render it less incessant.
These discoveries are generally the fruit of society: isolated beings,
detached families, hardly ever make any discoveries--scarcely ever think
of making any. The savage is a being who lives in a perpetual state of
infancy, who never reaches maturity unless some one comes to draw him
out of his misery. At first repulsive, unsociable, intractable, he by
degrees familiarizes himself with those who render him service; once
gained by their kindness, he readily lends them his confidence; in the
end he goes the length of sacrificing to them his liberty.

It was commonly from the bosom of civilized nations that have issued
those personages who have carried sociability, agriculture, art, laws,
gods, superstition, forms of worship, to those families or hordes as yet
scattered; who united them either to the body of some other nations, or
formed them into new nations, of which they themselves became the
leaders, sometimes the king, frequently the high priest, and often their
god. These softened their manners--gathered them together--taught them
to reap the advantages of their own powers--to render each other
reciprocal assistance--to satisfy their wants with greater facility. In
thus rendering their existence more comfortable, thus augmenting their
happiness, they attracted their love; obtained their veneration,
acquired the right of prescribing opinions to them, made them adopt such
as they had either invented themselves, or else drawn up in the
civilized countries from whence they came. History points out to us the
most famous legislators as men, who, enriched with useful knowledge they
had gleaned in the bosom of polished nations, carried to savages without
industry, needing assistance, those arts, of which, until then, these
rude people were ignorant: such were the Bacchus's, the Orpheus's, the
Triptolemus's, the Numa's, the Zamolixis's; in short, all those who
first gave to nations their gods--their worship--the rudiments of
agriculture, of science, of superstition, of jurisprudence, of religion,

It will perhaps be enquired, If those nations which at the present day
we see assembled, were all originally dispersed? We reply, that this
dispersion may have been produced at various times, by those terrible
revolutions, of which it has before been remarked our globe has more
than once been the theatre; in times so remote, that history has not
been able to transmit us the detail. Perhaps the approach of more than
one comet may have produced on our earth several universal ravages,
which have at each time annihilated the greater portion of the human

These hypotheses will unquestionably appear bold to those who have not
sufficiently meditated on nature, but to the philosophic enquirer they
are by no means inconsistent. There may not only have been one general
deluge, but even a great number since the existence of our planet; this
globe itself may have been a new production in nature; it may not always
have occupied the place it does at present. Whatever idea may be adopted
on this subject, if it is very certain that, independent of those
exterior causes, which are competent to totally change its face, as the
impulse of a comet may do, this globe contains within itself, a cause
adequate to alter it entirely, since, besides the diurnal and sensible
motion of the earth, it has one extremely slow, almost imperceptible, by
which every thing must eventually be changed in it: this is the motion
from whence depends the _precession_ of the _equinoctial points_,
observed by _Hipparchus_ and other mathematicians, now well understood
by astronomers; by this motion, the earth must at the end of several
thousand years change totally: this motion will at length cause the
ocean to occupy that space which at present forms the lands or
continents. From this it will be obvious that our globe, as well as all
the beings in nature, has a continual disposition to change. This motion
was known to the ancients, and was what gave rise to what they called
their great year, which the Egyptians fixed at thirty-six thousand five
hundred and twenty-five years: the Sabines at thirty-six thousand four
hundred and twenty-five, whilst others have extended it to one hundred
thousand, some even to seven hundred and fifty-three thousand years.
Again, to those general revolutions which our planet has at different
times experienced, way he added those that have been partial, such as
inundations of the sea, earthquakes, subterraneous conflagrations, which
have sometimes had the effect of dispersing particular nations, and to
make them forget all those sciences with which they were, before
acquainted. It is also probable that the first volcanic fires, having
had no previous vent, were more central, and greater in quantity, before
they burst the crust of earth; as the sea washed the whole, it must have
rapidly sunk down into every opening, where, falling on the boiling
lava, it was instantly expanded into steam, producing irresistible
explosion: whence it is reasonable to conclude, that the primaeval
earthquakes wore more widely extended, and of much greater force, than
those which occur in our days. Other vapours may be produced by intense
heat, possessing a much greater elasticity, from substances that
evaporate, such as mercury, diamonds, &c.; the expansive force of these
vapours would be much greater than the steam of water, even at red hot
heat consequently they, way have had sufficient energy to raise islands,
continents, or even to have detached the moon from the earth; if the
moon, as has been supposed by some philosophers, was thrown out of the
great cavity which now contains the South Sea; the immense quantity of
water flowing in from the, original ocean, and which then covered the
earth, would much contribute to leave the continents and islands, which
might be raised at the same time, above the surface of the water. In
later days we have accounts of huge stones falling, from the firmament,
which may have been thrown by explosion from some distant earthquake,
without having been impelled with a force sufficient to cause them to
circulate round the earth, and thus produce numerous small moons or

Those who were able to escape from the ruin of the world, filled with
consternation, plunged in misery, were but little conditioned to
preserve to their posterity a knowledge, effaced by those misfortunes,
of which they had been both the victims and the witnesses: overwhelmed
with dismay, trembling with fear, they were not able to hand down the
history of their frightful adventures, except by obscure traditions;
much less to transmit to us the opinions, the systems, the arts, the
sciences, anterior to these petrifying revolutions of our sphere. There
have been perhaps men upon the earth from all eternity; but at different
periods they may have been nearly annihilated, together with their
monuments, their sciences, and their arts; those who outlived these
periodical revolutions, each time formed a new race of men, who by dint
of time, labour, and experience, have by degrees withdrawn from oblivion
the inventions of the primitive races. It is, perhaps, to these
periodical revolutions of the human species, that is to be ascribed the
profound ignorance in which we see man yet plunged, upon those objects
that are the most interesting to him. This is, perhaps, the true source
of the imperfection of his knowledge--of the vices of his political
institutions--of the defect in his religion--of the growth of
superstition, over which terror has always presided; here, in all
probability, is the cause of that puerile inexperience, of those jejune
prejudices, which almost every where keep man in a state of infancy, and
which render him so little capable of either listening to reason or of
consulting truth. To judge by the slowness of his progress, by the
feebleness of his advance, in a number of respects, we should be
inclined to say, the human race has either just quitted its cradle, or
that he was never destined to attain the age of virility--to corroborate
his reason.

However it may be with these conjectures, whether the human race may
always have existed upon the earth, whether it may have been a recent
production of nature, whether the larger animals we now behold were
originally derived from the smallest microscopic ones, who have
increased in bulk with the progression of time, or whether, as the
Egyptian philosophers thought, mankind were originally hermaphrodites,
who like the _aphis_ produced the sexual distinction after some
generations, which was also the opinion of Plato, and seems to have been
that of Moses, who was educated amongst these Egyptians, as may be
gathered from the 27th and 28th verses of the first chapter of GENESIS:
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created be
him; male and female created he them--And GOD blessed them, and GOD said
unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and
subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl
of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth:" it
is not therefore presuming too much to suppose, as the Egyptians were a
nation very fond of explaining their opinions by hieroglyphics, that
that part which describes Eve as taken out of Adam's rib, was an
hieroglyphic emblem: showing that mankind was in the primitive state of
both sexes, united, who was afterwards divided into males and females.
However, I say, this may be, it is extremely easy to recur to the origin
of many existing nations: we shall find them always in the savage state;
that is, to say, dispersed; composed of families detached from each
other; of wandering, hordes; these were collected together, approximated
at the voice of some missionary or legislator, from whom they received
great benefits, who gave them gods, opinions, and laws. These
personages, of whom the people newly congregated readily acknowledged
the superiority, fixed the national gods, leaving to each individual,
those which he had formed to himself, according to his own peculiar
ideas, or else substituting others brought from those regions, from
whence they themselves had emigrated.

The better to imprint their lessons on the minds of their new subjects,
these men became the guides, the priests, the sovereigns, the masters of
these infant societies; they formed discourses by which they spoke to
the imagination of their willing auditors. POETRY seem best adapted to
strike the mind of these rude people, to engrave on their memory those
ideas with which they were willing to imbue them: its images, its
fictions, its numbers, its rhyme its harmony, all conspired to please
their fancy, to render permanent the, impressions it made: thus, the
entire of nature, as well as all its parts, was personified, by its
beautiful allegories: at its soothing voice, trees, stones, rocks,
earth, air, fire, water, by imagination took intelligence, held
conversation with man, and with themselves; the elements were deified by
its songs, every thing was figuratively detailed in harmonious lays. The
sky, which according to the then philosophy, was an arched concave,
spreading over the earth, which was supposed to be a level plain; (for
the doctrine of _antipodes_ is of rather modern date) was itself made a
god; was considered a more suitable residence, as making a greater
distinction for these imaginary deities than the earth on which man
himself resided. Thus the firmament was filled with deities.

Time, under the name of Saturn, was pictured as the son of heaven; or
Coelus by earth, called Terra, or Thea; he was represented as an
inexorable divinity--naturally artful, who devoured his own children--
who revenged the anger of his mother upon his father; for which purpose
she armed him with a scythe, formed of metals drawn from her own bowels,
with which he struck Coelus, in the act of uniting himself to Thea, and
so mutilated him, that he was ever after incapacitated to increase the
number of his children: he was said to have divided the throne with
Janus king of Italy, his reign seems to have been so mild, so
beneficent, that it was called the _golden age_; human victims were
sacrificed on his altars, until abolished by Hercules, who substituted
small images of clay. Festivals in honor of this god, called Saturnalia,
were instituted long antecedent to the foundation of Rome they were
celebrated about the middle of December, either on the 16th, 17th, or
18th; they lasted in latter times several days, originally but one.
Universal liberty prevailed at the celebration, slaves were permitted to
ridicule their masters--to speak freely on every subject--no criminals
were executed--war never declared; the priests made their human
offerings with their heads uncovered; a circumstance peculiar to the
Saturnalia, not adopted at other festivals.

The igneous matter, the etherial electric fluid, that invisible fire
which vivifies nature, that penetrates all beings, that fertilizes the
earth, which is the great principle of motion, the source of heat, was
deified under the name of Jupiter: his combination with every being in
nature was expressed by his metamorphoses--by the frequent adulteries
imputed to him. He was armed with thunder, to indicate he produced
meteors, to typify the electric fluid that is called lightning. He
married the winds, which were designated under the name of Juno,
therefore called the Goddess of the Winds, their nuptials were
celebrated with great solemnity; all the gods, the entire brute
creation, the whole of mankind attended, except one young woman named
Chelone, who laughed at the ceremonies, for which impiety she was
changed by Mercury into a tortoise, and condemned to perpetual silence.
He was the most powerful of all the gods, and considered as the king and
father both of gods and men: his worship was very extended, performed
with greater solemnity, than that of any other god. Upon his altars
smoked goats, sheep, and white bulls, in which he is said to have
particularly delighted; the oak was rendered sacred to him, because he
taught mankind to live upon acorns; he had many oracles where his
precepts were delivered, the most celebrated of these were at Dodona and
Ammon in Lybia; he was supposed to be invisible to the inhabitants of
the earth; the Lacedemonians erected his statue with four heads, thereby
indicating, that he listened readily to the solicitations of every
quarter of the earth. Minerva is represented as having no mother, but to
have come completely armed from his brains, when his head was opened by
Vulcan; by which it is meant to infer that wisdom is the result of this
ethereal fluid. Thus, following the same fictions, the sun, that
beneficent star which has such a marked influence over the earth, became
an Osiris, a Belus, a Mithras, an Adonis, an Apollo. Nature, rendered
sorrowful by his periodical absence, was an Isis, an Astarte, a Venus, a
Cybele. Astarte had a magnificent temple at Hieropolis served by three
hundred priests, who were always employed in offering sacrifices. The
priests of Cybele, called Corybantes, also Galli, were not admitted to
their sacred functions without previous mutilation. In the celebration
of their festivals these priests used all kinds of indecent expressions,
beat drums, cymbals, and behaved just like madmen: his worship extended
all over Phrygia, and was established in Greece under the name of
_Eleusinian mysteries_. In short, every thing was personified: the sea
was under the empire of Neptune; fire was adored by the Egyptians under
the name of Serapis; by the Persians, under that of Ormus or Oromaze;
and by the Romans, under that of Vesta and Vulcan.

Such was the origin of mythology: it may be said to be the daughter of
natural philosophy, embellished by poetry; only destined to describe
nature and its parts. If antiquity is consulted, it will be perceived
without much trouble, that these famous sages, those legislators, those
priests, those conquerors, who were the instructors of infant nations,
themselves adored active nature, or the great whole considered
relatively to its different operations or qualities; that this was what
they caused the ignorant savages whom they had gathered together to
adore. It was the great whole they deified; it was its various parts
which they made their inferior gods; it was from the necessity of her
laws they made fate. The Greeks called it Nature, a divinity who had a
thousand names. Varro says, "I believe that God is the soul of the
universe, and that the universe is God." Cicero says "that in the
mysteries of Samothracia, of Lemnos, of Eleusis, it was nature much more
than the gods, they explained to the initiated." Pliny says, "we must
believe that the world, or that which is contained under the vast extent
of the heavens, is the Divinity; even eternal, infinite, without
beginning or end." It was these different modes of considering nature
that gave birth to Polytheism, to idolatry. Allegory masqued its mode of
action: it was at length parts of this great whole, that idolatry
represented by statues and symbols.

To complete the proofs of what has been said; to shew distinctly that it
was the great whole, the universe, the nature of things, which was the
real object of the worship of Pagan antiquity, hardly any thing can be
more decisive than the beginning of the hymn of Orpheus addressed to the
god Pan.

"O Pan! I invoke thee, O powerful god! O universal nature! the heavens,
the sea, the earth, who nourish all, and the eternal fire, because these
are thy members, O all powerful Pan," &c. Nothing can be more suitable
to confirm these ideas, than the ingenious explanation which is given of
the fable of Pan, as well as of the figure under which he is
represented. It is said, "Pan, according to the signification of his
name, is the emblem by which the ancients have designated the great
assemblage of things or beings: he represents the universe; and, in the
mind of the wisest philosophers of antiquity, he passed for the greatest
and most ancient of the gods. The features under which he is delineated
form the portrait of nature, and of the savage state in which she was
found in the beginning. The spotted skin of the leopard, which serves
him for a mantle, imagined the heavens filled with stars and
constellations. His person was compounded of parts, some of which were
suitable to a reasonable animal, that is to say, to man; and others to
the animal destitute of reason, such as the goat. It is thus," says he,
"that the universe is composed of an intelligence that governs the
whole, and of the prolific, fruitful elements of fire, water, earth,
air. Pan, loved to drink and to follow the nymphs; this announces the
occasion nature has for humidity in all her productions, and that this
god, like nature, is strongly inclined to propagation. According to the
Egyptians, and the most ancient Grecian philosophers, Pan had neither
father nor mother; he came out of Demogorgon at the same moment with the
Destinies, his fatal sisters; a fine method of expressing that the
universe was the work of an unknown power, and that it was formed after
the invariable relations, the eternal laws of necessity; but his most
significant symbol, that most suitable to express the harmony of the
universe, is his mysterious pipe, composed of seven unequal tubes, but
calculated to produce the nicest, the most perfect concord. The orbs
which compose the seven planets of our solar system, are of different
diameters; being bodies of unequal mass, they describe their revolutions
round the sun in various periods; nevertheless it is from the order of
their motion that results the harmony of the spheres," &c.

Here then is the great macrocosm, the mighty whole, the assemblage of
things adored and deified by the philosophers of antiquity; whilst the
uninformed stopped at the emblem under which this nature was depicted;
at the symbols under which its various parts, its numerous functions
were personified; his narrow mind, his barbarous ignorance, never
permitted him to mount higher; they alone were deemed worthy of being,
initiated into the mysteries, who knew the realities masqued under these
emblems. Indeed, it is not to be doubted for an instant, that the wisest
among the Pagans adored nature; which ethnic theology designated under a
great variety of nomenclature, under an immense number of different
emblems. Apuleius, although a decided Platonist, accustomed to the
mysterious, unintelligible notions of his master, calls "Nature the
parent of all; the mother of the elements, the first offspring of the
world;" again, "the mother of the stars, the parent of the seasons, and
the governess of the whole world."--She was worshipped by many under the
appellation of the _mother of the gods_. Indeed, the first institutors
of nations, and their immediate successors in authority, only spoke to
the people by fables, allegories, enigmas, of which they reserved to
themselves the right of giving an explanation: this, in fact,
constituted the mysteries of the various worship paid to the Pagan
divinities. This mysterious tone they considered necessary, whether it
was to mask their own ignorance, or whether it was to preserve their
power over the uninformed, who for the most part only respect that which
is above their comprehension. Their explications were generally dictated
either by interest, or by a delirious imagination, frequently by
imposture; thus from age to age, they did no more than render nature and
its parts, which they bad originally depicted, more unknown, until they
completely lost sight of the primitive ideas; these were replaced by a
multitude of fictitious personages, under whose features this nature had
primarily been represented to them. The people, either unaccustomed to
think, or deeply steeped in ignorance, adored these personages, without
penetrating into the true sense of the emblematical fables recounted to
them. These ideal beings, with material figures, in whom they believed
there resided a mysterious virtue, a divine power, were the objects of
their worship, the source of their fears, the fountain of their hopes.
The wonderful, the incredible actions ascribed to these fancied
divinities, were an inexhaustible fund of admiration, which gave
perpetual play to the fancy; which delighted not only the people of
those days, but even the children of latter ages. Thus were transmitted
from age to age, those marvellous accounts, which, although necessary to
the existence of the power usurped by the ministers of these gods, did,
in fact, nothing more than confirm the blindness of the ignorant: these
never supposed that it was nature, its various operations, its numerous
component parts--that it was the passions of man and his diverse
faculties that lay buried under an heap of allegories; they did not
perceive that the passions and faculties of human nature were used as
emblems, because man was ignorant of the true cause of the phenomena he
beheld. As strong passions seemed to hurry man along, in despite of
himself, they either attributed these passions to a god, or deified
them; frequently they did both: it was thus love became a deity; that
eloquence, poetry, industry, were transformed into gods, under the names
of Hermes, Mercury, Apollo; the stings of conscience were called the
Furies: the people, bowed down in stupid ignorance, had no eyes but for
these emblematical persons, under which nature was masked: they
attributed to their influence the good, to their displeasure the evil,
which they experienced: they entered into every kind of folly, into the
most delirious acts of madness, to render them propitious to their
views; thus, for want of being acquainted with the reality of things,
their worship frequently degenerated into the most cruel extravagance,
into the most ridiculous folly.

Thus it is obvious, that every thing proves nature and its various parts
to have every where been the first divinities of man. Natural
philosophers studied these deities, either superficially or profoundly,
--explained some of their properties, detailed some of their modes of
action. Poets painted them to the imagination of mortals, either in the
most fascinating colours, or under the most hideous deformities;
embodied them--furnished them with reasoning faculties--recounted their
exploits--recorded their will. The statuary executed sometimes with the
most enrapturing art, the ideas of the poets,--gave substance to their
shadows--form to their airy nothings. The priest decorated these united
works with a thousand marvellous qualities--with the most terrible
passions--with the most inconceivable attributes; gave them, "a local
habitation and a name." The people adored them; prostrated themselves
before these gods, who were neither susceptible of love or hatred,
goodness, or malice; they became persecuting, malevolent, cruel, unjust,
in order to render themselves acceptable to powers generally described
to them under the most odious features.

By dint of reasoning upon these emblems, by meditating upon nature, thus
decorated, or rather disfigured, subsequent speculators no longer
recollected the source from whence their predecessors had drawn their
gods, nor the fantastic ornaments with which they had embellished them.
Natural philosophers and poets were transformed by leisure into
metaphysicians and theologians; tired with contemplating what they could
have understood, they believed they had made an important discovery by
subtilly distinguishing nature from herself--from her own peculiar
energies--from her faculty of action. By degrees they made an
incomprehensible being of this energy, which as before they personified,
this they called the mover of nature, divided it into two, one congenial
to man's happiness, the other inimical to his welfare; these they
deified in the same manner as they had before done nature with her
various parts. These abstract, metaphysical beings, became the sole
object of their thoughts; were the subject of their continual
contemplation; they looked upon them as realities of the highest
importance: thus nature quite disappeared; she was despoiled of her
rights; she was considered as nothing more than an unwieldy mass,
destitute of power; devoid of energy, as an heap of ignoble matter
purely passive: who, incapable of acting by herself, was not competent
to any of the operations they beheld, without the direct, the immediate
agency of the moving powers they had associated with her: which they had
made the fulcrum necessary to the action of the lever. They either did
not or would not perceive, that the _great Cause of causes, ens entium,
Parent of parents_, had, in unravelling chaotic matter, with a wisdom
for which man can never be sufficiently grateful, with a sagacity which
he can never sufficiently admire, foreseen every thing that could
contribute not only to his own individual happiness, but also to that of
all the beings in nature; that he had given this nature immutable laws,
according to which she is for ever regulated; after which she is obliged
invariably to act; that he has described for her an eternal course, from
which it is not permitted her to deviate, even for an instant; that she
is therefore, rendered competent to the production of every phenomena,
not only that he beholds, but of an infinity that he has never yet
contemplated; that she needs not any exterior energy for this purpose,
having received her powers from a hand far superior to any the feeble
weak imagination of man is able to form; that when this nature appears
to afflict him, it is only from the contraction of his own views, from
the narrowness of his own ideas, that he judges; that, in fact, what he
considers the evils of nature, are the greatest possible benefits he can
receive, if he was but in a condition to be acquainted with previous
causes, with subsequent effects. That the evils resulting to him from
his own vices, have equally their remedies in this nature, which it is
his duty to study; which if he does he will find, that the same
omnipotent goodness, who gave her irrefragable laws, also planted in her
bosom, balsams for all his maladies, whether physical or moral: but that
it is not given him to know what this great, this universal cause is,
for purposes of which he ought not to dispute the wisdom, when he
contemplates the mighty wonders that surround him.

Thus man ever preferred an unknown power, to that of which he was
enabled to have some knowledge, if he had only deigned to consult his
experience; but he presently ceases to respect that which he
understands; to estimate those objects which are familiar to him: he
figures to himself something marvellous in every thing he does not
comprehend; his mind, above all, labours to seize upon that which
appears to escape his consideration; in default of experience, he no
longer consults any thing, but his imagination, which feeds him with
chimeras. In consequence, those speculators who have subtilly
distinguished nature from her own powers, have successively laboured to
clothe the powers thus separated with, a thousand incomprehensible
qualities: as they did not see this power, which is only a mode, they
made it a spirit--an intelligence--an incorporeal being; that is to say,
of a substance totally different from every thing of which we have a
knowledge. They never perceived that all their inventions, that all the
words which they imagined, only served to mask their real ignorance;
that all their pretended science was limited to saying, in what manner
nature acted, by a thousand subterfuges which they themselves found it
impossible to comprehend. Man always deceives himself for want of
studying nature; he leads himself astray, every time he is disposed to
go out of it; he is always quickly necessitated to return; he is even in
error when he substitutes words which he does not himself understand,
for things which he would much better comprehend if he was willing to
look at them without prejudice.

Can a theologian ingenuously believe himself more enlightened, for
having substituted the vague words spirit, incorporeal substance, &c. to
the more intelligible terms nature, matter, mobility, necessity? However
this may be, these obscure words once imagined, it was necessary to
attach ideas to them; in doing this, he has not been able to draw them
from any other source than the beings of this despised nature, which are
ever the only beings of which he is enabled to have any knowledge. Man,
consequently, drew them up in himself; his own soul served for the model
of the universal soul, of which indeed according to some it only formed
a portion; his own mind was the standard of the mind that regulated
nature; his own passions, his own desires, were the prototypes of those
by which he actuated this being; his own intelligence was that from
which he formed that of the mover of nature; that which was suitable to
himself, he called the order of nature; this pretended order was the
scale by which he measured the wisdom of this being; in short, those
qualities which he calls perfections in himself, were the archetypes in
miniature, of the perfections of the being, he thus gratuitously
supposed to be the agent, who operated the phenomena of nature. It was
thus, that in despite of all their efforts, the theologians were,
perhaps always will be, true Anthropomorphites. A sect of this
denomination appeared in 359, in Egypt, they held the doctrine that
their god had a bodily shape. Indeed it is very difficult, if not
impossible to prevent man from making himself the sole model of his
divinity. Montaigne says "man is not able to be other than he is, nor
imagine but after his capacity; let him take what pains he may, he will
never have a knowledge of any soul but his own." Xenophanes said, "if
the ox or the elephant understood either sculpture or painting, they
would not fail to represent the divinity under their own peculiar figure
that in this, they would have as much reason as Polyclitus or Phidias,
who gave him the human form." It was said to a very celebrated man that
"God made man after his own image;" "man has returned the compliment,"
replied the philosopher. Indeed, man generally sees in his God, nothing
but a man. Let him subtilize as he will, let him extend his own powers
as he may, let him swell his own perfections to the utmost, he will have
done nothing more than make a gigantic, exaggerated man, whom he will
render illusory by dint of heaping together incompatible qualities. He
will never see in such a god, but a being of the human species, in whom
he will strive to aggrandize the proportions, until he has formed a
being totally inconceivable. It is according to these dispositions that
he attributes intelligence, wisdom, goodness, justice, science, power,
to his divinity, because he is himself intelligent; because he has the
idea of wisdom in some beings of his own species; because he loves to
find in them ideas favourable to himself: because he esteems those who
display equity; because he has a knowledge, which he holds more
extensive in some individuals than himself; in short, because he enjoys
certain faculties which depend on his own organization. He presently
extends or exaggerates all these qualities in forming his god; the sight
of the phenomena of nature, which he feels he is himself incapable of
either producing or imitating, obliges him to make this difference
between the being he pourtrays and himself; but he knows not at what
point to stop; he fears lest he should deceive himself, if he should see
any limits to the qualities he assigns, the word infinite, therefore, is
the abstract, the vague term which he uses to characterize them. He says
that his power is infinite, which signifies that when he beholds those
stupendous effects which nature produces, he has no conception at what
point his power can rest; that his goodness, his wisdom, his knowledge
are infinite: this announces that he is ignorant how far these
perfections ma be carried in a being whose power so much surpasses his
own; that he is of infinite duration, because he is not capable of
conceiving he could have had a beginning or can ever cease to be;
because of this he considers a defect in those transitory beings of whom
he beholds the dissolution, whom he sees are subjected to death. He
presumes the cause of those effects to which he is a witness, of those
striking phenomena that assail his sight, is immutable, permanent, not
subjected to change, like all the evanescent beings whom he knows are
submitted to dissolution, to destruction, to change of form. This mover
of nature being always invisible to man, his mode of action being,
impenetrable, he believes that, like his soul or the concealed principle
which animates his own body, which he calls spiritual, a spirit, is the
moving power of the universe; in consequence he makes a spirit the soul,
the life, the principle of motion in nature. Thus when by dint of
subtilizing, he has arrived at believing the principle by which his body
is moved is a spiritual, immaterial substance, he makes the spirit of
the universe immaterial in like manner: he makes it immense, although
without extent; immoveable, although capable of moving nature:
immutable, although he supposes him to be the author of all the changes,
operated in the universe.

The idea of the unity of God, which cost Socrates his life, because the
Athenians considered those Atheists who believed but in one, was the
tardy fruit of human meditation. Plato himself did not dare to break
entirely the doctrine of _Polytheism_; he preserved Venus, an all-
powerful Jupiter, and a Pallas, who was the goddess of the country. The
sight of those opposite, frequently contradictory effects, which man saw
take place in the world, had a tendency to persuade him there must be a
number of distinct powers or causes independent of each other. He was
unable to conceive that the various phenomena he beheld, sprung from a
single, from an unique cause; he therefore admitted many causes or gods,
acting upon different principles; some of which he considered friendly,
others as inimical to his race. Such is the origin of that doctrine, so
ancient, so universal, which supposed two principles in nature, or two
powers of opposite interests, who were perpetually at war with each
other; by the assistance of which he explained, that constant mixture of
good and evil, that blending of prosperity with misfortune, in a word,
those eternal vicissitudes to which in this world the human being, is
subjected. This is the source of those combats which all antiquity has
supposed to exist between good and wicked gods, between an Osiris and a
Typhoeus; between an Orosmadis and an Arimanis; between a Jupiter and
the Titanes; in these rencounters man for his own peculiar interest
always gave the palm of victory to the beneficent deity; this, according
to all the traditions handed down, ever remained in possession of the
field of battle; it was so far right, as it is evidently for the benefit
of mankind that the good should prevail over the wicked.

When, however, man acknowledged only one God, he generally supposed the
different departments of nature were confided to powers subordinate to
his supreme orders, under whom the sovereign of the gods discharged his
care in the administration of the world. These subaltern gods were
prodigiously multiplied; each man, each town, each country, had their
local, their tutelary gods; every event, whether fortunate or
unfortunate, had a divine cause; was the consequence of a sovereign
decree; each natural effect, every operation of nature, each passion,
depended upon a divinity, which a theological imagination, disposed to
see gods every where, mistaking nature, either embellished or
disfigured. Poetry tuned its harmonious lays, on these occasions,
exaggerated the details, animated its pictures; credulous ignorance
received the portraits with eagerness--heard the doctrines with

Such is the origin of Polytheism: indeed the Greek word _Theos_, [Greek
letters], is derived from _Theaomai_, [Greek letters], which implies to
contemplate, or take a view of secret or hidden things. Such are the
foundations, such the titles of the hierarchy, which man established
between himself and his gods, because he generally believed he was
incapable of the exalted privilege of immediately addressing himself to
the incomprehensible Being whom he had acknowledged for the only
sovereign of nature, without even having any distinct idea on the
subject: such is the true genealogy of those inferior gods whom the
uninformed place as, a proportional means between themselves and the
first of all other causes. In consequence, among the Greeks and the
Romans, we see the deities divided into two classes, the one were called
great gods, because the whole world were nearly in accord in deifying
the most striking parts of nature, such as the sun, fire; the sea, time,
&c. these formed a kind of aristocratic order, who were distinguished
from the minor gods, or from the multitude of ethnic divinities, who
were entirely local; that is to say, were reverenced only in particular
countries, or by individuals; as in Rome, where every citizen had his
familiar spirit, called lares; and household god, called penates.
Nevertheless, the first rank of these Pagan divinities, like the latter,
were submitted to Fate, that is, to destiny, which obviously is nothing
more than nature acting by immutable, rigorous, necessary laws; this
destiny was looked upon as the god of gods; it is evident, that this was
nothing more than necessity personified; that therefore it was a
weakness in the heathens to fatigue with their sacrifices, to solicit
with their prayers, those divinities whom they themselves believed were
submitted to the decrees of an inexorable destiny, of which it was never
possible for them to alter the mandates. _But man_, generally, _ceases
to reason, whenever his theological notions are either brought into
question, or are the subject of his inquiry_.

What has been already said, serves to show the common source of that
multitude of intermediate powers, subordinate to the gods, but superior
to man, with which he filled the universe: they were venerated under the
names of nymphs, demi-gods, angels, daemons, good and evil genii,
spirits, heroes, saints, &c. Among the Romans they were called _Dei
medioxumi_, intermediate angels; they were looked upon as intercessors,
as mediators, as powers whom it was necessary to reverence, in order
either to obtain their favour, appease their anger, or divert their
malignant intentions; these constitute different classes of intermediate
divinities, who became either the foundation of their hopes, the object
of their fears, the means of consolation, or the source of dread to
those very mortals who only invented them when they found it impossible
to form to themselves distinct, perspicuous ideas of the
incomprehensible Being who governed the world in chief; or when they
despaired of being able to hold communication with him directly.

Meditation and reflection diminished the number of those deities which
composed the ethnic polytheism: some who gave the subject more
consideration than others, reduced the whole to one all-powerful
Jupiter; but still they painted this being in the most hideous colours,
gave him the most revolting features, because they were still
obstinately bent on making man, his action and his passions, the model:
this folly led them into continual perplexities, because it heaped
together contradictory, incompatible, extravagant qualities; it was
quite natural it should do so: the limited views, the superficial
knowledge, the irregular desires of frail, feeble mortals, were but
little calculated to typify the mind of the real Divinity; of that great
_Cause of causes_, that _Parent of parents_, from whom every thing must
have emanated. Although they persuaded themselves it was sinning to give
him rivals, yet they described him as a jealous monarch who could not
bear a division of empire; thus taking the vanity of earthly princes for
their emblem, as if it was possible such a being could have a competitor
like a terrestrial monarch. Not having contemplated the immutable laws
with which he has invested nature, to which every thing it contains is
subjected, which are the result of the most perfect wisdom, they were
puzzled to account for the contrariety of those effects which their weak
minds led them to suppose as evils; seeing that sometimes those who
fulfilled in the most faithful manner their duties in this life, were
involved in the same ruin with the boldest, the most inconsiderate
violaters: thus in making him the immediate agent, instead of the first
author, the executive instead of the formative power, they caused him to
appear capricious, as unreasonably vindictive against his creatures,
when they ought to have known that his wisdom was unlimited, his
kindness without bounds, when he infused into nature that power which
produces these apparently contradictory effects; which, although they
seem injurious to man's interests, are, if he was but capacitated to
judge fairly, the most beneficial advantages that he can possibly
derive. Thus they made the Divinity appear improvident, by continually
employing him to destroy the work of his own hands: they, in fact, taxed
him with impotence, by the perpetual non-performance of those projects
of which their own imbecillity, their own erring judgment, had vainly
supposed him to be the contriver.

To solve these difficulties, man created enemies to the Divinity, who
although subordinate to the supreme God, were nevertheless competent to
disturb his empire, to frustrate his views. Can any thing be worse
conceived, can any thing be more truly derogatory to the great _Parent
of parents_, than thus to make him resemble a king, who is surrounded
with adversaries, willing to dispute with him his diadem? Such, however,
is the origin of the _Fable of the Titanes_, or of the _rebellious
angels_, whose presumption caused them to be plunged into the abyss of
misery--who were changed into _demons_, or into evil genii: these
according to their mythology, had no other functions, than to render
abortive the projects of the Divinity; to seduce, to raise to rebellion,
those who were his subjects. Miserable invention, feeble subterfuge, for
the vices of mankind, although decorated with all the beauty of
language. Can then sublimity of versification, the harmony of numbers,
reconcile man to the idea that the puny offspring of natural causes is
adequate for a single instant to dispute the commands, to thwart the
desires, to render nugatory the decrees of a Being whose wisdom is of
the most polished perfection; whose goodness is boundless; whose power
must be more capacious than the human mind can possibly conceive?

In consequence of this _Fable of the Titanes_, the monarch of nature was
represented as perpetually in a scuffle with the enemies he had himself
created; as unwilling totally to subdue those with whom these fabulists
have described him as dividing his authority--partaking his supreme
power. This again was borrowed from the conduct of earthly monarchs,
who, when they find a potent enemy, make a treaty with him; but this was
quite unnecessary for the great _Cause of causes_; and only shows that
man is utterly incapable of forming any other ideas than those which he
derives from the situation of those of his own race, or of the beings by
whom he is surrounded. According to this fable the subjects of the
universal Monarch were never properly submitted to his authority; like
an earthly king, he was in a continual state of hostility, and punished
those who had the misfortune to enter into the conspiracies of the
enemies of his glory: seeing that human legislators put forth laws,
issued decrees, they established similar institutions for the Divinity;
established oracles; his ministers pretended, through these mysterious
mediums, to convey to the people his heavenly mandates, to unveil his
concealed intentions: the ignorant multitude received these without
examination, they did not perceive that it was man, and not the
Divinity, who thus spoke to them; they did not feel that it must be
impossible for weak creatures to act contrary to the will of God.

The _Fable of the Titanes, or rebellious angels_, is extremely ancient;
very generally diffused over the world; it serves for the foundation of
the theology of the Brachmins of Hindostan: according to these, all
living bodies are animated by _fallen angels_, who under these forms
expiate their rebellion. These contradictory notions were the basis of
nearly all the superstitions of the world; by these means they imagined
they accounted for the origin of evil--demonstrated the cause why the
human species experience misery. In short, the conduct of the most
arbitrary tyrants of the earth was but too frequently brought forth, too
often acted upon, in forming the character of the Divinity, held forth
to the worship of man: their imperfect jurisprudence was the source from
whence they drew that which they ascribed to their god. Pagan theology
was remarkable for displaying in the character of their divinities the
most dissolute vices; for making them vindictive; for causing them to
punish with extreme rigour those, crimes which the oracles predicted; to
doom to the most lasting torments those who sinned without knowing their
transgression; to hurl vengeance on those who were ignorant of their
obscure will, delivered in language which set comprehension at defiance;
unless it was by the priest who both made and fulminated it. It was upon
these unreasonable notions, that the theologians founded the worship
which man ought to render to the Divinity. Do not then let us be at all
surprised if the superstitious man was in a state of continual alarm: if
he experienced trances--if his mind was ever in the most tormenting
dread; the idea of his gods recalled to him unceasingly, that of a
pitiless tyrant who sported with the miseries of his subjects; who,
without being conscious of their own wrong, might at each moment incur
his displeasure: he could not avoid feeling that although they had
formed the universe entirely for man, yet justice did not regulate the
actions of these powerful beings, or rather those of the priests; but he
also believed that their elevated rank placed them infinitely above the
human species, that therefore they might afflict him at their pleasure.

It is then for want of considering good and evil as equally necessary;
it is for want of attributing them to their true causes, that man has
created to himself fictitious powers, malicious divinities, respecting
whom it is found so difficult to undeceive him. Nevertheless, in
contemplating nature, he would have been able to have perceived, that
_physical evil_ is a necessary consequence of the peculiar properties of
some beings; he would have acknowledged that plague, contagion, disease,
are due to physical causes under particular circumstances; to
combinations, which, although extremely natural, are fatal to his
species; he would have sought--in the bosom of nature herself the
remedies suitable to diminish these evils, or to have caused the
cessation of those effects under which he suffered: he would have seen
in like manner that _moral evil_ was the necessary consequence of
defective institutions; that it was not to the Divinity, but to the
injustice of his fellows he ought to ascribe those wars, that poverty,
those famines, those reverses of fortune, those multitudinous
calamities, those vices, those crimes, under which he so frequently
groans. Thus to rid himself of these evils he would not have uselessly
extended his trembling hands towards shadows incapable of relieving him;
towards beings who were not the authors of his sorrows; he would have
sought remedies for these misfortunes in a more rational administration
of justice--in more equitable laws--in more I reasonable institutions--
in a greater degree of benevolence towards his fellow man--in a more
punctual performance of his own duties.

As these gods were generally depicted to man as implacable to his
frailties as they denounced nothing but the most dreadful punishments
against those who involuntarily offended, it is not at all surprising
that the sentiment of fear prevailed over that of love: the gloomy ideas
presented to his mind were calculated to make him tremble, without
making him better; an attention to this truth will serve to explain the
foundation of that fantastical, irrational, frequently cruel worship,
which was paid to these divinities; he often committed the most cruel
extravagancies against his own person, the most hideous crimes against
the person of others, under the idea that in so doing, he disarmed the
anger, appeased the justice, recalled the clemency, deserved the mercy
of his gods.

In general, the superstitious systems of man, his human and other
sacrifices, his prayers, his ceremonies, his customs; have had only for
their object either to divert the fury of his gods, whom he believed he
had offended; to render them propitious to his own selfish views; or to
excite in them that good disposition towards himself, which his own
perverse mode of thinking made him imagine they bestowed exclusively on
others: on the other hand, the efforts, the subtilties of theology, have
seldom had any other end, than to reconcile in the divinities it has
pourtrayed, those discordant ideas which its own dogmas has raised in
the minds of mortals. From what has preceded, it may fairly be concluded
that ethnic theology undermined itself by its own inconsistencies; that
the art of composing chimeras may therefore with great justice be
defined to be that of combining those qualities which are impossible to
be reconciled with each other.


_Of the confused and contradictory Ideas of Theology._

Every thing that has been said, proves pretty clearly, that, in despite
of all his efforts, man has never been able to prevent himself from
drawing together from his own peculiar nature, the qualities he has
assigned to the Being who governs the universe. The contradictions
necessarily resulting from the incompatible assemblage of these human
qualities, which cannot become suitable to the same subject, seeing that
the existence of one destroys the existence of the other, have been
shewn:--the theologians themselves have felt the insurmountable
difficulties which their divinities presented to reason: they were so
substantive, that as they felt the impossibility of withdrawing
themselves out of the dilemma, they endeavoured to prevent man from
reasoning, by throwing his mind into confusion--by continually
augmenting the perplexity of those ideas, already so discordant, which
they offered him of the gods. By these means they enveloped them in
mystery, covered them with dense clouds, rendered them inaccessible to
mankind: thus they themselves became the interpreters, the masters of
explaining, according either to their fancy or their interest, the ways
of those enigmatical beings they made him adore. For this purpose they
exaggerated them more and more--neither time nor space, nor the entire
of nature could contain their immensity--every thing became an
impenetrable mystery. Although man has originally borrowed from himself
the traits, the colours, the primitive lineaments of which he composed
his gods; although he has made them jealous, powerful, vindictive
monarchs, yet his theology, by force of dreaming, entirely lost sight of
human nature. In order to render his divinities still more different
from their creatures, it assigned them, over and above the usual
qualities of man, properties so marvellous, so uncommon, so far removed
from every thing of which his mind could form a conception, that he lost
sight of them himself. From thence he persuaded himself these qualities
were divine, because he could no longer comprehend them; he believed
them worthy of his gods, because no man could figure to himself any one
distinct idea of them. Thus theology obtained the point of persuading
man he must believe that which he could not conceive; that he must
receive with submission improbable systems; that he must adopt, with
pious deference, conjectures contrary to his reason; that this reason
itself was the most agreeable sacrifice he could make on the altars of
his gods, who were unwilling he should use the gift they had bestowed
upon him. In short, it had made mortals implicitly believe that they
were not formed to comprehend the thing of all others the most important
to themselves. Thus it is evident that superstition founded its basis
upon the absurd principle that man is obliged to accredit firmly that
which he is in the most complete impossibility of comprehending. On the
other hand, man persuaded himself that the gigantic, the truly
incomprehensible attributes which were assigned to these celestial
monarchs, placed between them and their slaves a distance so immense,
that these could not be by any means offended with the comparison; that
these distinctions rendered them still greater; made them more powerful,
more marvellous, more inaccessible to observation. Man always entertains
the idea, that what he is not in a condition to conceive, is much more
noble, much wore respectable, than that which he has the capacity to
comprehend. The more a thing is removed from his reach, the more
valuable it always appears.

These prejudices in man for the marvellous, appear to have been the
source that gave birth to those wonderful, unintelligible qualities with
which superstition clothed these divinities. The invincible ignorance of
the human mind, whose fears reduced him to despair, engendered those
obscure, vague notions, with which mythology decorated its gods. He
believed he could never displease them, provided he rendered them
incommensurable; impossible to be compared with any thing, of which he
had a knowledge; either with that which was most sublime, or that which
possessed the greatest magnitude, From hence the multitude of negative
attributes with which ingenious dreamers have successively embellished
their phantoms, to the end that they might more surely form a being
distinguished from all others, or which possessed nothing in common with
that which the human mind had the faculty of being acquainted with: they
did not perceive that after all their endeavours, it was nothing wore
than exaggerated human qualities, which they thus heaped together, with
no more skill than a painter would display who should delineate all the
members of the body of the same size, taking a giant for dimension.

The theological attributes with which metaphysicians decorated these
divinities, were in fact nothing but pure negations of the qualities
found in man, or in those beings of which he has a knowledge; by these
attributes their gods were supposed exempted from every thing which they
considered weakness or imperfection in him, or in the beings by whom he
is surrounded: they called every quality infinite, which has been shewn
is only to affirm, that unlike man, or the beings with whom he is
acquainted, it is not circumscribed by the limits of space; this,
however, is what he can never in any manner comprehend, because he is
himself finite. Hobbes in his _Leviathan_, says, "whatsoever we imagine
is finite. Therefore there is no idea, or conception of any thing we
call infinite. No man can have in his mind an image of infinite
magnitude, nor conceive infinite swiftness, infinite time, infinite
force, or infinite power. When we say any thing is infinite, we signify
only, that we are not able to conceive the ends and bound of the thing
named, having no conception of the thing, but of our own inability."
Sherlock says, "the word infinite is only a negation, which signifies
that which has neither end, nor limits, nor extent, and, consequently,
that which has no positive and determinate nature, and is therefore
nothing;" he adds, "that nothing but custom has caused this word to be
adopted, which without that, would appear devoid of sense, and a

When it is said these gods are eternal, it signifies they have not had,
like man or like every thing that exists, a beginning, and that they
will never have an end: to say they are immutable, is to say, that
unlike himself or every thing which he sees, they are not subject to
change: to say they are immaterial, is to advance, that their substance
or essence is of a nature not conceivable by himself, but which must
from that very circumstance be totally different from every thing of
which he has cognizance.

It is from the confused collection of these negative qualities, that has
resulted the theological gods; those metaphysical wholes of which it is
impossible for man to form to himself any correct idea. In these
abstract beings every thing is infinity,--immensity,--spirituality,--
omniscience,--order,--wisdom,--intelligence,--omnipotence. In combining
these vague terms, or these modifications, the ethnic priests believed
they formed something, they extended these qualities by thought, and
they imagined they made gods, whilst they only composed chimeras. They
imagined that these perfections or these qualities must be suitable to
their gods, because they were not suitable to any thing of which they
had a knowledge; they believed that incomprehensible beings must have
inconceivable qualities. These were the materials of which theology
availed itself to compose those inexplicable shadows before which they
commanded the human race to bend the knee.

Nevertheless, experience soon proved that beings so vague, so impossible
to be conceived, so incapable of definition, so far removed from every
thing of which man could have any knowledge, were but little calculated
to fix his restless views; his mind requires to be arrested by qualities
which he is capacitated to ascertain; of which he is in a condition to
form a judgment. Thus after it had subtilized these metaphysical gods,
after it had rendered them so different in idea, from every thing that
acts upon the senses, theology found itself under the necessity of again
assimilating them to man, from whom it had so far removed them: it
therefore again made them human by the moral qualities which it assigned
them; it felt that without this it would not be able to persuade mankind
there could possibly exist any relation between him and such vague,
ethereal, fugitive, incommensurable beings; that it would never be
competent to secure for them his adoration.

It began to perceive that these marvellous gods were only calculated to
exercise the imagination of some few thinkers, whose minds were

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