THE theist is a man firmly persuaded of the existence of a Supreme Being as good as He is powerful, who has formed all beings with extension, vegetating, sentient and reflecting; who perpetuates their species, who punishes crimes without cruelty, and rewards virtuous actions with kindness.
The theist does not know how God punishes, how he protects, how he pardons, for he is not reckless enough to flatter himself that he knows how God acts, but he knows that God acts and that He is just. Difficulties against Providence do not shake him in his faith, because they are merely great difficulties, and not proofs. He submits to this Providence, although he perceives but a few effects and a few signs of this Providence: and, judging of the things he does not see by the things he sees, he considers that this Providence reaches all places and all centuries.
Reconciled in this principle with the rest of the universe, he does not embrace any of the sects, all of which contradict each other; his religion is the most ancient and the most widespread; for the simple worship of a God has preceded all the systems of the world. He speaks a language that all peoples understand, while they do not understand one another. He has brothers from Pekin to Cayenne, and he counts all wise men as his brethren. He believes that religion does not consist either in the opinions of an unintelligible metaphysic, or in vain display, but in worship and justice. The doing of good, there is his service; being submissive to God, there is his doctrine. The Mahometan cries to him--" Have a care if you do not make the pilgrimage to Mecca !" " Woe unto you," says a Recollet, " if you do not make a journey to Notre-Dame de Lorette! "He laughs at Lorette and at Mecca; but he succours the needy and defends the oppressed.
I MEDITATED last night; I was absorbed in the contemplation of nature; I admired the immensity, the course, the harmony of these infinite globes which the vulgar do not know how to admire.
I admired still more the intelligence which directs these vast forces. I said to myself : " One must be blind not to be dazzled by this spectacle; one must be stupid not to recognize the author of it; one must be mad not to worship Him. What tribute of worship should I render Him? Should not this tribute be the same in the whole of space, since it is the same supreme power which reigns equally in all space? Should not a thinking being who dwells in a star in the Milky Way offer Him the same homage as the thinking being on this little globe where we are? Light is uniform for the star Sirius and for us; moral philosophy must be uniform. If a sentient, thinking animal in Sirius is born of a tender father and mother who have been occupied with his happiness, he owes them as much love and care as we owe to our parents. If someone in the Milky Way sees a needy cripple, if he can relieve him and if he does not do it, he is guilty toward all globes. Everywhere the heart has the same duties: on the steps of the throne of God, if He has a throne; and in the depth of the abyss, if He is an abyss."
I was plunged in these ideas when one of those genii who fill the intermundane spaces came down to me. I recognized this same aerial creature who had appeared to me on another occasion to teach me how different God's judgments were from our own, and how a good action is preferable to a controversy.
He transported me into a desert all covered with piled up bones; and between these heaps of dead men there were walks of ever-green trees, and at the end of each walk a tall man of august mien, who regarded these sad remains with pity.
" Alas! my archangel," said I, " where have you brought me? "
" To desolation," he answered.
" And who are these fine patriarchs whom I see sad and motionless at the end of these green walks? they seem to be weeping over this countless crowd of dead."
" You shall know, poor human creature," answered the genius from the intermundane spaces; " but first of all you must weep."
He began with the first pile. " These," he said, " are the twenty-three thousand Jews who danced before a calf, with the twenty-four thousand who were killed while lying with Midianitish women. The number of those massacred for such errors and offences amounts to nearly three hundred thousand.
" In the other walks are the bones of the Christians slaughtered by each other for metaphysical disputes. They are divided into several heaps of four centuries each. One heap would have mounted right to the sky; they had to be divided."
" What! " I cried, " brothers have treated their brothers like this, and I have the misfortune to be of this brotherhood!"
" Here," said the spirit, " are the twelve million Americans killed in their fatherland because they had not been baptized."
" My God! why did you not leave these frightful bones to dry in the hemisphere where their bodies were born, and where they were consigned to so many different deaths? Why assemble here all these abominable monuments to barbarism and fanaticism? "
" To instruct you."
" Since you wish to instruct me," I said to the genius, " tell me if there have been peoples other than the Christians and the Jews in whom zeal and religion wretchedly transformed into fanaticism, have inspired so many horrible cruelties."
" Yes," he said. " The Mohammedans were sullied with the same inhumanities, but rarely; and when one asked amman, pity, of them, and offered them tribute, they pardoned. As for the other nations there has not been one right from the existence of the world which has ever made a purely religious war. Follow me now." I followed him.
A little beyond these piles of dead men we found other piles; they were composed of sacks of gold and silver, and each had its label: Substance of the heretics massacred in the eighteenth century, the seventeenth and the sixteenth. And so on in going back: Gold and silver of Americans slaughtered, etc., etc. And all these piles were surmounted with crosses, mitres, croziers, triple crowns studded with precious stones.
" What, my genius! it was then to have these riches that these dead were piled up? "
" Yes, my son."
I wept; and when by my grief I had merited to be led to the end of the green walks, he led me there.
" Contemplate," he said, " the heroes of humanity who were the world's benefactors, and who were all united in banishing from the world, as far as they were able, violence and rapine. Question them."
I ran to the first of the band; h# had a crown on his head, and a little censer in his hand; I humbly asked him his name. " I am Numa Pompilius," he said to me. " I succeeded a brigand, and I had brigands to govern: I taught them virtue and the worship of God; after me they forgot both more than once; I forbade that in the temples there should be any image, because the Deity which animates nature cannot be represented. During my reign the Romans had neither wars nor seditions, and my religion did nothing but good. All the neighbouring peoples came to honour me at my funeral: that happened to no one but me."
I kissed his hand, and I went to the second. He was a fine old man about a hundred years old, clad in a white robe. He put his middle-finger on his mouth, and with the other hand he cast some beans behind him. I recognized Pythagoras. He assured me he had never had a golden thigh, and that he had never been a cock; but that he had governed the Crotoniates with as much justice as Numa governed the Romans, almost at the same time; and that this justice was the rarest and most necessary thing in the world. I learned that the Pythagoreans examined their consciences twice a day. The honest people! how far we are from them! But we who have been nothing but assassins for thirteen hundred years, we say that these wise men were arrogant .
In order to please Pythagoras, I did not say a word to him and I passed to Zarathustra, who was occupied in concentrating the celestial fire in the focus of a concave mirror, in the middle of a hall with a hundred doors which all led to wisdom. (Zarathustra's precepts are called doors, and are a hundred in number.) Over the principal door I read these words which are the precis of all moral philosophy, and which cut short all the disputes of the causists : "When in doubt if an action is good or bad, refrain."
" Certainly," I said to my genius, "the barbarians who immolated all these victims had never read these beautiful words."
We then saw the Zaleucus, the Thales, the Aniximanders, and all the sages who had sought truth and practised virtue.
When we came to Socrates, I recognized him very quickly by his flat nose. " Well," I said to him, " here you are then among the number of the Almighty's confidants! All the inhabitants of Europe, except the Turks and the Tartars of the Crimea, who know nothing, pronounce your name with respect. It is revered, loved, this great name, to the point that people have wanted to know those of your persecutors. Melitus and Anitus are known because of you, just as Ravaillac is known because of Henry IV.; but I know only this name of Anitus. I do not know precisely who was the scoundrel who calumniated you, and who succeeded in having you condemned to take hemlock."
"Since my adventure," replied Socrates, " I have never thought about that man; but seeing that you make me remember it, I have much pity for him. He was a wicked priest who secretly conducted a business in hides, a trade reputed shameful among us. He sent his two children to my school. The other discipfes taunted them with having a father who was a currier; they were obliged to leave. The irritated father had no rest until he had stirred up all the priests and all the sophists against me. They persuaded the counsel of the five hundred that I was an impious fellow who did not believe that the Moon, Mercury and Mars were gods. Indeed, I used to think, as I think now that there is only one God, master of all nature. The judges handed me over to the poisoner of the republic; he cut short my life by a few days: I died peacefully at the age of seventy; and since that time I pass a happy life withh all these great men whom you see, and of whom I am the least."
After enjoying some time in conversation with Socrates, Ih went forward with my guide into a grove situated above the thickets where all the sages of antiquity seemed to be tasting sweet repose.
I saw a man of gentle, simple countenance, who seemed to me to be about thirty-five years old. From afar he cast compassionate glances on these piles of whitened bones, across which I had had to pass to reach the sages' abode. I was astonished to find his feet swollen and bleeding, his hands likewise, his side pierced, and his ribs flayed with whip cuts. " Good Heavens! " I said to him, " is it possible for a just man, a sage, to be in this state? I have just seen one who was treated in a very hateful way, but there is no comparison between his torture and yours. Wicked priests and wicked judges poisoned him; is it by priests anhd judges that you have been so cruelly assassinated? "
He answered with much courtesy--"Yes."
"And who were these monsters? "
"They were hypocrites."
"Ah! that says everything; I understand by this single word that they must have condemned you to death. Had you then proved to them, as Socrates did, that the Moon was not a goddess, and that Mercury was not a god? "
"No, these planets were not in question. My compatriots did not know at all what a planet is; they were all arrant ignoramuses. Their superstitions were quite different from those of the Greeks."
"You wanted to teach them a new religion, then? "
"Not at all; I said to them simply--' Love God with all your heart and your fellow-creature as yourself, for that is man's whole duty.' Judge if this precept is not as old as the universe; judge if I brought them a new religion. I did not stop telling them that I had come not to destroy the law bitt to fulfil it; I had observed all their rites; circumcised as they all were, baptized as were the most zealous among them, like them I paid the Corban; I observed the Passover as they did, eating standing up a lahmb cooked with lettuces. I and my friends went to pray in the temple; my friends even frequented this temple after my death; in a word, I fulfilled all their laws without a single exception."
"What! these wretches could not even reproach you with swerving from their laws? "
"No, without a doubt."
"Why then did they put you in the condition in which I now see you? "
"What do you expect me to say! they were very arrogant and selfish. They saw that I knew them; they knew that I was making the citizens acquainted with them; they were the stronger; they took away my life: and people like them will always do as much, if they can, to whoever does them too much justice.''
" But did you say nothing, do nothing that could serve them as a pretext? "
"To the wicked everything serves as pretext."
" Did you not say once that you were come not to send peace, but a sword? "
"It is a copyist's error; I told them that I sent peace and not a sword. I have never written anything; what I said can have been changed without evil intention."
" You therefore contributed in no way by your speeches, badly reported, badly interpreted, to these frightful piles of bones which I saw on my road in coming to consult you? "
"It is with horror only that I have seen those who have made themselves guilty oj these murders."
" And these monuments of power and wealth, of pride and avarice, these treasures, these ornaments, these signs of grandeur, which I have seen piled up on the road while I was seeking wisdom, do they come from you? "
"That is impossible; I and my people lived in poverty and meanness: my grandeur was in virtue only."
I was about to beg him to be so good as to tell me just who he was. My guide warned me to do nothing of the sort. h lie told me that I was not made to understand these sublime mysteries. Only did I conjure him to tell me in what true religion consisted. "Have I not already told you? Love God and your fellow-creature as yourself."
" What! if one loves God, one can eat meat on Friday? "
"I always ate what was given me; for I was too poor to give anyone food."
" In loving God, in being just, should one not be rather cautious not to confide all the adventures of one's life to an unknown man?"
"That was always my practice."
" Can I not, by doing good, dispense with making a pilgrimage to St. James of Compostella? "
"I have never been in that country."
" Is it necessary for me to imprison myself in a retreat with fools? "
"As for me, I always made little journeys from town to town.''
" Is it necessary for me to take sides either for the Greek Church or the Latin? "
"When I was in the world I never made any difference between the Jew and the Samaritan."
"Well, if that is so, I take you for my only master." Then he made me a sign with his head which filled me with consolation. The vision disappeared, and a clear conscience stayed with me.
EVERY sect, in whatever sphere, is the rallying-point of doubt and error. Scotist, Thomist, Realist, Nominalist, Papist, Calvinist, Molinist, Jansenist, are only pseudonyms.
There are no sects in geometry; one does not speak of a Euclidian, an Archimedean.
When the truth is evident, it is impossible for parties and factions to arise. Never has there been a dispute as to whether there is daylight at noon.
The branch of astronomy which determines the course of the stars and the return of eclipses being once known, there is no more dispute among astronomers.
In England one does not say--" I am a Newtonian, a Lockian, a Halleyan." Why? Those who have read cannot refuse their assent to the truths taught by these three great men. The more Newton is revered, the less do people style themselves Newtonians; this word supposes that there are anti-Newtonians in England. Maybe we still have a few Cartesians in France; that is solely because Descartes' system is a tissue of erroneous and ridiculous imaginings.
It is likewise with the small number of truths of fact which are well established. The records of the Tower of London having been authentically gathered by Rymer, there are no Rymerians, because if occurs to no one to combat this collection. In it one finds neither contradictions, absurdities nor prodigies; nothing which revolts the reason, consequently, which sectarians strive to maintain or upset by absurd arguments. Everyone agrees, therefore, that Rymer 's records are worthy of belief.
You are Mohammedan, therefore there are people who are not, therefore you might well be wrong.
What would be the true religion if Christianity did not exist? the religion in which there were no sects; the religion in which all minds were necessarily in agreement.
Well, to what dogma do all minds agree? to the worship of a God and to integrity. All the philosophers of the world who have had a religion have said in all time--" There is a God, and one must be just." There, then, is the universal religion established in all time and throughout mankind.
The point in which they all agree is therefore true, and the systems through which they differ are therefore false.
"My sect is the best," says a Brahmin to me. But, my friend, if your sect is good, it is necessary; for if it were not absolutely necessary you would admit to me that it was useless: if it is absolutely necessary, it is for all men; how then can it be that all men have not what is absolutely necessary to them? How is it possible for the rest of the world to laugh at you and your Brahma?
When Zarathustra, Hermes, Orpheus, Minos and all the great men say-" Let us worship God, and let us be just," nobody laughs; but everyone hisses the man who claims that one cannot please God unless when one dies while one is holding a cow's tail, and the man who wants one to have the end of one's prepuce cut off, and the man who consecrates crocodiles and onions, and the man who attaches eternal salvation to the dead men's bones one carries under one's shirt, or to a plenary indulgence which one buys at Rome for two and a half sous.
Whence comes this universal competition in hisses and derision from one end of the world to the other? It is clear that the things at which everyone sneers are not of a very evident truth. What shall we say of one of Sejan 's secretaries who dedicated to Petronius a bombastic book entitled --" The Truths of the Sibylline Oracles, Proved by the Facts "?
This secretary proves to you first that it was necessary for God to send on earth several sibyls one after the other; for He had no other means of teaching mankind. It is demonstrated that God spoke to these sibyls, for the word sibyl signifies God's counsel. They had to live a long time, for it is the very least that persons to whom God speaks should have this privilege. They were twelve in number, for this number is sacred. They had certainly predicted all the events in the world, for Tarquinius Superbus bought three of their Books from an old woman for a hundred crowns. " What incredulous fellow," adds the secretary, " will dare deny all these evident facts which happened in a corner before the whole world? Who can deny the fulfilment of their prophecies? Has not Virgil himself quoted the predictions of the sibyls? If we have not the first examples of the Sibylline Books, written at a time when people did not know how to read or write, have we not authentic copies? Impiety must be silent before such proofs." Thus did Houttevillus speak to Sejan. He hoped to have a position as augur which would be worth an income of fifty thousand francs, and he had nothing.
"What my sect teaches is obscure, I admit it," says a fanatic; " and it is because of this obscurity that it must be believed; for the sect itself says it is full of obscurities. My sect is extravagant, therefore it is divine; for how should what appears so mad have been embraced by so many peoples, if it were not divine?" It is precisely like the Alcoran which the Sonnites say has an angel's face and an animal's face; be not scandalized by the animal's snout, and worship the angel's face. Thus speaks this insensate fellow. But a fanatic of another sect answers" It is you who are the animal, and I who am the angel."
Well, who shall judge the suit? who shall decide between these two fanatics? The reasonable, impartial man learned in a knowledge that is not that of words; the man free from prejudice and lover of truth and justice; in short, the man who is not the foolish animal, and who does not think he is the angel.
Sect and error are synonymous. You are Peripatetic and I Platonician; we are therefore both wrong; for you combat Plato only because his fantasies have revolted you, and I am alienated from Aristotle only because it seems to me that he does not know what he is talking about. If one or the other had demonstrated the truth, there would be a sect no longer. To declare oneself for the opinion of the one or the other is to take sides in a civil war. There are no sects in mathematics, in experimental physics. A man who examines the relations between a cone and a sphere is not of the sect of Archimedes: he who sees that the square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the square of the two other sides is not of the sect of Pythagoras.
When you say that the blood circulates, that the air is heavy, that the sun's rays are pencils of seven refrangible rays, you are not either of the sect of Harvey, or the sect of Torricelli, or the sect of Newton; you agree merely with the truth demonstrated by them, and the entire universe will ever be of your opinion.
This is the character of truth ; it is of all time; it is for all men; it has only to show itself to be recognized; one cannot argue against it. A long dispute signifies--" Both parties are wrong."
WHAT is tolerance? it is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly--that is the first law of nature.
It is clear that the individual who persecutes a man, his brother, because he is not of the same opinion, is a monster. That admits of no difficulty. But the government! but the magistrates! but the princes! how do they treat those who have another worship than theirs? If they are powerful strangers, it is certain that a prince will make an alliance with them. Franois I., very Christian, will unite with Mussulmans against Charles V., very Catholic. Francois I. will give money to the Lutherans of Germany to support them in their revolt against the emperor; but, in accordance with custom, he will start by having Lutherans burned at home. For political reasons he pays them in Saxony; for political reasons he burns them in Paris. But what will happen? Persecutions make proselytes? Soon France will be full of new Protestants. At first they will let themselves be hanged, later they in their turn will hang. There will be civil wars, then will come the St. Bartholomew; and this corner of the world will be worse than all that the ancients and moderns have ever told of hell.
Madmen, who have never been able to give worship to the God who made you! Miscreants, whom the example of the Noachides, the learned Chinese, the Parsees and all the sages, has never been able to lead! Monsters, who need superstitions as crows' gizzards need carrion! you have been told it already, and there is nothing else to tell you-if you have two religions in your countries, they will cut each other's throat ; if you have thirty religions, they will dwell in peace. Look at the great Turk, he governs Guebres, Banians, Creek Christians, Nestorians, Romans. The first who tried to stir up tumult would be impaled; and everyone is tranquil.
Of all religions, the Christian is without doubt the one which should inspire tolerance most, although up to now the Christians have been the most intolerant of all men. The Christian Church was divided in its cradle, and was divided even in the persecutions which under the first emperors it sometimes endured. Often the martyr was regarded as an apostate by his brethren, and the Carpocratian Christian expired beneath the sword of the Roman executioners, excommunicated by the Ebionite Christian, the which Ebionite was anathema to the Sabellian.
This horrible discord, which has lasted for so many centuries, is a very striking lesson that we should pardon each other's errors; discord is the great ill of mankind; and tolerance is the only remedy for it.
There is nobody who is not in agreement with this truth, whether he meditates soberly in his study, or peaceably examines the truth with his friends. Why then do the same men who admit in private indulgence, kindness, justice, rise in public with so much fury against these virtues? Why? it is that their own interest is their god, and that they sacrifice everything to this monster that they worship.
I possess a dignity and a power founded on ignorance and credulity; I walk on the heads of the men who lie prostrate at my feet; if they should rise and look me in the face, I am lost; I must bind them to the ground, therefore, with iron chains.
Thus have reasoned the men whom centuries of bigotry have made powerful. They have other powerful men beneath them, and these have still others, who all enrich themselves with the spoils of the poor, grow fat on their blood, and laugh at their stupidity. They all detest tolerance, as partisans grown rich at the public expense fear to render their accounts, and as tyrants dread the word liberty. And then, to crown everything, they hire fanatics to cry at the top of their voices : " Respect my master's absurdities, tremble, pay, and keep your mouths shut."
It is thus that a great part of the world long was treated; but today when so many sects make a balance of power, what course to take with them? Every sect, as one knows, is a ground of error; there are no sects of geometers, algebraists, arithmeticians, because all the propositions of geometry, algebra and arithmetic are true. In every other science one may be deceived. What Thomist or Scotist theologian would dare say seriously that he is sure of his case?
If it were permitted to reason consistently in religious matters, it is clear that we all ought to become Jews, because Jesus Christ our Saviour was born a Jew, lived a Jew, died a Jew, and that he said expressly that he was accomplishing, that he was fulfilling the Jewish religion. But it is clearer still that we ought to be tolerant of one another, because we are all weak, inconsistent, liable to fickleness and error. Shall a reed laid low in the mud by the wind say to a fellow reed fallen in the opposite direction : " Crawl as I crawl, wretch, or I shall petiion that you be torn up by the roots and burned? "
WHY should one lock up a man or a woman who walked stark naked in the street? and why is no one shocked by absolutely nude statues, by pictures of the Madonna and of Jesus that may be seen in some churches?
It is probable that the human species lived long without being clothed.
People unacquainted with clothing have been found in more than one island and in the American continent.
The more civilized hide the organs of generation with leaves, woven rushes, feathers.
Whence comes this form of modesty? Is it the instinct for lighting desires by hiding what it gives pleasure to discover?
Is it really true that among slightly more civilized nations, such as the Jews and half-Jews, there have been entire sects who would not worship God save by stripping themselyes of all their clothes? Such were, it is said, the Adamites and the Abelians. They gathered quite naked to sing the praises of God: St. Epiphanius and St. Augustine say so. It is true that they were not contemporary, and that they were very far from these people's country. But at all events this madness is possible: it is not even more extraordinary, more mad than a hundred other madnesses which have been round the world one after the other.
We have said elsewhere that to-day even the Mohammedans still have saints who are madmen, and who go naked like monkeys. It is very possible that some fanatics thought it was better to present themselves to the Deity in the state in which He formed them, than in the disguise invented by man. It is possible that they showed everything out of piety. There are so few well-made persons of both sexes, that nakedness might have inspired chastity, or rather disgust, instead of increasing desire.
It is said particularly that the Abelians renounced marriage. If there were any fine lads and pretty lasses among them, they were at least comparable to St. Adhelme and to blessed Robert d'Arbrisselle, who slept with the prettiest persons, that their continence might triumph all the more.
But I avow that it would have been very comic to see a hundred Helens and Parises singing anthems, giving each other the kiss of peace, and making agapae.
All of which shows that there is no singularity, no extravagance, no superstition which has not passed through the heads of mankind. Happy the day when these superstitions do not trouble society and make of it a scene of disorder, hatred and fury! It is better without doubt to pray God stark naked, than to stain His altars and the public places with human blood.
It seems to me that in the "Encyclopedic Dictionary" the opinion of the Jesuit Richeome, on atheists and idolaters, has not been refuted as strongly as it might have been; opinion held formerly by St. Thomas, St. Gregory of Nazianze, St. Cyprian and Tertullian, opinion that Arnobius set forth with much force when he said to the pagans: "Do you not blush to reproach us with despising your gods, and is it not much more proper to believe in no God at all, than to impute to them infamous actions?" opinion established long before by Plutarch, who says "that he much prefers people to say there is no Plutarch, than to say-'There is an inconstant, choleric, vindictive Plutarch'"; opinion strengthened finally by all the effort of Bayle's dialectic.
Here is the ground of dispute, brought to fairly dazzling light by the Jesuit Richeome, and rendered still more plausible by the way Bayle has turned it to account.
"There are two porters at the door of a house; they are asked: 'Can one speak to your master?' 'He is not there,' answers one. 'He is there,' answers the other, 'but he is busy making counterfeit money, forged contracts, daggers and poisons, to undo those who have but accomplished his purposes.' The atheist resembles the first of these porters, the pagan the other. It is clear, therefore, that the pagan offends the Deity more gravely than does the atheist."
With Father Richeome's and even Bayle's permission, that is not at all the position of the matter. For the first porter to resemble the atheists, he must not say-"My master is not here": he should say-"I have no master; him whom you claim to be my master does not exist; my comrade is a fool to tell you that he is busy compounding poisons and sharpening daggers to assassinate those who have executed his caprices. No such being exists in the world."
Richeome has reasoned, therefore, very badly. And Bayle, in his somewhat diffuse discourses, has forgotten himself so far as to do Richeome the honour of annotating him very malapropos.
Plutarch seems to express himself much better in preferring people who affirm there is no Plutarch, to those who claim Plutarch to be an unsociable man. In truth, what does it matter to him that people say he is not in the world? But it matters much to him that his reputation be not tarnished. It is not thus with the Supreme Being.
Plutarch even does not broach the real object under discussion. It is not a question of knowing who offends more the Supreme Being, whether it be he who denies Him, or he who distorts Him. It is impossible to know otherwise than by revelation, if God is offended by the empty things men say of Him.
Without a thought, philosophers fall almost always into the ideas of the common herd, in supposing God to be jealous of His glory, to be choleric, to love vengeance, and in taking rhetorical figures for real ideas. The interesting subject for the whole universe, is to know if it be not better, for the good of all mankind, to admit a rewarding and revengeful God, who recompenses good actions hidden, and who punishes secret crimes, than to admit none at all.
Bayle exhausts himself in recounting all the infamies imputed by fable to the gods of antiquity. His adversaries answer him with commonplaces that signify nothing. The partisans of Bayle and his enemies have almost always fought without making contact. They all agree that Jupiter was an adulterer, Venus a wanton, Mercury a rogue. But, as I see it, that is not what needs consideration. One must distinguish between Ovid's Metamorphoses and the religion of the ancient Romans. It is quite certain that never among the Romans or even among the Greeks, was there a temple dedicated to Mercury the rogue, Venus the wanton, Jupiter the adulterer.
The god whom the Romans called Deus optimus, very good, very great, was not reputed to encourage Clodius to sleep with Caesar's wife, or Caesar to be King Nicomedes' Sodomite.
Cicero does not say that Mercury incited Verres to steal Sicily, although Mercury, in the fable, had stolen Apollo's cows. The real religion of the ancients was that Jupiter, very good and very just, and the secondary gods, punished the perjurer in the infernal regions. Likewise the Romans were long the most religious observers of oaths. Religion was very useful, therefore, to the Romans. There was no command to believe in Leda's two eggs, in the changing of Inachus' daughter into a cow, in the love of Apollo for Hyacinthus.
One must not say therefore that the religion of Numa dishonoured the Deity. For a long time, therefore, people have been disputing over a chimera; which happens only too often.
The question is then asked whether a nation of atheists can exist; it seems to me that one must distinguish between the nation properly so called, and a society of philosophers above the nation. It is very true that in every country the populace has need of the greatest curb, and that if Bayle had had only five or six hundred peasants to govern, he would not have failed to announce to them the existence of a God, rewarder and revenger. But Bayle would not have spoken of Him to the Epicureans who were rich people, fond of rest, cultivating all the social virtues, and above all friendship, fleeing the embarrassment and danger of public affairs, in fine leading a comfortable and innocent life. It seems to me that in this way the dispute is finished as regards society and politics.
For entirely savage races, it has been said already that one cannot count them among either the atheists or the theists. Asking them their belief would be like asking them if they are for Aristotle or D mocritus: they know nothing; they are not atheists any more than they are Peripatetics.
In this case, I shall answer that the wolves live like this, and that an assembly of cannibal barbarians such as you suppose them is not a society; and I shall always ask you if, when you have lent your money to someone in your society, you want neither your debtor, nor your attorney, nor your judge, to believe in God.
We are intelligent beings: intelligent beings cannot have been formed by a crude, blind, insensible being: there is certainly some difference between the ideas of Newton and the dung of a mule. Newton's intelligence, therefore, came from another intelligence.
When we see a beautiful machine, we say that there is a good engineer, and that this engineer has excellent judgment. The world is assuredly an admirable machine; therefore there is in the world an admirable intelligence, wherever it may be. This argument is old, and none the worse for that.
All living bodies are composed of levers, of pulleys, which function according to the laws of mechanics; of liquids which the laws of hydrostatics cause to circulate perpetually; and when one thinks that all these beings have a perception quite unrelated to their organization, one is overwhelmed with surprise.
The movement of the heavenly bodies, that of our little earth round the sun, all operate by virtue of the most profound mathematical law. How Plato who was not aware of one of these laws, eloquent but visionary Plato, who said that the earth was erected on an equilateral triangle, and the water on a right-angled triangle; strange Plato, who says there can be only five worlds, because there are only five regular bodies: how, I say, did Plato, who did not know even spherical trigonometry, have nevertheless a genius sufficiently fine, an instinct sufficiently happy, to call God the "Eternal Geometer," to feel the existence of a creative intelligence? Spinoza himself admits it. It is impossible to strive against this truth which surrounds us and which presses on us from all sides.
Notwithstanding, I have known refractory persons who say that there is no creative intelligence at all, and that movement alone has by itself formed all that we see and all that we are. They tell you brazenly:
"The combination of this universe was possible, seeing that the combination exists: therefore it was possible that movement alone arranged it. Take four of the heavenly bodies only, Mars, Venus, Mercury and the Earth: let us think first only of the place where they are, setting aside all the rest, and let us see how many probabilities we have that movement alone put them in their respective places. We have only twenty-four chances in this combination, that is, there are only twenty-four chances against one to bet that these bodies will not be where they are with reference to each other. Let us add to these four globes that of Jupiter; there will be only a hundred and twenty against one to bet that Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury and our globe, will not be placed where we see them.
"Add finally Saturn: there will be only seven hundred and twenty chances against one, for putting these six big planets in the arrangement they preserve among themselves, according to their given distances. It is therefore demonstrated that in seven hundred and twenty throws, movement alone has been able to put these six principal planets in their order.
"Take then all the secondary bodies, all their combinations, all their movements, all the beings that vegetate, that live, that feel, that think, that function in all the globes, you will have but to increase the number of chances; multiply this number in all eternity, up to the number which our feebleness calls 'infinity,' there will always be a unity in favour of the formation of the world, such as it is, by movement alone: therefore it is possible that in all eternity the movement of matter alone has produced the entire universe such as it exists. It is even inevitable that in eternity this combination should occur. Thus, "they say," not only is it possible for the world to be what it is by movement alone, but it was impossible for it not to be likewise after an infinity of combinations."
All this supposition seems to me prodigiously fantastic, for two reasons; first, that in this universe there are intelligent beings, and that you would not know how to prove it possible for movement alone to produce understanding; second, that, from your own avowal, there is infinity against one to bet, that an intelligent creative cause animates the universe. When one is alone face to face with the infinite, one feels very small.
Again, Spinoza himself admits this intelligence; it is the basis of his system. You have not read it, and it must be read. Why do you want to go further than him, and in foolish arrogance plunge your feeble reason in an abyss into which Spinoza dared not descend? Do you realize thoroughly the extreme folly of saying that it is a blind cause that arranges that the square of a planet's revolution is always to the square of the revolutions of other planets, as the cube of its distance is to the cube of the distances of the others to the common centre? Either the heavenly bodies are great geometers, or the Eternal Geometer has arranged the heavenly bodies.
But where is the Eternal Geometer? is He in one place or in all places, without occupying space? I have no idea. Is it of His own substance that He has arranged all things? I have no idea. Is He immense without quantity and without quality? I have no idea. All that I know is that one must worship Him and be just.
Can one say that the parts of animals conform to their needs: what are these needs? preservation and propagation. Is it astonishing then that, of the infinite combinations which chance has produced, there has been able to subsist only those that have organs adapted to the nourishment and continuation of their species? have not all the others perished of necessity?
This objection, oft-repeated since Lucretius, is sufficiently refuted by the gift of sensation in animals, and by the gift of intelligence in man. How should combinations "which chance has produced," produce this sensation and this intelligence (as has just been said in the preceding paragraph)? Without any doubt the limbs of animals are made for their needs with incomprehensible art, and you are not so bold as to deny it. You say no more about it. You feel that you have nothing to answer to this great argument which nature brings against you. The disposition of a fly's wing, a snail's organs suffices to bring you to the ground.
Modern natural philosophers have but expanded these so-called arguments, often they have pushed them to trifling and indecency. They have found God in the folds of the Skin of the rhinoceros: one could, with equal reason, deny His existence because of the tortoise's shell.
What reasoning! The tortoise and the rhinoceros, and all the different species, are proof equally in their infinite variety of the same cause, the same design, the same aim, which are preservation, generation and death.
There is unity in this infinite variety; the shell and the skin bear witness equally. What! deny God because shell does not resemble leather! And journalists have been prodigal of eulogies about these ineptitudes, eulogies they have not given to Newton and Locke, both worshippers of the Deity who spoke with full knowledge.
Of what use are beauty and proportion in the construction of the snake? They may have uses, some say, of which we are ignorant. At least let us be silent then; let us not admire an animal which we know only by the harm it does.
And be you silent too, seeing that you cannot conceive its utility any more than I can; or avow that in reptiles everything is admirably proportioned.
Some are venomous, you have been so yourself. Here there is question only of the prodigious art which has formed snakes, quadrupeds, birds, fish and bipeds. This art is sufficiently evident. You ask why the snake does harm? And you, why have you done harm so many times? Why have you been a persecutor? which is the greatest of all crimes for a philosopher. That is another question, a question of moral and physical ill. For long has one asked why there are so many snakes and so many wicked men worse than snakes. If flies could reason, they would complain to God of the existence of spiders; but they would admit what Minerva admitted about Arachne, in the fable, that she arranges her web marvellously.
One is bound therefore to recognize an ineffable intelligence which even Spinoza admitted. One must agree that this intelligence shines in the vilest insect as in the stars. And as regards moral and physical ill, what can one say, what do? console oneself by enjoying physical and moral good, in worshipping the Eternal Being who has made one and permitted the other.
One more word on this subject. Atheism is the vice of a few intelligent persons, and superstition is the vice of fools. But rogues! what are they? rogues.
Let us say a word on the moral question set in action by Bayle, to know "if a society of atheists could exist?" Let us mark first of all in this matter what is the enormous contradiction of men in this dispute; those who have risen against Bayle's opinion with the greatest ardour; those who have denied with the greatest insults the possibility of a society of atheists, have since maintained with the same intrepidity that atheism is the religion of the government of China.
Assuredly they are quite mistaken about the Chinese government; they had but to read the edicts of the emperors of this vast country to have seen that these edicts are sermons, and that everywhere there is mention of the Supreme Being, ruler, revenger, rewarder.
But at the same time they are not less mistaken on the impossibility of a society of atheists; and I do not know how Mr. Bayle can have forgotten one striking example which was capable of making his cause victorious.
In what does a society of atheists appear impossible? It is that one judges that men who had no check could never live together; that laws can do nothing against secret crimes; that a revengeful God who punishes in this world or the other the wicked who have escaped human justice is necessary.
The laws of Moses, it is true, did not teach a life to come, did not threaten punishments after death, did not teach the first Jews the immortality of the soul; but the Jews, far from being atheists, far from believing in avoiding divine vengeance, were the most religious of all men. Not only did they believe in the existence of an eternal God, but they believed Him always present among them; they trembled lest they be punished in themselves, in their wives, in their children, in their posterity, even unto the fourth generation; this curb was very potent.
But, among the Gentiles, many sects had no curb; the sceptics doubted everything: the academicians suspended judgment on everything; the Epicureans were persuaded that the Deity could not mix Himself in the affairs of men; and at bottom, they admitted no Deity. They were convinced that the soul is not a substance, but a faculty which is born and which perishes with the body; consequently they had no yoke other than morality and honour. The Roman senators and knights were veritable atheists, for the gods did not exist for men who neither feared nor hoped anything from them. The Roman senate in the time of Caesar and Cicero, was therefore really an assembly of atheists.
That great orator, in his harangue for Cluentius, says to the whole senate in assembly: "What ill does death do him? we reject all the inept fables of the nether regions: of what then has death deprived him? of nothing but the consciousness of suffering."
Does not Caesar, the friend of Cataline, wishing to save his friend's life against this same Cicero, object to him that to make a criminal die is not to punish him at all, that death is nothing, that it is merely the end of our ills, that it is a moment more happy than calamitous? And do not Cicero and the whole senate surrender to these reasons? The conquerors and the legislators of the known universe formed visibly therefore a society of men who feared nothing from the gods, who were real atheists.
Further on Bayle examines whether idolatry is more dangerous than atheism, if it is a greater crime not to believe in the Deity than to have unworthy opinions thereof: in that he is of Plutarch's opinion; he believes it is better to have no opinion than to have a bad opinion; but with all deference to Plutarch, it was clearly infinitely better for the Greeks to fear Ceres, Neptune and Jupiter, than to fear nothing at all. The sanctity of oaths is clearly necessary, and one should have more confidence in those who believe that a false oath will be punished, than in those who think they can make a false oath with impunity. It is indubitable that in a civilized town, it is infinitely more useful to have a religion, even a bad one, than to have none at all.
It looks, therefore, that Bayle should have examined rather which is the more dangerous, fanaticism or atheism. Fanaticism is certainly a thousand times more deadly; for atheism inspires no bloody passion, whereas fanaticism does: atheism is not opposed to crime, but fanaticism causes crimes to be committed. Fanatics committed the massacres of St. Bartholomew. Hobbes passed for an atheist; he led a tranquil and innocent life. The fanatics of his time deluged England, Scotland and Ireland with blood. Spinoza was not only atheist, but he taught atheism; it was not he assuredly who took part in the judicial assassination of Barneveldt; it was not he who tore the brothers De Wit in pieces, and who ate them grilled.
The atheists are for the most part impudent and misguided scholars who reason badly, and who not being able to understand the creation, the origin of evil, and other difficulties, have recourse to the hypothesis of the eternity of things and of inevitability.
The ambitious, the sensual, have hardly time for reasoning, and for embracing a bad system; they have other things to do than comparing Lucretius with Socrates. That is how things go among us.
That was not how things went with the Roman senate which was almost entirely composed of atheists in theory and in practice, that is to say, who believed in neither a Providence nor a future life; this senate was an assembly of philosophers, of sensualists and ambitious men, all very dangerous, who ruined the republic. Epicureanism existed under the emperors: the atheists of the senate had been rebels in the time of Sylla and Caesar: under Augustus and Tiberius they were atheist slaves.
I would not wish to have to deal with an atheist prince, who would find it to his interest to have me ground to powder in a mortar: I should be quite sure of being ground to powder. If I were a sovereign, I would not wish to have to deal with atheist courtiers, whose interest it would be to poison me: I should have to be taking antidotes every day. It is therefore absolutely necessary for princes and for peoples, that the idea of a Supreme Being, creator, ruler, rewarder, revenger, shall be deeply engraved in people's minds.
Bayle says, in his "Thoughts on the Comets," that there are atheist peoples. The Caffres, the Hottentots, the Topinambous, and many other small nations, have no God: they neither deny nor affirm; they have never heard speak of Him; tell them that there is a God: they will believe it easily; tell them that everything happens through the nature of things; they will believe you equally. To claim that they are atheists is to make the same imputation as if one said they are anti-Cartesian; they are neither for nor against Descartes. They are real children; a child is neither atheist nor deist, he is nothing.
What conclusion shall we draw from all this? That atheism is a very pernicious monster in those who govern; that it is also pernicious in the persons around statesmen, although their lives may be innocent, because from their cabinets it may pierce right to the statesmen themselves; that if it is not so deadly as fanaticism, it is nearly always fatal to virtue. Let us add especially that there are less atheists to-day than ever, since philosophers have recognized that there is no being vegetating without germ, no germ without a plan, etc. and that wheat comes in no wise from putrefaction.
Some geometers who are not philosophers have rejected final causes, but real philosophers admit them; a catechist proclaims God to the children, and Newton demonstrates Him to the learned.
If there are atheists, whom must one blame, if not the mercenary tyrants of souls, who, making us revolt against their knaveries, force a few weak minds to deny the God whom these monsters dishonour. How many times have the people's leeches brought oppressed citizens to the point of revolting against their king!
Men fattened on our substance cry to us: "Be persuaded that a she-ass has spoken; believe that a fish has swallowed a man and has given him up at the end of three days safe and sound on the shore; have no doubt that the God of the universe ordered one Jewish prophet to eat excrement (Ezekiel), and another prophet to buy two whores and to make with them sons of whoredom (Hosea). These are the very words that the God of truth and purity has been made to utter; believe a hundred things either visibly abominable or mathematically impossible; unless you do, the God of pity will burn you, not only during millions of thousands of millions of centuries in the fire of hell, but through all eternity, whether you have a body, whether you have not."
These inconceivable absurdities revolt weak and rash minds, as well as wise and resolute minds. They say: "Our masters paint God to us as the most insensate and the most barbarous of all beings; therefore there is no God; but they should say: therefore our masters attribute to God their absurdities and their furies, therefore God is the contrary of what they proclaim, therefore God is as wise and as good as they make him out mad and wicked. It is thus that wise men account for things. But if a bigot hears them, he denounces them to a magistrate who is a watchdog of the priests; and this watchdog has them burned over a slow fire, in the belief that he is avenging and imitating the divine majesty he outrages.