Diderot 1770

Thoughts on Religion
(Addition to the “Philosophical Thoughts”)

Source: Oeuvres Complètes, Vol I. Paris, Garnier Fréres, 1875;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2005, revised 2008.


In religion, doubts, far from being acts of impiety, should be looked upon as good works when they issue from a man who humbly recognizes his ignorance, and when they are born of the fear of displeasing God by the abuse of reason


Admitting to a degree of conformity between man’s reason and eternal reason – which is God – and then claiming that God demands the sacrifice of human reason, is to establish that he wants and doesn’t want at the same time.


When God, from whom we receive reason, demands its sacrifice it is like a prestidigitator who takes back what he has given.


If I renounce reason I no longer have a guide. I have to blindly accept a secondary principle and suppose that which is in question.


If reason is a gift from heaven, and the same thing can be said of faith, then heaven has given us two incompatible and contradictory presents.


In order to remove this difficulty one must say that faith is a chimerical principle that doesn’t exist in nature.


Pascal, Nicole, and others have said: “That God should punish innocent children with eternal punishment for the guilty deeds of a father is a superior proposition and is not contrary to reason.” But what then is a proposition contrary to reason if that which obviously expresses a blasphemy isn’t one?


Lost in an immense forest during the night I only have a small light to guide me. An unknown man appears and says to me: “My friend, blow out your candle so you can better find your way.” This unknown man is a theologian.


If my reason comes from on high then it is the voice of heaven that speaks through it. I must listen to it.


Merit and lack of merit cannot be applied to the use of reason, because all the good will in the world cannot make a blind man discern colors. Unless I’m an imbecile I am forced to see evidence where it is, and the lack of evidence where it isn’t. And imbecility is a misfortune and not a vice.


The author of nature, who will not reward me for having been intelligent will not damn me for having been a fool.


And he will not damn you for having been evil. After all, weren’t you unhappy enough because you were evil?


Every virtuous act is accompanied by internal satisfaction, every criminal act by remorse. Yet without shame or remorse the spirit confesses its repugnance for this or that proposition. There is thus neither virtue nor crime in either believing or rejecting it.


If grace is necessary in order to do good, then of what use was Jesus Christ’s death?


If there are a hundred thousand damned beings for every one who is saved, then the devil always has the advantage, without having abandoned his son to death.


The Christian God is a father who makes much of his apples and very little of his children.


Take the fear of hell from a Christian and you take from him his belief.


A true religion, interesting all men in all times and places, must be eternal, universal, and evident. None have these three characteristics. All are thus demonstrated false three times over.


Those facts that only a few men are able to witness are insufficient to demonstrate a religion that should be equally believed by everyone.


The facts upon which religions are based are ancient and marvelous, that is to say, as suspect as is possible in proving that which is the most incredible.


Proving the Gospels by a miracle means proving an absurdity by something counter to nature.


But what will God do to those who didn’t hear His son speak? Will He punish the deaf for not having heard?


What will He do to those who, having heard tell of His religion were not able to understand it? Will he punish pygmies for not having been able to take giant steps?


Why are the miracles of Jesus Christ true, while those of Aesculapius, Apollonius of Tyane, and Mohammed are false?


So all the Jews who were in Jerusalem were apparently converted upon seeing Jesus Christ’s miracles? Not in the least. Far from believing in him they crucified him. We must agree that these Jews are men like no others. We have everywhere seen people led along by one sole false miracle, but Jesus Christ could do nothing with the Jewish people with an infinite number of true miracles.


It is this miracle of Jewish incredulity that something should be made of, and not that of the resurrection.


It is as certain as two and two make four that Caesar existed. It is as certain that Jesus Christ existed as that Caesar did. It is thus as certain that Jesus Christ was resurrected as that he or Caesar existed. What logic! The existence of Jesus Christ and Caesar is not a miracle.


We read in “The Life of M. Turenne” that a fire having broken out in a house the presence of the holy sacrament suddenly stopped the flames. But we also read in history that a monk having poisoned a consecrated host, a German Emperor had no sooner swallowed it than he died.


There could be found in this something other than the appearance of bread and wine, or we would have to say that poison had been incorporated into the blood and body of Jesus Christ.


This body rots, this blood turns. This God is devoured by termites on the altar. Blind people, imbecilic Egyptian, open your eyes!


The religion of Jesus Christ, announced by the ignorant, made the first Christians. The same religion, preached by savants and doctors, only makes unbelievers today.


It is objected that submission to a legislative authority dispenses one from reasoning. But where on the face of the earth is there a religion without such authority?


It is childhood education that prevents a Mohammedan from having himself baptized. It is childhood education that prevents a Christian from being circumcised. It is the reason of the mature man that holds in equal contempt both baptism and circumcision.


It is said in St. Luke that God the Father is greater than God the Son, pater major me est. Nevertheless, despite so clear a passage, the church pronounces anathema against the scrupulous believer who holds literally to the words of his father’s testament.


Since there is no passage in the scriptures that is more precise than this one, if the word of authority is able to dispose of the meaning of this passage as it wishes, then there are none we can say we fully understood and with which the church can’t do what it pleases in the future.


Tu es petrus, et super hunc petrum aedificabo ecclesiam mean. Is this the language of a God or a confused assemblage worthy of the Seigneur des accords? [1]


In dolore paries (Genesis). You will give birth in pain, said God to the sinning woman. And what did female animals do to him that they too should give birth in pain?


If pater major me est is to be understood literally Jesus Christ isn’t God. If hoc est corpus meum is to be understood literally he gave himself to his apostles with his own hands, which is as absurd as saying St Denis kissed his own head after it was cut off.


It is said that he withdrew to the Mount of Olives and prayed. And who did he pray to? He prayed to himself.


“This God, who makes God die in order to appease God” is an excellent quote from Baron de la Hontan.[2] There is less evidence for and against Christianity in a hundred in-folio volumes than there is of the ridiculous in these two lines.


To say that man is a composite of force and weakness, of enlightenment and blindness, or small-mindedness and grandeur does not mean not putting him on trial, it rather defines him.


Either man is like God or nature made him, and God and nature do nothing that is evil.


What we call “original sin” Ninon de l’Enclos called “an original sin.”


It is an unexampled impudence to cite the conformity of the writers of the Gospels when there are important facts in some of them that are not even mentioned in others.


Plato considered the Divinity under three aspects: goodness, wisdom, and power. You have to be blind not to see in this the trinity of the Christians. Almost three thousand years ago the philosopher of Athens called “logos” what we call the word.


The divine persons are either three accidents or three substances. There is no middle way. If they are three accidents we are either atheists or deists. If they are three substances we are pagans.


God the Father judges men to be deserving of His eternal vengeance. God the Son judges them deserving of His infinite pity. The Holy Ghost remains neutral. How can we make this Catholic verbiage agree with the unity of the divine will?


A long time ago it was asked of theologians that they find a way to reconcile eternal punishment with God’s infinite mercy. They haven’t advanced a step.


And why punish a guilty man if there is no good to be obtained from his punishment?


If we punish for ourselves alone we are both cruel and evil.


No good father would want to resemble the heavenly Father.


What proportionality is there between the offender and the offended? What proportionality between the offense and the punishment? A heap of foolishness and atrocities.


And what causes Him to be so full of wrath, this God? And couldn’t it be said that I am able do something for or against His glory, for or against His repose, for or against His happiness?


They want God to burn those who are wicked – who can do nothing against him – in a fire that will continue without end, and yet they do not permit a father to deal a passing death to a son who compromised his life, his honor, and his fortune.


Oh Christians, you have two different ideas of good and evil, of truth and falsehood. You are thus either the most absurd of dogmatists or the most extreme of skeptics.


All the evil of which we are capable is not all the evil that is possible, yet it is only he who can commit all the evil possible who also deserves eternal punishment. In order to make God into an infinitely vindictive being you transform an earthworm into an infinitely powerful being.


Upon hearing a theologian exaggerate the act of a man who God was bawdy and slept with his neighbor – who God made obliging and beautiful; couldn’t we say that the four corners of the world have been set on fire? My friend, listen to Marcus Aurelius and you will see that you anger your God for nothing but the illicit and voluptuous rubbing together of two intestines.


What these atrocious Christians translated as “eternal” only means “lasting” in Hebrew. The dogma of eternal punishment comes from the ignorance of a Hebraist and the ferocious humor of an interpreter.


That Jesus Christ, who is God, was tempted by the devil is a tale worthy of “The Thousand and One Nights.”


I would like a Christian, and especially a Jansenist, to make me understand the cui bono of the incarnation. And the number of the damned should not be infinitely inflated if we want to obtain some advantage from this dogma.


A young girl lived withdrawn from the world. One day she received the visit of a young man who was carrying a bird. She became pregnant and was asked who made the child. What a question! It was the bird.


Why do Leida’s swan and the tiny flames of Castor and Pollux make us laugh yet we don’t laugh at the dove and the tongues of fire of the Gospels?


In the first centuries there were sixty gospels that were almost equally believed. Fifty-six were rejected for puerility or ineptitude. Is there anything but this in those that were kept?


God gives a first law to man and then he abolishes that law. Is this not the conduct of a legislator who has made a mistake and who recognizes it as time passes? Would a perfect being change its mind?


There are as many kinds of faith as there are religions in the world.


All the sectarians in the world are nothing but heretical deists.


If man is unhappy without having been born guilty, might it not be that he is destined to enjoy eternal happiness without being able, by his very nature, to ever make himself worthy of it?


This is what I think of Christian dogma. I will only say one word on its morality: It is that a Catholic who is father of a family, convinced that the maxims of the Gospels must be practiced under penalty of what is called hell, and given the extreme difficulty in reaching this degree of perfection, which human weakness prevents, I see nothing else to be done than for him to take his child by the foot and smash him against the ground, or to suffocate it at birth. By this act he saves it from the peril of damnation and assures him eternal happiness. And I maintain that this act, far from being criminal, should be considered infinitely praiseworthy, since it is founded upon paternal love, which demands that all good fathers do all the good possible for their children.


Are not the precepts of religion and society’s laws, which prohibit the murder of innocents, in fact quite absurd and cruel, since in killing them we assure them infinite happiness and in letting them live we almost certainly destine them to eternal unhappiness?


What is that, Monsieur de la Condamine? It would be permitted to inoculate your son to protect him from smallpox, but it isn’t permitted to kill him to protect him from hell? Surely you jest.


Satis triumphat veritas si apud paucos. Eosque bonos, accepta sit; nec ejus indoles placere multis.

The following two thoughts were taken from manuscripts of Diderot’s at the Hermitage in St Petersburg. They deal with the same subject matter as the above, and the second has noted at its head “Philosophical thought.”

Formerly, on the island of Ternate no one, not even priests, was allowed to speak of religion. There was only one temple, and a law expressly forbade that there be a second one. There could be found there neither altars nor statues, nor images. A hundred priests, who enjoyed considerable revenue, worked in the temple. They neither sang nor spoke, but in an enormous silence pointed at a pyramid upon which was written these words: “Mortals, adore God, love your brothers and make yourselves useful to the nation.”

* * *

A man had been betrayed by his children, his wife, and his friends. Faithless friends had reversed his fortunes and plunged him into poverty. Penetrated by hatred and profound contempt for humanity he left society and took refuge alone in a cave. There, with his head in his hands, and meditating a vengeance proportional to his resentment, he said: “Those evil ones. What shall I do to punish them for their injustice and make them all as unhappy as they deserve to be? If only it were possible to imagine this...to attach them to a chimera upon which they’d place more importance than their lives and about which they could never be in agreement!...” And then he ran from the cave, crying out: “God! God!...” Echoes without number repeated around him: “God! God!...” This fearsome name was carried from one pole to the other, and heard everywhere with amazement. At first men prostrated themselves, then they stood up, questioned, disputed, became bitter, anathematized, hated, killed each other. The fatal wish of the misanthrope was fulfilled. For such was in the past, and such shall be in the future the history of a being that is forever equally important and incomprehensible.


1. From Estienne Tabourot’s “Les Bigarrures et Touches du Sirgneur des Accords avec les apothegms du sieur Gaulard,” (1752)

2. Gascon gentleman and traveler of the 17th Century