Baron d’Holbach 1770
Source: Tableau des saints. London, [n.p.] 1770;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitch Abidor 2006;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2006.
All the peoples of the world have shown great veneration for men to whom they owed a debt for certain useful inventions. The have looked upon them as beings of an order superior to that of other mortals, as heaven’s favorites, as personages whose genius bespoke something divine. The vulgar attribute all extraordinary or unknown effects to gods: extraordinary men thus appear to them to be divine. Nations, lacking in science and experience, have thus attributed the rarest talents of the body and spirit to the invisible powers that govern the world, such as strength, courage, skill, industry, sagacity, those resources of genius always marvelous to most men. In all countries we see during their lifetimes the first warriors, the most ancient heroes, the inventors of arts, priests, legislators, founders of religions, divines command the credulity of peoples, pass for supernatural beings in the spirits of their contemporaries, and after their deaths placed in the rank of gods. In this quality they become the objects of respect – or even cults – of the nations for which, in their lifetimes, they had procured real or imagined advantages. Such were in Egypt an Osiris, a Hermes, in Hindustan a Brahma, among the Hebrews an Abraham and a Moses, among the Persians a Zoroaster, among the Greeks a Triptoleme, a Bacchus, an Orpheus, among the Romans a Romulus, a Numa, among the Christians a Jesus, the Apostles, and saints, among the Muslims a Mohammed, etc. All become objects of veneration and even divinities for those who thought they felt their benefits.
But since ignorance always imprudently judges or sees to it that men are deceived concerning the objects of their esteem, prostituting their incense to objects that are totally unworthy, it is appropriate to carefully examine whether that esteem has any basis and if prejudice does not impose itself upon us concerning the merit of those to whom we render homage.
Reason knows only one measure for judging men and things, and that’s the real and permanent utility for our species that results from them. Any man truly useful to men has a right to their esteem. But if esteem, recognition, and glory are recompenses owed to usefulness, if we cannot without injustice refuse them to those who have procured or still procure true good for society, it is nevertheless senseless to honor useless beings, it is the height of folly to render homage to harmful beings, it is only just to tear the mask from dangerous rogues: our posterity’s interests demand that we open its eyes concerning objects foolishly respected by its elders. By rectifying its ideas we prevent it from continuing to revere evil ones who, under the pretext of bringing happiness to earth, have done nothing but render humanity more unhappy; we prevent future imposters from employing the same ruses to seduce and deceive; we prevent men from perverting themselves by proposing the evil as models.
It is in keeping with these principles and reasons that we are going to examine the conduct of several personages that Christianity honors as saints, heroes, demigods and that they represent as having, during their lives, been friends of a wise, just and good God, the organs of his will, the interpreters of his oracles, the depositories of his sovereign power, the objects of his indulgence, the possessors of his glory and of the ineffable rewards that he reserves for his chosen.
This examination is all the more necessary since the Christian religion proposes its holy personages as models who all should strive to imitate, as infallible doctors who must be listened to in order to obtain permanent felicity, both in this world and the next. Christians especially feel themselves obliged to honor those of its great men who brought them a religion they look upon as an inestimable benefit because it procures for them the knowledge of the true God, the knowledge of which a good God resolved in his decrees to deprive the rest of the earth; because it teaches them a divine morality and is made to render men more sociable, more just, more humane; because it preaches virtues the human spirit never could have imagined without it; finally, because it presents to them marvelous mysteries and dogmas, without which we could never attain the eternal happiness which should be the object of our desires.
In accordance with these notions it is not in the least astonishing that Christians put no limits to their recognition of those they feel themselves indebted to for so many benefits. In some Christian sects these holy doctors are regarded as gods, their oracles are reputed to be infallible, their writings pass for being inspired by heaven, and, finally, the people render them homage as great as those they render the divinity himself, whose cult is often eclipsed by that rendered to his so-called favorites.
Peoples regard saints as accredited agents, as powerful intercessors with the Supreme Being. The latter for them is nothing but a being surrounded by clouds they cannot dissipate; in a word, a monarch inaccessible to his subjects down here. Man always feeling himself incapable of constructing a precise idea of the divinity and more readily address himself to beings of a nature more in conformity with their own and thinks it finds in them protectors, mediators, consolers, friends. This is why the vulgar prefer to present their requests to saints, who they knew were men, rather than deal directly with God, which he cannot conceive of and who is always shown to them as a sovereign to be feared. Our doctors have been careful to represent God as a tyrant, so capricious, so hardened, so angry, so ferocious, so inaccessible that his unhappy creatures barely dare speak to him or cast their trembling gaze on him.
A saint is thus reputed to be a favorite of God. But in order to assure us of the sanctity of the personages that the Christian people revere, they must begin by retracing for us the idea that religion gives us of the divinity. So if at times religion represents him as an insane despot, it more often depicts him as an infinitely wise, infinitely just, infinitely powerful sovereign, as a father full of tenderness and goodness, and as a being who eminently possesses all imaginable perfections, without any mélange of defect. That being cherishes his creatures, takes offense at the evil done to them and consequently detests violence, injustice, rapine, murder, discord, and crime. This father being filled with tenderness for men and abundantly furnishing them with the good things of life, seems to announce that he wants man to work at his own well-being, looks after his own preservation and, as much as possible, procure the goods his creator took care to spread about nature for the use of his children.
It is thus in accordance with the moral character most often attributed the divinity that we should judge those personages we have been assured were his favorites. We must in the first place examine if the conduct of those the church calls saints and who it proposes as our models were truly in conformity with divine perfection and the beneficent views of providence, that is, whether or not that conduct was wise, equitable, and advantageous to society. In the second place, it must be seen if this conduct was advantageous to the saints themselves, i.e., if by their conduct they have entered the views of a providence that desires the well-being and preservation of his works.
Such are the rules according to which we should judge those personages the Christian religion prescribes the imitation and honoring of, and whose example and lessons it orders us to follow. The first saints are the Apostles and the disciples of Jesus Christ, the founder. That religion has us look upon the latter as the son of God, as a God himself, charged by his father to descend to earth to show men the path of salvation and the true science of morality, necessary for their happiness here below.
We must thus first examine if the coming of Jesus Christ truly procured for humanity the happiness that a beneficent God wanted him to bring. We must examine if his doctrine and morality rendered mortals more humane, more sociable, more just, more good-natured. We must examine if the conduct of Jesus Christ was in perfect conformity with the sublime ideas that religion gives us of the divinity. Finally, we must see if the life and death of this Savior of the world is in accordance with the ideas that can be formed of the wisdom, the prudence, the fairness, and the goodness of God. But since this examination has already been done in a great number of works we will not spend time on this. We will limit ourselves to examining the effects that the divine morality of Jesus Christ had on those who deserved the name of saints thanks to having followed it with the greatest exactitude. Nevertheless, we will observe in passing that many people have thought that the system of Jesus’ religion bears none of the characteristics by which we can recognize either the wisdom, the goodness or the justice of the divinity. They claim that a God wise, equitable, all-powerful and full of goodness could have taken simpler and more certain routes in order to save humanity than to have his innocent son die as a pure loss.
On the other hand, many philosophers have found nothing marvelous or divine in the morality preached by the Messiah of the Christians. They claim that the Gospels contain no precepts or maxims that are truly sensible that weren’t better presented by the Socrates, Platos, Ciceros, Confuciuses and pagan sages prior to Jesus. It is true that the morality of this new legislator appears preferable to that of the Hebrews, who seem in all times to have not known this science so necessary to men.
In regard to the sublime and fanatical counsels that Christians attribute to the founder of their religion, reason finds there nothing but notions that are foolish, useless, or even harmful to society; only practicable for a small number of madmen with no influence on the conduct of the remainder of mortals.
Whatever the case, it is certain than the Son of God did not have the success among the Jews his divine father specially sent him for. The stubbornness of this hardened people saw to the failure of all measures of divine wisdom, prescience, and omnipotence. In vain Jesus strove to support his mission with miracles: these miracles weren’t believed. In vain he wanted to found his rights by prophecies adopted by his fellow-citizens: the latter rejected the reform and the morality he brought, and regarded him as an imposter who they condemned to death.
His apostles had no more success among the Jewish people than did their master. As much as they preached and performed miracles, as much as they quoted and explained the oracles of the Old Testament and proved that their messiah was either explicitly or allegorically designated, they were only able to make a small number of converts among the Jews. Finally, despairing of the stubbornness of their fellow-citizens they addressed themselves to the gentiles, to whom they announced the Gospel, that is, Judaism reformed by Jesus.
The Christians, even after their religion was totally separated from Judaism, nevertheless continued to respect the sacred books of the Jews and to regard their patriarchs, their prophets, their prophets, their heroes as holy personages agreeable to God, as infallible organs of the Almighty, as examples to follow.
It is true that these great saints, even according to the sacred history that transmits their acts to us, often demonstrated, as we will show, a conduct far from irreproachable. In fact it is obvious that many among them present themselves to unprejudiced eyes as models more of roguery and infamy than of virtue. But Christians, predisposed by their faith in favor of these illustrious personages, piously close their eyes to their crimes. Docile to the lessons of the subtle interpreters of the Scriptures they see nothing but honesty in the most revolting conduct of the saints of the Old Testament. They are persuaded that the friends of God should not be judged according to the rules of reason or ordinary morality. They are told that the conduct of these revered men was founded on particular orders and inspirations of God, whose impenetrable decrees were not made to be examined. They assure that the God of justice and goodness can violate, when he wishes, the immutable rules of equity and can, when it pleases him, change virtue into crime and crime into virtue. They claim that the judge of the world can, when he wishes, annihilate the laws of morality of which he is supposed to be the author. They believe they exculpate him by saying that it is he who creates the just and the unjust, that he holds in his hands the destiny of mortals, that he can dispose of them as he wills, without his too-weak creatures having the right to criticize his wishes or the orders he gives to his servants.
It is thus that religion, forever in contradiction with itself, overturns the foundations of morality, of which it nevertheless claims to be the firmest support. It has it that even man’s duties derive from the divinity; it announces God as containing all imaginable perfections, it claims that God is troubled by the evil done to his creatures, it supposes that this God is immutable. Nevertheless this religion soon travesties this so-perfect God as a tyrant who knows no other law than his whims, who no longer submits to the laws that he has himself established, who orders murders, theft, violence, injustice, cruelty, revolt, perfidy, falsehood, and, finally, who cherishes men soiled with the most horrible vices and crimes.
We thus see that in order to justify the saints it proposes to us as models, Christianity slanders its God! It has the audacity to make him the instigator of crime; it supposes that this so-perfect being enflames and approves the most fiery passions, applauds carnage and the furies of his favorites, sanctions anger, hatred and usurpation which, under his name, are changed into virtue. With the assistance of this redoubtable name the most inhuman ambition, ferocity, and rage are changed into a holy zeal. The most blind fanaticism, visions, and folly are converted into divine inspirations and sublime wisdom. Imposture, marvels, and fraud pass for miracles or for sure signs of the power of the Almighty. Unsociability, cruelty against oneself, uselessness are regarded as perfections; stubbornness, revolt, cries of sedition take on the name of heroism, fidelity, and ardent faith. In a word, by the strangest of reversals delirium is rendered estimable, uselessness becomes worthy of reward, and fury is changed into virtue.
And in fact it is virtues of this kind that we encounter in most saints of the Old and New Testaments. In examining the most distinguished heroes of Judaism we will find ambitious cheats seducing a foolish nation through fables and marvels; the ambitious tyrannizing in the cruellest fashion over a herd of ignorant savages totally blinded by superstition; prophets, divines, priests shamelessly using the name of God to lead their dupes into the blackest acts. Throughout the history of the Hebrew people these sacred jugglers were never anything but a plague upon their nation and those people nearby. Instead of rendering the Jews more humane, more just, more sociable, more peaceful, more submissive to their masters, we see the guides of Israel perpetually occupied in rendering their followers more barbarous, more unjust, more rebellious towards authority. In a word, in the saints and the most famous inspired ones of the ancient law we see only monsters born for the desolation of their unhappy country, which they finally managed to lead to the abyss.
The saints of the new law don’t offer us a happier tableau, nor models more worthy of imitation. The pomp of the Christian church only presents to us imposters lacking in science and enlightenment, forging and telling improbable fables to an imbecilic populace, avid for marvelous novelties and immune to reason. Crass charlatans insistent upon living at the expense of the indefatigable credulity of their pious followers. The annals of Christianity show us on every page nothing but fanaticism enflamed by deceit. We see there martyrs – that is, victims seduced by interested imposters – brave torments and death in order to support the rightness of a cause their spirits have been rendered drunk with. These unfortunate enthusiasts persuade themselves that the God they adore is pleased to see flow the blood of his most faithful admirers. We see the deserts peopled with pious anchorites who imagine they render themselves agreeable to the God of goodness by distancing themselves from the commerce of men so as to voluntarily inflict on themselves punishments as long as they are cruel. And even more, we see a mass of prideful doctors and indomitable disputants everywhere spread the fire of discord, divide nations by disputes and senseless futilities, excite persecutions and civil wars among Christians, make theological hatreds eternal, shake empires by continual revolts; in a word, in the name of the God of peace they cover the earth in blood and cadavers.
Such are the lovely models that the Christian religion proposes to its pious followers! It’s by imitating these great saints that we can flatter ourselves we will one day obtain a place in the heavenly home that God reserves for his favorites! Consequently, all those who wanted to play a distinguished role in the Christian religion have made themselves noted by a turbulent, stubborn, seditious, spirit. When they could, they have furiously persecuted those who refused to subscribe to their theological opinions, opinions commonly unintelligible and in no way interesting to society. The vanity of these champions always makes them look upon their reveries as things vital to salvation, as inspiration from on high, as infallible dogmas, as the cause of the Almighty. Filled with these presumptuous ideas, filled with pride in believing themselves the defenders of the Divinity, these heroes were equally ready to torment others or to suffer and die for so beautiful a cause. Charity, love of one’s neighbor, indulgence and peace, so often recommended in the Gospel of the Christians, were obliged to make room for a fiery zeal that continually brought troubles, persecution, and death to society.
Those whose characters didn’t permit them to carry out such excesses believed themselves obliged to flee the world and to sequester themselves on the pretext of more surely working at their salvation and the contemplation of eternal truths. They went to live as savages in horrible deserts or in the shadows of cloisters, and flattered themselves that they deserved heaven by rendering themselves perfectly useless on earth. Filled with the idea that they were serving a cruel God who enjoys the torments of his feeble creatures, several of these ferocious believers inflicted continual punishments on themselves, refused themselves all of life’s pleasures, passed their sad days in boredom and tears and. On the pretext of disarming divine anger lived and died the victims of the most barbarous frenzy. It is thus that fanaticism when it doesn’t make us the enemy of others, makes us enemies of ourselves and makes it meritorious to render ourselves miserable.
Most of the common run of Christians didn’t believe themselves called upon for these sublime perfections. The pious contented themselves with blindly submitting to the pious practices and conduct, to the formulas, the ceremonies, and especially to the opinions prescribed by their spiritual guides. The latter, far from teaching them the true morality, which says that we should make ourselves useful to society, only feeds them on inconceivable mysteries, sacred fables, and improbable legends, which they present to them as the sole objects worthy of being mediated on. These guides – or fanatics, or frauds – occupy the weak minds of their disciples with ridiculous questions, absurd dogmas, and extravagant chimeras, and, above all, inspire those passions in them necessary to make the most of the sect that they themselves have embraced. From this flow those animosities, hatreds, slanders, frauds, and calumnies which we commonly see the pious use with so much success to tear apart and destroy the adversaries of their priests, who they regard as the enemies of God and as dangerous citizens who must be destroyed.
These directors, indulgent towards the vices that only have society as an object, do little to suppress in the hearts of their penitents those passions that are truly harmful. They smooth the road to heaven for the great; in favor of devotion they pardon them all their faults and even their habitual vices, for which they furnish them simple expiations. By a conduct so contrary to healthy morality and the interests of society we often see these pious courtiers ally devotion to pride, rapine, injustice, cruelty, oppression, perfidy, falsehood, and the most dishonest intrigues. The ministers of religion, from recalling tyrants to their duty in the name of heaven, flatter them when they are pious and abstain from making them blush for the continuous and multiple crimes under which their despotism makes nations groan. The church closes its eyes on the most flagrant excesses when despots are submissive to it. Even more, it makes saints of them when they are generous regarding it and docile to its ministers. Those princes most soiled by crime are sometimes presented to us as models of sanctity. Don’t be surprised at this: a religion that reveres the odious David as a saint, which proposes him to kings as a model to be followed, which assures that a sterile repentance was able to reconcile this monster with his God is only good for corrupting all kings.
If we thoroughly analyze without prejudice the history of most of the princes who the church passes off as saints we will find that it has only ever put in this rank men without talent, enlightenment, and virtue, whose devotion rendered them more worthy of a convent than a throne; men little made for governing empires; men whose entire merit consisted in stupidly devoting themselves to the caprices of their priests and ever ready to take out their swords to quench their pride, their vengeance, their rapacity, their injustice, their tyranny. We see among these holy kings barbarous persecutors, bloody executioners, and monsters of cruelty. Or else we see founders of monasteries, spendthrifts busy increasing the wealth of churchmen, in extending their immunities, in endowing laziness and fraud. Looking closely at their so-called virtues we find there neither vigilance, nor love of the public good, nor tenderness for their subjects, nor efforts to ease the lot of those destiny made submit to them. In most of these holy kings we see neither grand visions, nor noble projects, nor useful undertakings, nor royal qualities. Far from this, we see in them nothing but miserable pettiness, monastic virtues, small-mindedness and, above all a destructive zeal which is a real plague for empires. In a word, those countries governed by saints neither were nor are flourishing, powerful, or fortunate.
Even we know little about pagan antiquity, in accordance with what we will sketch out, we can compare the merit of most Christian heroes and saints with paganism’s great men which religion still commands us to look upon as men lacking in virtue and, in keeping with hits maxims, God condemns to be devoured by eternal flames for having not known those mysteries and dogmas he made necessary for salvation. Following the atrocious maxims of Christian theology, the most respectable men, the most useful, the wisest, the most holy of antiquity; those who during their lifetimes were most concerned with the happiness of their like were nothing but contemptible beings in the eyes of the pious, had nothing but false virtues, deserved nothing but the implacable wrath of a just and good God. Titus, Trajan, Antonin, Marcus Aurelius, were these men made to find grace before a God who approved the conduct of a Joshua, a David, a Constantine, a Theodosius, and so many other infamous tyrants praised by the church? Solon, Lycurgus, Socrates, Arisitide, Cato will thus be eternally deprived of the ineffable rewards God will accord to the ferocious Moses, the traitor Samuel, the turbulent Athanasius, the contemptible Francis, the bloody Dominick and the abject mass of idle and fanatical monks with whom the Roman pontiff wants to populate paradise!
This is how superstition has managed to overthrow in the spirit of man all ideas of reason, morality and virtue. Christianity refuses virtues to all men who don’t possess those imaginary virtues it forever attempts to substitute to those real virtues from which society can gather the fruits. Faith, according to the doctors, is the first of virtues: without it the most honest man is nothing but a monster worthy of those punishments reserved to the worst. But what is that faith so necessary to salvation/ What is that virtue unknown to the sages, the heroes, the saints of antiquity/ it’s a pious imbecility which sees to it that we adopt without examination the puerile fables, the ridiculous mysteries, the obscure dogmas, the frenetic opinions, the impertinent practices that interested guides have invented to enslave human understanding. It’s a stupid blindness that renders man a slave of the passions and caprices of the clergy.
It is thus not in the least surprising to see Christian priests raise that faith above all human virtues and make its throne on the ruins of reason. Nevertheless, reason is the sole prerogative that distinguishes man from the brute. Reason, according to Christianity itself, is a ray of divinity. By what strangeness can the supreme God demand the sacrifice of the very reason of which he is supposed to be the author? Does the wisest of beings want to be served only by imbeciles or automatons incapable of thinking for themselves?
Nevertheless, Christianity supposes that God only reserved his favors to those who, by indulgence of their priests – who have never been seen to be in agreement on anything – have been careful to never consult their reason and to make no use of the only light God gave them to guides themselves here below. But how, if we reduce reason to silence, distinguish the true from the false, the useful from the harmful, that which is estimable from what is contemptible? This is doubtless the project of these deceitful guides; they find it in their interest to trouble spirits, confound judgment, to decry a reason whose lights would be dangerous for them. Like the Scythians, who plucked out the eyes of their slaves in order to prevent them from escaping from their miseries, priests take great care to blind people in order to more surely dominate them and enjoy in security the fruit of their labors.
This is the real reason that Christian doctors have attached a great price to faith, which is nothing but a blind and unreasoning adherence to all the opinions from which they can obtain some advantage. It is thus not surprising to see them for so many centuries decry, persecute, exterminate all those who didn’t have that submissive faith. In their opinion men of that stamp are prideful and worthy of punishment; rebels who dare rise up against the very divinity, for priests and gods always make common cause. Heaven wants to see mercilessly punished those it has not granted the gift of faith, so useful to our venerable guides.
On the other hand, our Doctors exalted and made into great saints all those who possessed that sublime virtue. According to them it suffices to cover all vices and even to justify the greatest crimes. Even more, faith makes so agreeable to God those to whom God gives it in abundance that in addition to this present it also joins the gift of performing miracles, of stopping the course of nature, of moving mountains: in a word of carrying out prodigies that make man a participant in divine omnipotence. It is especially through these marvels that one can recognize saints. Miracles are demanded in order to place a Christian in the ranks of the celestial courtiers and to dedicate a cult to him. It is always upon attested miracles that, a century after the death of these heroes, the Pope infallibly decides that they see God face to face and that Christians can with a sure conscience render them honors and implore their powerful intercession. If the assistance of the faith of these marvelous men has not always moved mountains we can’t deny that several of them, with the assistance of faith, haven’t shaken empires, made nations perish and shaken the globe. These kinds of miracles were frequently performed by the saints of the Christian religion.
Thus, faith alone makes saints. It is only through a devotion blind to the interests of the church that we can earn its suffrage and our apotheosis. In fact, if we examine the personages revered by Christianity we will find that they were either enthusiasts who had the pious simplicity to spill their blood so as to prove that their spiritual guides didn’t deceive them, or turbulent doctors who made dogmas pass that were advantageous to the ministers of the church, or princes and believers who richly endowed it and who massacred its enemies, or pious madmen who astonished the vulgar mass by bizarre penitence and who consequently honored the clergy from which such prodigies come. Among the crowd of saints who decorate the pomp of Christianity we would have the greatest difficulty in locating a single man who was truly wise, enlightened, reasonable, in a word, truly useful to his fellow citizens. We will see that in the Christian religion it is possible to be a saint without being a virtuous man, that it is possible to have evangelical virtues without having any social virtues. In a word, the conduct of the men that religion looks upon as friends of God will prove to us that one can be at the same time devout and a criminal, pious and evil and one can please the divinity even while doing much harm to his feeble creatures.
The conduct of saints, often revolting to profane eyes, is not in the least shocking to Christians, happily blinded by faith. Religion has two moralities and two standards for judging men’s actions: with the assistance of these two moralities it manages to justify the most contradictory things. The first of these moralities only has God or religion as its object. The second shows some concern for society’s good and prohibits harming it. But it is easy to feel that that purely human and natural morality in the spirit of a believer is so made a to give place to divine and supernatural morality, which priests show to him to be infinitely more important. These latter easily persuade him that his strongest interest is in pleasing God and shows him the means needed to arrive at this. However revolting, however dangerous, however criminal these means might at first appear to a believer, lively and submissive faith has him embrace them. He knows that a good Christian is not made for reason, that he must obey his guides, the depositories of God’s will, to the interpreters of his holy books. That he must follow the examples of the saints that are proposed to him. If he finds in the Bible crimes ordered by the very heavens he concludes from this that he can and must commit these crimes without any remorse. He will take pride in having imitated the heroes of his religion. He will recognize that whatever the Divinity commands can only be just and honest, and when these orders seem to him to be harmful he will adore the profundity of the Almighty’s decrees, will docilely submit to them, and will respond with a prompt obedience in thanks for the favor of having been chosen to execute the impenetrable decrees of a justice that has nothing in common with the justice of men.
Consequently, our fanatic, as soon as his own visions or the suggestions of infallible priests push him to it, will believe himself inspired by the Divinity himself; he will persuade himself that everything is permitted to him in advancing the interests of the church; he’ll deceive, hate, slaughter, he’ll rebel, he’ll trouble society. And far from blushing at these disorders he’ll applaud himself for his zeal. In his glory for having imitated the great personalities that religion vaunts, he will flatter himself that he pleases God by using the same methods the saints used to arrive at eternal glory.
It is thus that a cruel believer could flatter himself by imitating a Moses, a Joshua. A pious assassin could believe his acts authorized by the example of a Jahel or a Judith. A seditious declaimer against princes believes he resembles Samuel, or Eli, or the Hebrew prophets. A rebel, a bloody tyrant would justify himself with the example or David. A turbulent and stubborn theologian would believe himself an Athanasius, a Cyril, a Chrysostom. A regicide would see his crime justified by an Ahod. Finally, if our believer ails in his pious projects and becomes the victim of his zeal he will see the heavens open, ready to receive him, and God Himself on His throne, presenting him the crown and palm of the martyr.
As a natural result of the principles of the Christian religion the ministers of the church and its doctors are the only judges of its morality. Interpreters born of the scared scriptures – i.e., of works divinely inspired – they have a right to determine the conduct of the peoples they blind with faith. With the assistance of the dual morality they announce to men that they can, as the circumstances dictate, sometimes preach discord and sometimes peace; sometimes submission and sometimes revolt; sometimes tolerance and indulgence, sometimes persecution and fury. The Holy Scriptures dictated by the Divinity himself contain the most contradictory maxims. If they sometimes propose to us honest and beneficent acts- though very few – they more often exalt deceit, brigandage, and acts abominable to the eyes of reason.
Nevertheless, since these contradictions are of a nature to strike any man who reads the Bible, the ministers of the church have wisely understood that it was appropriate to prevent the faithful from searching with too much curiosity in a book that contains things that would scandalize and revolt all those that faith has not sufficiently blinded. They have only permitted that book to be read by priests with an interest in seeing nothing there but the sublime and the estimable, or by Christians confirmed in their belief and disposed to find only edifying things there. Thus the common run of the faithful – whose faith isn’t robust enough to digest the crimes reported on the holy books – within the Roman church are prudently deprived of the reading of a book inspired by heaven but that could be harmful to it. Thus our doctors accuse God of only having revealed himself in order to lay traps and so that most believers not know for themselves the things he wanted to teach them. However bizarre that conduct might appear, it is visibly the effect of a carefully refined policy. The guides of Christian felt that the examination of their titles could infinitely harm the celestial doctrine upon which their doctrine is founded. They feared that rebellious reason would rise up against their revelations. They feared the inroads of good sense, which faith doesn’t always succeed in banishing from people’s spirits. They feared that the heart of man would often be infuriated by the dogmas, the fables, the contradictions and, especially, the examples of sanctity that the Bible presents.
By this wise policy the ministers of the Christian religion have remained the exclusive owners and the sole guardians of divine law. They have explained them in their manner; they have been in a position to provide themselves with titles, they have become the masters of men’s passions; they have enjoyed the exclusive privilege of indoctrinating the ignorant and saintly credulous people, who they have accustomed from an early age to believe that the church, that is the body of priests, was infallible, has enjoyed continual inspirations from the divinity and was incapable of deceiving those who placed their confidence in it.
In Christianity, morality, being uniquely founded on those writings of which the church is the interpreter, was entirely abandoned to the whims of priests, saints, and the inspired. This morality is not in the least stable; if sometimes it commands the good and claims to bring people to virtue, more often it renders them blind and evil. Under the pretext of serving the cause of the Almighty it ceaselessly cries to the devout that it is better to obey God then men, and those pious fools don’t see that according to their own principles the Divinity cannot order a crime; that true morality is not something to be changed, and that priests, who have discovered the secret of identifying themselves with God, have nothing but a versatile morality that accommodates their interests. Finally, in their blindness Christians don’t see that the conduct taught by their holy books, practiced by the saints, approved by the ministers of the church, and proposed as a model to Christians, is injurious to God, unworthy of a perfect being, sometimes destructive and sometimes useless to humanity.
Thus, when we want to find the rules for our morality, they shouldn’t be sought in the so-called revelations contained in the scriptures that Christianity respects as divine. Don’t search either in the Bible or in the legends of saints models to be imitated. Don’t seek in Christian morality, which changes with the interests of priests, precepts to be used in regulating our conduct towards ourselves or like. The source for our morality is in nature, in reason. They will teach us the necessary relations that subsist between sensible, reasoning, intelligent beings. They will show us what we owe others and to ourselves. They will prove to us that whatever our lot in the future, if we want to make ourselves agreeable to the Divinity and put our views in conformity with they we suppose are His we must, according to our strength, work for the well-being of the species, as well as for our own happiness and preservation. Without wanting to penetrate in thought an unknown future, let us be just, humane, beneficent; let us be indulgent for the defects and and reveries of our like; let us try to enlighten ourselves to as to make ourselves better. Repress those passions whose excesses can harm us, seek legitimate pleasures and reuse ourselves those we can only obtain to the detriment of society and ourselves.
In following this morality we will be happy and content in this world; we will make ourselves agreeable to our fellow-citizens and we would not displease God who, if we believe him full of justice and goodness, is incapable of punishing in another life those who attempted to imitate the perfection attributed to him.
Leave then to the devout their unreasoning faith or their dangerous submission to the will of their priests. Leave the pious madmen to their penitence, their voluntary torments, their sterile meditations, their somber melancholy. Leave to zealots their animosities, their hatreds, their persecutory spirit, their turbulent fanaticism ; leave to saints, to prideful doctors their senseless quarrels, their disputes, their stubbornness, their seditions. Follow only reason and virtue; they will show us that neither gods nor men have the right to make us violate the immutable rules of humanity, of justice, of peace, nor to break – under any pretext – the indissoluble ties that down here unite mortals to each other. Along with one of the Prophets let us say to all those doctors who vaunt the merits of their saints or who, with sophistries destructive of all morality, seek to justify the most blatant crimes of their heroes:
vae! Qui dicites malum bonum et bonum malum”
[Woe on you who call the evil good, and the good evil! Isaiah 5:10]
Let us add: woe on those who are weak enough to believe you!