Toleration and other essays/We Must Take Sides; or, The Principal of Action
WE MUST TAKE SIDES;
Or, the Principle of Action
It is not a question of taking sides between Russia and Turkey; for these States will, sooner of later, come to an understanding without my intervention.
It is not a question of declaring oneself in favour of one English faction and against another; for they will soon have disappeared, to make room for others.
I am not endeavouring to choose between Greek and Armenian Christians, Eutychians and Jacobites, Christians who are called Papists and Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, the primitive folk called Quakers, Anabaptists, Jansenists, Molinists, Socinians, Pietists, and so many other 'ists. I wish to live in peace with all these gentlemen, whenever I may meet them, and never dispute with them; because there is not a single one of them who, when he has a crown to share with me, will not know his business perfectly, or who would spend a single penny for the salvation of my soul or his own.
I am not going to take sides between the old and the new French Parliaments; because in a few years there will be no question of either of them.
Nor between the ancients and the moderns; because the trial would be endless.
Nor between the Jansenists and the Molinists; because they exist no longer, and, thank God, five or six thousand volumes have become as useless as the works of St. Ephraim.
Nor between the partisans of the French and the Italian opera; because it is a mere matter of fancy.
The subject I have in mind is but a trifle—namely, the question whether there is or is not a God; and I am going to examine it in all seriousness and good faith, because it interests me, and you also.
OF THE PRINCIPLE OF ACTION
Everything is in motion, everything acts and reacts, in nature.
Our sun turns on its axis with a rapidity that astonishes us; other suns turn with the same speed, while countless swarms of planets revolve round them in their orbits, and the blood circulates more than twenty times an hour in the lowliest of our animals.A straw that is borne on the wind tends naturally towards the centre of the earth, just as the earth gravitates towards the sun, and the sun towards the earth. The sea owes to the same laws its eternal ebb and flow. In virtue of the same laws the vapours which form our atmosphere rise continually from the earth, and fall again in dew, rain, hail, snow, and thunder.
Everything, even death, is active. Corpses are decomposed, transformed into plants, and nourish the living, which in their turn are the food of others. What is the principle of this universal activity ?
This principle must be unique. The unvarying uniformity of the laws which control the march of the heavenly bodies, the movements of our globe, every species and genus of animal, plant, and mineral, indicates that there is one mover. If there were two, they would either differ, or be opposed to each other, or like each other. If they were different, there would be no harmony; if opposed, things would destroy each other; if like, it would be as if there were only one—a twofold employment.
I am encouraged in this belief that there can be but one principle, one single mover, when I observe the constant and uniform laws of the whole of nature.
The same gravitation reaches every globe, and causes them to tend towards each other in direct proportion, not to their surfaces, which might be the effect of an impelling fluid, but to their masses.
The square of the revolution of every planet is as the cube of its distance from the sun (which proves, one may note, what Plato had somehow divined, that the world is the work of the eternal geometrician).The rays of light are reflected and refracted from end to end of the universe. All the truths of mathematics must be the same on the star Sirius as in our little home.
If I glance at the animal world, I find that all quadrupeds, and all wingless bipeds, reproduce their kind by the same process of copulation, and all the females are viviparous.
All female birds lay eggs.
In each species there is the same manner of reproduction and feeding.
Each species of plants has the same basic qualities.
Assuredly the oak and the nut have come to no agreement to be born and to grow in the same way, any more than Mars and Saturn have come to an understanding to observe the same laws. There is, therefore, a single, universal, and powerful intelligence, acting always by invariable laws.
No one doubts that an armillary sphere, landscapes, drawings of animals, or models in coloured wax, are the work of clever artists. Is it possible for the copyists to be intelligent and the originals not? This seems to me the strongest demonstration; I do not see how it can be assailed.
OF THE NECESSARY AND ETERNAL PRINCIPLE OP ACTION
It is a necessary being, since without it the machine would not exist.
This single mover is very powerful, since it directs so vast and complex a machine. It is very intelligent, since the smallest spring of this machine cannot be equalled by us, who are intelligent beings.
It is eternal, for it cannot be produced from nothing, which, being nothing, can produce nothing; given the existence of something, it is demonstrated that something has existed for all eternity. This sublime truth has become trivial. So great has been the advance of the human mind in our time, in spite of the efforts to brutalise us which the masters of ignorance have made for so many centuries.
WHAT IS THE PRINCIPLE?
I cannot prove synthetically the existence of the principle of action, the prime mover, the Supreme Being, as Dr. Clarke does. If this method were in the power of man, Clarke was, perhaps, worthy to employ it; but analysis seems to me more suitable for our poor ideas. It is only by ascending the stream of eternity that I can attempt to reach its source.
Having therefore recognised from movement that there is a mover; having proved from action that there is a principle of action; I seek the nature of this universal principle. And the first thing I perceive, with secret distress but entire resignation, is that, being an imperceptible part of the great whole; being, as Plato says in the Timœus, a point between two eternities; it will be impossible for me to understand this great whole, which hems me in on every side, and its master.
Yet I am a little reassured on seeing that I am able to measure the distance of the stars, and to recognise the course and the laws which keep them in their orbits. I say to myself: Perhaps, if I use my reason in good faith, I may suceed in discovering some ray of probability to lighten me in the dark night of nature. And if this faint dawn which I seek does not come to me, I shall be consoled to think that my ignorance is invincible; that knowledge which is forbidden me is assuredly useless to me; and that the great Being will not punish me for having sought a knowledge of him and failed to obtain it.
WHERE IS THE FIRST PRINCIPLE? IS IT INFINITE?
I do not see the first motive and intelligent principle of the animal called man, when he demonstrates a geometrical proposition or lifts a burden. Yet I feel irresistibly that there is one in him, however subordinate. I cannot discover whether this first principle is in his heart, or in his head, or in his blood, or in his whole body. In the same way I have detected a first principle in nature, and have seen that it must necessarily be eternal. But where is it?
If it animates all existence, it is in all existence: that seems to be beyond doubt. It is in all that exists, just as movement is in the whole body of an animal, if one may use so poor a comparison.
But while it is in what exists, can it be in what does not exist? Is the universe infinite? I am told that it is; but who will prove it? I regard it as eternal, because it cannot have been made from nothing; because the great principle, "nothing comes from nothing," is as true as that two and two make four; because, as we saw elsewhere, it is an absurd contradiction to say that the active being has spent an eternity without acting, the formative being has been eternal without forming anything, and the necessary being has been, during an eternity, a useless being.
But I see no reason why this necessary being should be infinite. Its nature seems to me to be wherever there is existence; but why, and how, an infinite existence? Newton has demonstrated the void, which had until his time been a matter of conjecture. If there is a void in nature, there may be a void outside nature. What need is there that beings should extend to infinity? What would an infinite extension be? Nor can we have infinity in number. There is no number and no extension to which I cannot add. It seems to me that in this matter the conclusion of Cudworth is preferable to that of Clarke.
God is present everywhere, says Clarke. Yes, doubtless; but everywhere where there is something, not where there is not. To be present in nothing seems to me a contradiction in terms, an absurdity. I am compelled to admit eternity, but I am not compelled to admit an actual infinity.
In fine, what does it matter to me whether space is a reality or merely an idea in my mind? What does it matter whether or no the necessary, intelligent, powerful, eternal being, the former of all being, is in this imaginary space? Am I less his work? Am I less dependent on him? Is he the less my master? I see this master of the world with the eyes of my mind, but I see him not beyond the world.
It is still disputed whether or no infinite space is a reality. I will not base my judgment on so equivocal a point, a quarrel worthy of the scholastics. I will not set up the throne of God in imaginary spaces.
If it is allowable to compare once more the little things which seem large to us to what is great in reality, let us imagine a gentleman of Madrid trying to persuade a Castilian neighbour that the king of Spain is master of the sea to the north of California, and that whoever doubts it is guilty of high treason. The Castilian replies: I do not even know whether there is a sea beyond California. It matters little to me whether there is or not, provided that I have the means of subsistence in Madrid. I do not need this sea to be discovered to make me faithful to the king my master on the banks of the Manzanares. Whether or no there are vessels beyond Hudson Bay, he has none the less power to command me here; I feel my dependence on him in Madrid, because I know that he is master of Madrid.
In the same way, our dependence on the great being is not due to the fact that he is present outside the world, but to the fact that he is present in the world. I do but ask pardon of the master of nature for comparing him to a frail human being in order to make my meaning clearer.
THAT ALL THE WORKS OF THE ETERNAL BEING ARE ETERNAL
The principle of nature being necessary and eternal, and its very essence being to act, it must have been always active. If it had not been an ever-active God, it would have been an eternally indolent God, the God of Epicurus, the God who is good for nothing. This truth seems to me to be fully demonstrated.
Hence the world, his work, whatever form it assume, is, like him, eternal; just as the light is as old as the sun, movement as old as matter, and food as old as the animals; otherwise the sun, matter, and the animals would be, not merely useless, but self-contradictory things, chimæras.
What, indeed, could be more contradictory than an essentially active being that has been inactive during an eternity; a formative being that has fashioned nothing, or merely formed a few globes some years ago, without there being the least apparent reason for making them at one time rather than another? The intelligent principle can do nothing without reason; nothing can exist without an antecedent and necessary reason. This antecedent and necessary reason has existed eternally; therefore the universe is eternal.
We speak here a strictly philosophical language; it is not our part even to glance at those who use the language of revelation.
THAT THE ETERNAL BEING, AND FIRST PRINCIPLE, HAS ARRANGED ALL THINGS VOLUNTARILY
It is clear that this supreme, necessary, active intelligence is possessed of will, and has arranged all things because it willed them. How can one act, and fashion all things, without willing to fashion them? That would be the action of a mere machine, and this machine would presuppose another first principle, another mover. We should always have to end in a first intelligent being of some kind or other. We wish, we act, we make machines, when we will; hence the great very powerful Demiourgos has done all things because he willed.
Spinoza himself recognises in nature an intelligent, necessary power. But an intelligence without will would be an absurdity, since such an intelligence would be useless; it would do nothing, because it would not will to do anything. Hence the great necessary being has willed everything that it has done.
I said above that it has done all things necessarily because, if its works were not necessary, they would be useless. But does this necessity deprive it of will? Certainly not. I necessarily will to be happy, but I will it none the less on that account; on the contrary, I will it all the more strongly because I will it irresistibly.
Does this necessity deprive it of liberty? Not at all. Liberty can only be the power to act. Since the supreme being is very powerful, it is the freest of beings.
We thus recognise that the great artisan of things is necessary, eternal, intelligent, powerful, possessed of will, and free.
THAT ALL BEINGS, WITHOUT EXCEPTION, ARE SUBJECT TO ETERNAL LAWS
What are the effects of this eternal power that dwells essentially in nature? I see only two classes of them, the insensitive and the sensitive.
The earth, the seas, the planets, the suns, seem admirable but lifeless things, devoid of sensibility. A snail that wills, has some degree of perception, and makes love, seems, to that extent, to have an advantage greater than all the glory of the suns that illumine space.
But all these beings are alike subject to eternal and unvarying laws.
Neither the sun, nor the snail, nor the oyster, nor the dog, nor the ape, nor man, has given himself any one of the things which he has; it is evident that they have received everything.
Man and the dog are born, unwittingly, of a mother who has brought them into the world in spite of herself. Both of them suck the mother's breast without knowing what they do, and they do this in virtue of a very delicate and complex mechanism, the nature of which is known to few men.
Both of them have, after a time, ideas, memory, and will; the dog much earlier than the man.
If the animals were mere machines, it would be another argument for the position of those who believe that man also is a mere machine; but there are now none who do not admit that the animals have ideas, memory, and a measure of intelligence, and that they improve their knowledge; that a hunting-dog learns its work, an old fox is more astute than a young one, and so on.
Whence have they these faculties, if not from the primordial eternal cause, the principle of action, the great being that animates the whole of nature?
Man obtains the faculties of the animals much later than they, but in a higher degree; can he obtain them from any other source?
He has nothing but what the great being has given him. It would be a strange contradiction, a singular absurdity, if all the stars and elements, the animals and plants, obeyed, unceasingly and irresistibly, the laws of the great being, and man alone were independent of them.
THAT MAN IS ESSENTIALLY SUBJECT IN EVERYTHING TO THE ETERNAL LAWS OF THE FIRST PRINCIPLE
Let us regard, with the eyes of reason, this animal man which the great being has produced.
What is his first sensation? A sensation of pain; then the pleasure of feeding. That is the whole of our life: pain and pleasure. Whence have we these two springs which keep us in action until our last moment, if not from this first principle of action, this Demiourgos? Assuredly we do not give pain to ourselves; and how could we be the cause of our few pleasures? We have said elsewhere that it is impossible for us to invent a new kind of pleasure—that is to say, a new sense. Let us now say that it is equally impossible for us to invent a new kind of pain. The most execrable of tyrants cannot do it. The Jews, whose tortures have been described by the Benedictine monk Calmet in his dictionary, could only cut, tear, mutilate, draw, burn, strangle, and crush; all torments may thus be summarised. We can therefore do nothing of ourselves, either for good or evil; we are but the blind instruments of nature.
But I wish to think and I think, most men will recklessly assert. Let us consider it. What was our first idea after the feeling of pain? The idea of the breast that we sucked; then the face of the nurse; then a few other objects and needs made their faint impressions. Would any one up to this point venture to say that he was more than a sentient automaton, a wretched abandoned animal destitute of knowledge or power, an outcast of nature? Will he venture to say that in this condition he is a thinking being, the author of his own ideas, the possessor of a soul? What is the son of a king when he leaves the womb? He would excite the disgust of his father, if he were not his father. A flower of the field that one treads underfoot is an infinitely superior thing.
OF THE PRINCIPLE OF ACTION IN SENTIENT BEINGS
There comes at length a time when a greater or smaller number of perceptions, received in our mechanism, seem to present themselves to our will. We think that we are forming ideas. It is as if, when we turn the tap of a fountain, we were to think that we cause the water which streams out. We create ideas, poor creatures that we are! It is evident that we had no share in the former, yet we would regard ourselves as the authors of the latter. If we reflect well on this vain boast of forming ideas, we shall see that it is insolent and absurd.
Let us remember that there is nothing in external objects with the least analogy, the least relation, to a feeling, an idea, a thought. Let an eye or an ear be made by the best artisan in the world; the eye will see nothing, the ear will hear nothing. It is the same with our living body. The universal principle of action does everything in us. He has not made us an exception to the rest of nature.
Two experiences which are constantly repeated during the course of our life, and of which I have spoken elsewhere, will convince every thoughtful man that our ideas, our wills, and our actions do not belong to us.
The first is that no one knows, or can know, what idea he will have at any minute, what desire he will have, what word he will speak, what movement his body will perform.
The second is that during sleep it is clear that we have not the least share in what takes place in our dreams. We grant that we are then mere automata, on which an invisible power acts with a force that is as real and powerful as it is incomprehensible. This power fills the mind with ideas, inspires desires, passions, reflections. It sets in motion all the organs of the body. It has happened at times that a mother has smothered, in a restless dream, the new-born child that lay by her side; that a man has killed his friend. How many musicians have composed music during sleep? How many young preachers have composed sermons during their sleep.
If our life were equally divided between waking and sleeping, instead of our usually spending a third of our short career in sleep, and if we always dreamed during sleep, it would then be evident that half of our life did not depend on us. In any case, assuming that we spend eight out of the twenty-four hours in sleep, it is plain that a third of our existence is beyond our control. Add to this infancy, add all the time that is occupied in purely animal functions, and see how much is left. You will admit with surprise that at least half our life does not belong to us at all. Then reflect how inconsistent it would be if one half depended on us and the other half did not.Conclude, therefore, that the universal principle of action does everything in us.
Here the Jansenist interrupts me and says: "You are a plagiarist; you have taken your doctrine from the famous book, The Action of God on Created Things, or Physical Premotion, by our great patriarch Boursier." I have said somewhere of Boursier that he had dipped his pen in the inkpot of the Deity. No, my friend; I have never received anything from the Jansenists or the Molinists except a strong aversion for sects, and some indifference to their opinions. Boursier, taking God as his model, knows precisely what was the nature of Adam's dream when God took a rib from his side wherewith to make woman; he knows the nature of his concupiscence, habitual grace, and actual grace. He knows, with St. Augustine, that men and women would have engendered children dispassionately in the earthly paradise, just as one sows a field, without any feeling of carnal pleasure. He is convinced that Adam sinned only by distraction in the earthly paradise. I know nothing about these things, and am content to admire those who have so splendid and profound a knowledge.
OF THE PRINCIPLE OF ACTION CALLED THE SOUL
We talk incessantly of "the soul," though we have not the least idea of the meaning of it.
But, some centuries later in the history of man, it came to be imagined that we have a soul which acts of itself; and the idea has become so familiar that we take it for a reality.
To some the soul means the life; to others it is a small, frail image of ourselves, which goes, when we die, to drink the waters of Acheron; to others it is a harmony, a memory, an entelechy. In the end it has been converted into a little being that is not body, a breath that is not air; and of this word "breath," which corresponds to "spirit" in many tongues, a kind of thing has been made which is nothing at all.
Who can fail to see that men uttered, and still utter, the word "soul" vaguely and without understanding, as we utter the words "movement," "understanding," "imagination," "memory," "desire," and "will"? There is no real being which we call will, desire, memory, imagination, understanding, or movement; but the real being called man understands, imagines, remembers, desires, wills, and moves. They are abstract terms, invented for convenience of speech. I run, I sleep, I awake; but there is no such physical reality as running, sleep, or awakening. Neither sight, nor hearing, nor touch, nor smell, nor taste, is a real being; I hear, I see, I smell, I taste, I touch. And how could I do this if the great being had not so disposed all things; if the principle of action, the universal cause—in one word, God—had not given us these faculties?
We may be quite sure that there would be just as much reason to grant the snail a hidden being called a "free soul" as to grant it to man. The snail has a will, desires, tastes, sensations, ideas, and memory. It wishes to move towards the material of its food or the object of its love. It remembers it, has an idea of it, advances towards it as quickly as it can; it knows pleasure and pain. Yet you are not terrified when you are told that the animal has not a spiritual soul; that God has bestowed on it these gifts for a little time; that he who moves the stars moves also the insect. But when it comes to man you change your mind. This poor animal seems to you so worthy of your respect—that is to say, you are so proud—that you venture to place in its frail body something that seems to share the nature of God himself, yet something that seems to you at times diabolical in the perversity of its thoughts; something wise and foolish, good and execrable, heavenly and infernal, invisible, immortal, incomprehensible. And you have familiarised yourself with this idea, as you have grown accustomed to speak of movement, though there is no such being as movement; as you use abstract words, though there are no abstract beings.
EXAMINATION OF THE PRINCIPLE OF ACTION CALLED THE SOUL
There is, nevertheless, a principle of action in man. Yes, there is one everywhere. But can this principle be anything else than a spring, a secret first mover which is developed by the ever-active first principle—a principle that is as powerful as it is secret, as demonstrable as it is invisible, which we have recognised as the essential cause in the whole of nature?
If you create movement or ideas because you will it, you are God for the time being; for you have all the attributes of God—will, power, and creation. Consider the absurdity into which you fall in making yourself God.
You have to choose between these two alternatives: either to be God whenever you will, or to depend continually on God. The first is extravagant; the second alone is reasonable.
If there were in our body a little god called "the free soul," which becomes so frequently a little devil, this little god would have to be regarded either as having been created from all eternity, or as created at the moment of your conception, or during your embryonic life, or at birth, or when you begin to feel. All these positions are equally ridiculous.
A little subordinate god, existing uselessly during a past eternity and descending into a body that often dies at birth, is the height of absurdity.
If this little god-soul is supposed to be created at the moment of conception, we must consider the master of nature, the being of beings, continually occupied in watching assignations, attentive to every intercourse of man and woman, ever ready to despatch a sentient and thinking soul into a recess between the entrails. A fine lodging for a little god! When the mother brings forth a still-born child, what becomes of the god-soul that had been lodged in the abdomen? Whither has it returned?
The same difficulties and absurdities, equally ridiculous and revolting, and found in connection with each of the other suppositions. The idea of a soul, as it is usually and thoughtlessly conceived by people, is one of the most foolish things that has ever been devised.
How much more reasonable, more decent, more respectful to the supreme being, more in harmony with our nature, and therefore truer, is it not to say:
"We are machines made successively by the eternal geometrician; machines made like all the other animals, having the same organs, the same needs, the same pleasures, the same pains; far superior to all of them in many things, inferior to them in others; having received from the great being a principle of action which we cannot penetrate; receiving everything, giving ourselves nothing; and a million times more subject to him than the clay is to the potter who moulds it"?
Once more, either man is a god or he is precisely as I have described him.
WHETHER THE PRINCIPLE OF ACTION IN ANIMALS IS FREE
There is a principle of action in man and in every animal, just as there is in every machine; and this first mover, this ultimate spring, is necessarily eternally arranged by the master, otherwise all would be chaos, and there would be no world.
Every animal, like every machine, necessarily and irresistibly obeys the power that directs it. That is evident, and sufficiently familiar. Every animal is possessed of will, and one must be a fool to think that a dog following its master has not the will to follow him. No doubt, it follows him irresistibly; but it follows voluntarily. Does it follow freely? Yes, if nothing prevents it; that is to say, it can follow, it wills to follow, and it follows. The freedom to follow is not in its will, but in the power to walk that is given to it. A nightingale wills to make its nest, and makes it when it has found some moss. It had the freedom to construct this cradle, just as it had freedom to sing when it desires, and has not a chill. But was it free to have the desire? Did it will to will to make its nest? Had it that absurd "liberty of indifference" which theologians would describe as follows: "I neither will to make my nest nor the contrary; it is a matter of complete indifference to me; but I am going to will to make my nest solely for the sake of willing, and without being determined to do it in any way, merely to prove that I am free"? Such is the absurdity we find taught in the schools. If the nightingale could speak, it would say to these doctors: "I am irresistibly determined to nest, I will to nest, and I nest; you are irresistibly determined to reason badly, and you fulfil your destiny as I do mine."
We will now see if man is free in any other sense.
OF THE LIBERTY OF MAN, AND OF DESTINY
A ball that drives another, a hunting-dog that necessarily and voluntarily follows a stag, a stag that leaps a great ditch not less necessarily and voluntarily, a roe that gives birth to another roe, which will bring a third into the world—these things are not more irresistibly determined than we are to do all that we do. Let us remember always how inconsistent and absurd it would be for one set of things to be arranged and the other not.
Every present event is born of the past, and is father of the future; otherwise the universe would be quite other than it is, as Leibnitz has well said, more correct in this than in his pre-established harmony. The eternal chain can be neither broken nor entangled. The great being who necessarily sustains it cannot let it hang uncertainly, nor change it; for he would then no longer be the necessary and immutable being, the being of beings; he would be frail, inconstant, capricious; he would belie his nature, and exist no longer.
Hence, an inevitable destiny is the law of nature, as the whole of antiquity felt. The dread of depriving man of some false liberty, robbing virtue of its merit, and relieving crime of its horror, has at times alarmed tender souls; but as soon as they were enlightened they returned to this great truth, that all things are enchained and necessary.
Man is free, we repeat, when he can do what he wills to do; but he is not free to will; it is impossible that he should will without cause. If this cause is not infallibly followed by its effect, it is no cause. It would not be more absurd for a cloud to say to the wind : "I do not wish to be driven by you." This truth can never injure morality. Vice is always vice, as disease is always disease. It will always be necessary to repress the wicked; if they are determined to evil, we must reply that they are equally predestined to chastisement.
Let us make these truths clearer.
ABSURDITY OF WHAT IS CALLED LIBERTY OF INDIFFERENCE
What an admirable spectacle is that of the eternal destinies of all beings chained to the throne of the maker of all worlds! I imagine a time when it is not so, but a chimerical liberty makes every event uncertain. I imagine that one of the substances intermediate between us and the great being (there may be millions of such beings) comes to consult the eternal being on the destiny of some of the enormous globes that stand at such vast distances from us. The sovereign of nature would be forced to reply: "I am not sovereign, I am not the great necessary being; every little embryo is a master of destiny. The whole world is free to will without any other cause than the will. The future is uncertain; everything depends on caprice. I can foresee nothing. This great whole, which you regarded as so regular, is but a vast anarchy in which all is done without cause or reason. I shall be very careful not to say to you that such and such a thing will happen; for then the wicked folk who people the globes would do the contrary to what I had foretold, if it were only from malice. Men always dare to be jealous of their master, when he has not a power so absolute as to take away the very faculty of jealousy; they are pleased to see him fall into a trap. I am but weak and ignorant. Appeal to one more powerful and more gifted than I."
Possibly this allegory will avail more than any other argument to arrest the partisans of this empty liberty of indifference, if there still be any, and those who labour to reconcile foreknowledge with this liberty, and those who, in the university of Salamanca or in Bedlam, still speak of medicinal and concomitant grace.
OF EVIL AND, IN THE FIRST PLACE, THE DESTRUCTION OF BEASTS
We have never had any idea of good and evil, save in relation to ourselves. The sufferings of an animal seem to us evils, because, being animals ourselves, we feel that we should excite compassion if the same were done to us. We should have the same feeling for a tree if we were told that it suffered torment when it was cut; and for a stone if we learned that it suffers when it is dressed. But we should pity the tree and the stone much less than the animal, because they are less like us. Indeed, we soon cease to be touched by the awful destiny of the beasts that are intended for our table. Children who weep at the death of the first chicken they see killed laugh at the death of the second.
It is only too sure that the disgusting carnage of our butcheries and kitchens does not seem to us an evil. On the contrary, we regard this horror, pestilential as it often is, as a blessing of the Lord; and we still have prayers in which we thank him for these murders. Yet what can be more abominable than to feed constantly on corpses?
Not only do we spend our lives in killing, and devouring what we have killed, but all the animals slaughter each other; they are impelled to do so by an invincible instinct. From the smallest insects to the rhinoceros and the elephant, the earth is but a vast battle-field, a world of carnage and destruction. There is no animal that has not its prey, and that, to capture it, does not employ some means equivalent to the ruse and rage with which the detestable spider entraps and devours the innocent fly. A flock of sheep devours in an hour, as it crops the grass, more insects than there are men on the earth.
What is still more cruel is that in this horrible scene of reiterated murder we perceive an evident design to perpetuate all species by means of the bloody corpses of their mutual enemies. The victims do not expire until nature has carefully provided for new representatives of the species. Everything is born again to be murdered.
Yet I observe no moralist among us, nor any of our fluent preachers or boasters, who has ever refleeted in the least on this frightful habit, which has become part of our nature. We have to go back to the pious Porphyry and the sympathetic Pythagoreans to find those who would shame us for our bloody gluttony; or we must travel to the land of the Brahmans. Our monks, the caprice of whose founders has bade them renounce the flesh, are murderers of soles and turbots, if not of partridges and quails. Neither among the monks, nor in the Council of Trent, nor in the assemblies of the clergy, nor in our academies, has this universal butchery ever been pronounced an evil. There has been no more thought given to it in the councils of the clergy than in our public-houses.
Hence the great being is justified of these butcheries in our eyes; or, indeed, we are his accomplices.
OF EVIL IN THE ANIMAL CALLED MAN
So much for the beasts; let us come to man. If it be not an evil that the only being on earth that knows God by his thoughts should be unhappy in his thoughts; if it be not an evil that this worshipper of the Deity should be almost always unjust and suffering, should know virtue and commit crime, should so often deceive and be deceived, and be the victim or the executioner of his fellows, etc.; if all that be not a frightful evil, I know not where evil is to be found.
Beasts and men suffer almost without ceasing; men suffer the more because, not only is the gift of thought often a source of torture, but this faculty of thinking always makes them fear death, which the beast cannot foresee. Man is a very miserable being, having but a few hours of rest, a few moments of satisfaction, and a long series of days of sorrow in his short life. Everybody admits and says this; and it is true.
They who have protested that all is well are charlatans. Shaftesbury, who set the fashion in this, was a most unhappy man. I have seen Bolingbroke torn with grief and rage; and Pope, whom he induced to put this miserable joke into verse, was one of the most pitiable men I have ever known, misshapen in body, unbalanced in temperament, always ill and a burden to himself, harassed by a hundred enemies until his last moment. At least let us have happy beings saying that all is well.If by all is well it is merely meant that a man's head is happily placed above his shoulders, so that his eyes are better situated beside the root of his nose than behind his ears, we may assent. All is well in that sense. The laws of physics and mathematics are very well observed in his structure. A man who saw the beautiful Anne Boleyn, or the still more beautiful Mary Stuart, in her youth, would have said that it was well; would he have said it on seeing them die by the hand of the executioner? Would he have said it on seeing the grandson of the beautiful Mary Stuart perish in the same way in the heart of his capital? Would he have said it on seeing the great-grandson even more miserable, because he lived longer?
Glance over the human race, if it be but from the prescriptions of Sylla to the Irish massacres.
Behold these battlefields, strewn by imbeciles with the corpses of other imbeciles, whom they have slain with a substance born of the experiments of a monk. See these arms, these legs, these bloody brains, and all these scattered limbs; it is the fruit of a quarrel between two ignorant ministers, neither of whom would dare to open his mouth in the presence of Newton, Locke, or Halley; or of some ridiculous quarrel between two forward women. Enter the neighbouring hospital, where are gathered those who are not yet dead. Their life is taken from them by fresh torments, and men make a fortune out of them, keeping a register of the victims who are dissected alive, at so much a day, under the pretext of healing them.
See these other men, dressed as comedians, earning a little money by singing, in a foreign language, a very obscure and insipid song, to thank the author of nature for this horrible outrage done to nature; and then tell me calmly that all is well. Say the word, if you dare, in connection with Alexander VI. and Julius II.; say it over the ruins of a hundred towns that have been swallowed up by earthquakes, and amid the twelve millions of Americans who are being assassinated, in twelve million ways, to punish them for not being able to understand in Latin a papal bull that the monks have read to them. Say it to-day, the 24th of August, 1772; a day on which the pen trembles in my fingers, the two-hundredth anniversary of the massacre of St. Bartholomew. Pass from these innumerable theatres of carnage to the equally unnumbered retreats of sorrow that cover the earth, to that swarm of diseases which slowly devour so many poor wretches while they yet live; think of that frightful ravage of nature which poisons the human race in its source, and associates the most abominable of plagues with the most necessary of pleasures. See that despised king Henry III., and that mediocre leader the Duke of Mayenne, struck down with the small-pox while they are waging civil war; and that insolent descendant of a Florentine merchant, Gondi, and Retz, the priest, archbishop of Paris, preaching with sword in hand and body diseased. To complete this true and horrible picture, fancy yourself amid the floods and volcanoes that have so often devastated so many parts of the world; amid the leprosy and the plague that have swept it. And do you who read this recall all that you have suffered, admit that evil exists, and do not add to so many miseries and horrors the wild absurdity of denying them.
ROMANCES INVENTED TO EXPLAIN THE ORIGIN OF EVIL
Of a hundred peoples who have sought the cause of physical and moral evil, the Hindoos are the first whose romantic imaginations are known to us. They are sublime, if the word "sublime" be taken to mean "high." Evil, according to the ancient Brahmans, comes of a quarrel that once took place in the highest heavens, between the faithful and the jealous angels. The rebels were cast out of heaven into Ondera for millions of ages. But the great being pardoned them at the end of a few thousand years; they were turned into men, and they brought upon the earth the evil that they had engendered in the empyræan. We have elsewhere described at length this ancient fable, the source of all fables.
It was finely imitated by gifted nations, and grossly reproduced by barbarians. Nothing, indeed, is more spiritual and agreeable than the story of Pandora and her box. If Hesiod has had the merit of inventing this allegory, I think it as superior to Homer as Homer is to Lycophron.
This box of Pandora, containing all the evils that have issued from it, seems to have all the charm of the most striking and delicate allusions. Nothing is more enchanting than this origin of our sufferings. But there is something still more admirable in the story of Pandora. It has a very high merit, which seems to have escaped notice: it is that no one was ever commanded to believe it.
OF THE SAME ROMANCES, IMITATED BY BARBARIC NATIONS
In the regions of Chaldæa and Syria the barbarians also had their legends of the origin of evil. Among one of these nations in the neighbourhood of the Euphrates it was said that a serpent, meeting a burdened and thirsty ass, asked what the ass carried. "The recipe of immortality," said the ass; "God has bestowed it upon man, who has laid it on my back. He follows me, but is far off, because he has only two legs. I die of thirst; prithee tell me where there is a stream." The serpent led the ass to water, and, while it drank, stole the recipe. Hence it is that the serpent is immortal, while man is subject to death and all the pains that precede it.
You will observe that the serpent was thought by all peoples to be immortal because it cast its skin. If it changed its skin, this must have been in order to become young again. I have spoken elsewhere of this naïve theology; but it is well to bring it once more to the notice of the reader, in order to show him the nature of this venerable antiquity, in which serpents and asses played such important parts.
The Syrians rose higher. They told that man and woman, having been created in heaven, desired one day to eat a certain cake; and that they then asked an angel to show them the place of retirement. The angel pointed to the earth. They went thither; and God, to punish them for their gluttony, left them there. Let us also leave them there, and their dinner and their ass and their serpent. These inconceivable puerilities of ancient Syria are not worth a moment's notice. The detestable fables of an obscure people should be excluded from a serious discussion.
Let us return from these miserable legends to the great saying of Epicurus, which has so long alarmed the whole earth, and to which there is no answer but a sigh : "Either God wished to prevent evil and could not do so; or he was able to do so, and did not wish."
A thousand bachelors and doctors of divinity have fired the arrows of the school at this unshakeable rock; in this terrible shelter have the Atheists taken refuge. Yet the Atheist must admit that there is in nature an active, intelligent, necessary, eternal principle, and that from this principle comes all that we call good and evil. Let us discuss the point with the Atheist.
DISCOURSE OF AN ATHEIST ON ALL THIS
An Atheist says to me: It has been proved, I admit, that there is an eternal and necessary principle. But from the fact that it is necessary I infer that all that is derived from it is necessary; you have been compelled to admit this yourself. Since everything is necessary, evil is as inevitable as good. The great wheel of the ever-turning machine crushes all that comes in its way. I have no need of an intelligent being who can do nothing of himself, and who is as much a slave to his destiny as I am to mine. If he existed, I should have too much with which to reproach him. I should be obliged to call him either feeble or wicked. I would rather deny his existence than be discourteous to him. Let us get through this miserable life as well as we can without reference to a fantastic being whom no one has ever seen, and to whom it would matter little, if he existed, whether we believed in him or not. What I think of him can no more affect him, supposing that he exists, than what he thinks of me, of which I am ignorant, affects me. There is no relation, no connection, no interest between him and me. Either there is no such being or he is an utter stranger to me. Let us do as nine hundred and ninety-nine mortals out of a thousand do; they work, generate, eat, drink, sleep, suffer, and die, without speaking of metaphysics, or knowing that there is such a thing.
DISCOURSE OF A MANICHÆAN
A Manichæan, hearing the Atheist, says to him: You are mistaken. Not only is there a God, but there are necessarily two. It has been fully proved that the universe is arranged intelligently, and there is an intelligent principle in nature; but it is impossible that this intelligent principle, which is the author of good, should also be the author of evil. Evil must have its own God. Zoroaster was the first to proclaim this great truth, about two thousand years ago; and two other Zoroasters came afterwards to confirm it. The Parsees have always followed, and still follow, this excellent doctrine. Some wretched people or other, called the Jews, at that time in bondage to us, learned a little of our science, together with the names of Satan and Knatbul. They recognised God and the devil; and the devil was so powerful, in the opinion of this poor little people, that one day, when God had descended into their country, the devil took him up into a mountain. Admit two gods, therefore; the world is large enough to hold them and find sufficient work for them.
DISCOURSE OF A PAGAN
Then a Pagan arose, and said: If we are to admit two gods, I do not see what prevents us from worshipping a thousand. The Greeks and Romans, who were superior to you, were polytheists. It will be necessary some day to return to the admirable doctrine that peoples the universe with genii and deities; it is assuredly the only system which explains everything—the only one in which there is no contradiction. If your wife betrays vou, Venus is the cause of it. If you are robbed, put the blame on Mercury. If you lose an arm or a leg in battle, it was arranged by Mars. So much for the evil. In regard to the good, not only do Apollo, Ceres, Pomona, Bacchus, and Flora load you with presents, but occasionally the same Mars will rid you of your enemies, the same Venus will find you mistresses, the same Mercury may pour all your neighbours' gold into your coffers, provided your hand comes to the assistance of his wand.
It was much easier for these gods to agree in governing the universe than it seems to be to this Manichæan to reconcile his Ormuzd, the benevolent, and Ahriman, the malevolent, two mortal enemies, so as to maintain both light and darkness. Many eyes see better than one. Hence all the poets of antiquity are continually calling councils of the gods. How can you suppose that one god is enough to see to all the details of life on Saturn and all the business of the star Capella? What! You imagine that everything on our globe, except in the houses of the King of Prussia and the Pope Ganganelli, is regulated by councils, and there is no council in heaven! There is no better way of deciding things than by a majority of votes. The deity always acts in the wisest way. The Theist seems to me, in comparison with a Pagan, to be like a Prussian soldier entering the territory of Venice; he is charmed with the excellence of the government. "The king of this country," he says, "must work from morning to night. I greatly pity him." "There is no king," people reply; "we are governed by a council."
Here are the true principles of our ancient religion.
The great being known as Jehovah or Yaa among the Phœnicians, the Jove of other Asiatic nations, the Jupiter of the Romans, the Zeus of the Greeks, is the sovereign of gods and men.
Deum sator atque hominum rex.
The master of the whole of nature, to whom nothing in the whole range of being approaches.
Cui nihil simile, nec secundum.
Jovis omnia plena.
All the ideas that one may have of God are enfolded in this fine verse of the ancient Orpheus, quoted throughout antiquity, and repeated in all the mysteries.
εἷς ἔστ’, αύτογενὴς, ὲνὸς ἔχγονα πάντα τέτέυχται.
"He is One, self-born, and all was born of One."
But he confides to the subordinate gods the care of the stars, the elements, the seas, and the bowels of the earth. His wife, who represents the expanse of space that he fills, is Juno. His daughter, who is eternal wisdom, his word, is Minerva. His other daughter, Venus, is the lover of the poetical generation. She is the mother of love, inflaming all sensitive beings, uniting them, reproducing by the attraction of pleasure all that necessity devotes to death. All the gods have made presents to mortals. Ceres has given them corn, Bacchus the vine, Pomona fruit; Apollo and Mercury have taught them the arts.
The great Zeus, the great Demiourgos, had made the planets and the earth. He had brought men and animals into existence on our planet. The first man was, according to the account of Berosus, Alora, father of Sares, grandfather of Alaspara, who begot Amenon, of whom was born Metalare, who was the father of Daon, father of Everodao, father of Amphis, father of Osiarte, father of the famous Sixutros or Xixutrus, King of Chaldæa, under whom occurred the well-known deluge, which the Greeks called "the deluge of Ogyges"; a flood of which the precise date is still uncertain, as is that of the other great inundation, which swallowed up the isle of Atlantis and part of Greece about six thousand years ago.
We have another theogony in Sanchoniathon, without a deluge. Those of the Hindoos, Chinese, and Egyptians are very different again.
All events of antiquity are lost in a dark night; but the existence and blessings of Jupiter are clearer than the light of the sun. The hero who, stirred by his example, did good to men was known by the holy name of Dionysos, son of God. Bacchus, Hercules, Perseus, and Romulus also received this divine name. Some went so far even as to say that the divine virtue was communicated to their mothers. The Greeks and Romans, although they were somewhat debauched, as are to-day all Christians of a sociable nature, rather drunken, like the canons of Germany, and given to unnatural vices, like the French king Henry III. and his Nogaret, were very religious. They offered sacrifice and incense, walked in processions, and fasted.
But everything becomes corrupt in time. Religion changed. The splendid name of Son of God—that is to say, just and benevolent—was afterwards given to the most unjust and cruel of men, because they were powerful. The ancient piety, which was humane, was displaced by superstition, which is always cruel. Virtue had dwelt on the earth as long as the fathers of families were the only priests, and offered to Jupiter and the immortal gods the first of their fruits and flowers; but all this was changed when the priests began to shed blood and wanted to share with the gods. They did share in truth; they took the offerings, and left the smoke to the gods. You know how our enemies succeeded in crushing us, adopting our earlier morals, rejecting our bloody sacrifices, calling men to the Church, making a party for themselves among the poor until such time as they should capture the rich. They took our place. We are annihilated, they triumph; but, corrupted at length like ourselves, they need a great reform, which I wish them with all my heart.
DISCOURSE OF A JEW
Take no notice of this idolatrous Pagan who would turn God into a Dutch president, and offer us subordinate gods like members of parliament.
My religion, being above nature, can have no resemblance to others.
The first difference between them and us is that the source of our religion was hidden for a very long time from the rest of the earth. The dogmas of our fathers were buried, like ourselves, in a little country about a hundred and fifty miles long and sixty in width. In this well dwelt the truth that was unknown to the whole world, until certain rebels, going forth from among us, took from it the name of "truth" in the reigns of Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero; and presently boasted that they were establishing a new truth.
The Chaldæans recognised Alora as their father, as you know. The Phœnicians descended from a man named Origen, according to Sanchoniathon. The Greeks had their Prometheus; the Atlantids had their Ouran, called in Greek Ouranos. I say nothing of the Chinese, Hindoos, or Scythians. We had our Adam, of whom nobody ever heard except our nation, and we only very late. It was not the Ephaistos of the Greeks, known to the Latins as Vulcan, who invented the art of using metals; it was Tubalcain. The whole of the West was astonished to hear, under Constantine, that it was not Bacchus to whom the nations owed the use of wine, but Noah, whose name none knew in the whole Roman Empire, any more than they knew the names of his ancestors, which were unknown throughout the earth. The anecdote was learned only from our Bible, when it was translated into Greek; it began to spread about that time. The sun was then seen to be no longer the source of light: the light was created before the sun, and separated from the darkness, as the waters were separated from the waters. Woman was made from a rib, which God himself took out of a sleeping man, without awakening him, and without causing his descendants to be short of a rib.
The Tigris, Araxis, Euphrates, and Nile all had their source in the same garden. We do not know where the garden was, but its existence is proved, because the gate was guarded by a cherub.
Animals speak. The eloquence of a serpent was fatal to the whole human race. A Chaldæan prophet conversed with his ass.
God, the creator of all men, is not the father of all men, but of one family alone. This family, always wandering, left the fertile land of Chaldæa to wander for some time in the neighbourhood of Sodom; from this journey it acquired an incontestable right to the city of Jerusalem, which was not yet in existence.
Our family increases at such a rate that seventy men produce, at the end of two hundred and fifty years, six hundred and thirty thousand men bearing arms; counting the women, children, and old men, that amounts to about three millions. These three millions live in a small canton of Egypt which cannot maintain twenty thousand people. For their advantage God puts to death in one night all the first-born of the Egyptians; and, after this massacre, instead of giving Egypt to his people, God puts himself at their head to fly with them dry-foot across the sea, and cause a whole generation of Jews to die in the desert.
We have seven times been in slavery in spite of the appalling miracles that God works for us every day, causing the moon to stand still in midday, and also the sun. Ten out of twelve of our tribes perished for ever. The other two are scattered and in misery. We have always prophets, nevertheless. God descends continually among our people alone, and mingles only with us. He appears constantly to these prophets, his sole confidants and favourites.He goes to visit Addo or Iddo or Jeddo, and commands him to travel without eating. The prophet thinks that God has ordered him to eat that he may walk better; he eats, and forthwith he is eaten by a lion (1 Kings xiii.).
God commands Isaiah to go forth among his fellow-citizens in a most unbecoming state of attire, discoopertis natihus (Isaiah xx.).
God orders Jeremiah to put a yoke on his neck and a saddle on his back (ch. xxvii. according to the Hebrews).
He orders Ezekiel to have himself bound, to eat a parchment book, to lie for two hundred and ninety days on the right side and forty days on the left side, and then to eat filth with his bread.
He commands Hosea to take a prostitute and have three children by her; then he commands him to pay an adulterous woman and have children by her.
Add to all these prodigies an uninterrupted series of massacres, and you will see that among us all things are divine, because nothing is in accordance with what men call decent laws.
Unhappily, we were not well known to other nations until we were nearly annihilated. It was our enemies, the Christians, who made us known when they despoiled us. They built up their system with material taken from a bad Greek translation of our Bible. They insult and oppress us to this day; but our turn will come. It is well known how we will triumph at the end of the world, when there will be no one left on the earth.
DISCOURSE OF A TURK
When the Jew had finished, a Turk, who had smoked throughout the meeting, washed his mouth, recited the formula "Allah Illah," and said to me:
I have listened to all these dreamers. I have gathered that thou art a dog of a Christian, but thou pleasest me because thou seemest liberal, and art in favour of gratuitous predestination. I believe thou art a sensible man, assuming that thou dost agree with me.
Most of thy dogs of Christians have spoken only folly about our Mohammed. A certain Baron de Tott, a man of much ability and geniality, who did us great service in the last war, induced me some time ago to read a book of one of your most learned men, named Grotius, entitled The Truth of the Christian Religion. This Grotius accuses our great Mohammed of forcing men to believe that a pigeon spoke in his ear, that a camel conversed with him during the night, and that he had put half the moon in his sleeve. If the most learned of your Christ-worshippers can write such asinine stuff, what must I think of the others?
No, Mohammed did none of these village-miracles, of which people speak only a hundred years after the supposed event. He wrought none of those miracles which Baron de Tott read to me in the Golden Legend, written at Geneva. He wrought none of your miracles in the manner of St. Médard, which have been so much derided in Europe, and at which a French ambassador has laughed so much in our presence. The miracles of Mohammed were victories. God has shown that he was a favourite by subjecting half our hemisphere to him. He was not unknown for two whole centuries. He triumphed as soon as he was persecuted.
His religion is wise, severe, chaste, and humane. Wise, because it knows not the folly of giving God associates, and it has no mysteries; severe, because it prohibits games of chance, and wine, and strong drinks, and orders prayer five times a day; chaste, because it reduces to four the prodigious number of spouses who shared the bed of all oriental princes; humane, because it imposes on us almsgiving more rigorously than the journey to Mecca.
Add tolerance to all these marks of truth. Reflect that we have in the city of Stamboul alone more than a hundred thousand Christians of all sects, who carry out all the ceremonies of their cults in peace, and live so happily under the shelter of our laws that they never deign to visit you, while you crowd to our imperial gate.
DISCOURSE OF A THEIST
A Theist then asked permission to speak, and said:
Everyone has his own opinion, good or bad. I should be sorry to distress any good man. First, I ask pardon of the Atheist; but it seems to me that, compelled as he is to admit an excellent design in the order of the universe, he is bound to admit an intelligence that has conceived and carried out this design. It is enough, it seems to me, that, when the Atheist lights a candle, he admits that it is for the purpose of giving light. It seems to me that he should also grant that the sun was made to illumine our part of the universe. We must not dispute about such probable matters.
The Atheist should yield the more graciously since, being a good man, he has nothing to fear from a master who has no interest in injuring him. He may quite safely admit a God; he will not pay a penny the more in taxes, and will not live less comfortably.
As to you, my pagan friend, I submit that you are rather late with your project of restoring polytheism. For that Maxentius ought to have defeated Constantine, or else Julian ought to have lived thirty years longer.
I confess that I see no impossibility in the existence of several beings far superior to us, each of whom would superintend some heavenly body. Indeed, it would give me some pleasure to prefer your Naiads, Dryads, Sylvans, Graces, and Loves to St. Fiacre, St. Pancratius, Sts. Crepin and Crepinien, St. Vitus, St. Cunegonde, or St. Marjolaine. But, really, one must not multiply things without need; and as a single intelligence suffices for the regulation of the world, I will stop at that until other powers show me that they share its rule.
As to you, my Manichæan friend, you seem to me a duellist, very fond of fighting. I am a peaceful man, and do not like to find myself between two rivals who are ever at war. Your Ormuzd is enough for me; you can keep your Ahriman.
I shall always be somewhat embarrassed in regard to the origin of evil; but I suppose that the good Ormuzd, who made everything, could not do better. I cannot offend him if I say to him: You have done all that a powerful, wise, and good being could do. It is not your fault if your works cannot be as good and perfect as yourself. Imperfection is one of the essential differences between you and your creatures. You could not make gods; it was necessary that, since men possessed reason, they should display folly, just as there must be friction in every machine. Each man has his dose of imperfection and folly, from the very fact that you are perfect and wise. He must not be always happy, because you are always happy. It seems to me that a collection of muscles, nerves, and veins cannot last more than eighty or a hundred years at the most, and that you must be for ever. It seems to me impossible that an animal, necessarily compacted of desires and wills, should not at times wish to serve his own purpose by doing evil to his neighbour. You only never do evil. Lastly, there is necessarily so great a distance between you and your works that the good is in you, and the evil must be in them.
As for me, imperfect as I am, I thank you for giving me a short span of existence, and especially for not having made me a professor of theology.
That is not at all a bad compliment. God could not be angry with me, seeing that I do not wish to displease him. In fine, I feel that, if I do no evil to my brethren and respect my master, I shall have nothing to fear, either from Ahriman, or Cerberus and the Furies, or Satan, or Knatbull, or St. Fiacre and St. Crepin; and I shall end my days in peace and the pursuit of philosophy.
I come now to you, Mr. Abrabanel and Mr. Benjamin. You seem to me to be the maddest of the lot. The Kaffirs, Hottentots, and blacks of New Guinea are more reasonable and decent beings than your Jewish ancestors were. You have surpassed all nations in exorbitant legends, bad conduct, and barbarism. You are paying for it; it is your destiny. The Roman Empire has fallen; the Parsees, vour former masters, are scattered. The Armenians sell rags, and occupy a low position in the whole of Asia. There is no trace left of the ancient Egyptians. Why should you be a power?
As to you, my Turkish friend, I advise you to come to terms as soon as possible with the Empress of Russia, if you wish to keep what you have usurped in Europe. I am willing to believe that the victories of Mohammed, son of Abdala, were miracles; but Catherine II. also works miracles. Take care that she do not some day perform the miracle of sending you back to the deserts from which you came. In particular, continue to be tolerant; it is the true way to please the being of beings, who is alike the father of Turks and Russians, Chinese and Japanese, black and yellow man, and of the whole of nature.
DISCOURSE OF A CITIZEN
When the Theist had spoken, a man arose and said: I am a citizen, and therefore the friend of all these gentlemen. I will not dispute with any of them. I wish only to see them all united in the design of aiding and loving each other, in making each other happy, in so far as men of such different opinions can love each other, and contribute to each other's happiness, which is as difficult as it is necessary.
To attain this end, I advise them first to cast in the fire all the controversial books which come their way, especially those of the Jesuits; and also the ecclesiastical gazette, and all other pamphlets which are but the fuel of the civil war of fools.
Next, each of our brethren, whether Theist, Turk, Pagan, Greek Christian, Latin Christian, Anglican, Scandinavian, Jew, or Atheist, will read attentively several pages of Cicero's De Officiis, or of Montaigne, and some of La Fontaine's Fables.
The reading of these works insensibly disposes men to that concord which theologians have hitherto held in horror. Their minds being thus prepared, every time that a Christian and a Mussulman meet an Atheist they will say to him: "Dear brother, may heaven enlighten you"; and the Atheist will reply: "When I am converted I shall come and thank you."
The Theist will give two kisses to the Manichæan woman in honour of the two principles. The Greek and Roman woman will give three to each member of the other sects, even the Quakers and Jansenists. The Socinians need only embrace once, seeing that those gentlemen believe there is only one person in God; but this embrace will be equal to three when it is performed in good faith.
We know that an Atheist can live very cordially with a Jew, especially if the Jew does not charge more than eight per cent, in lending him money; but we have no hope of ever seeing a lively friendship between a Calvinist and a Lutheran. All that we require of the Calvinist is that he return the salute of the Lutheran with some affection, and do not follow the example of the Quakers, who do reverence to nobody; but the Calvinists have not their candour.
We urge the primitive folk called Quakers to marry their sons to the daughters of the Theists who are known as Socinians, as these young ladies, being nearly all the daughters of priests, are very poor. Not only will it be a very good deed before God and men, but these marriages will produce a new race, which, representing the first years of the Christian Church, will be very useful to the human race.
These preliminaries being settled, if any quarrel occur between members of two different sects, they must never choose a theologian as arbitrator, for he would infallibly eat the oyster and leave them the shells.
To maintain the established peace nothing shall be offered for sale, either by a Greek to a Turk, a Turk to a Jew, or a Roman to a Roman, except what pertains to food, clothing, lodging, or pleasure. They shall not sell circumcision, or baptism, or burial, or permission to turn round the black stone in the caaba, or to harden one's knees before Our Lady of Loretto, who is still blacker.
In all the disputes that shall arise it is expressly forbidden to treat any person as a dog, however angry one may be—unless indeed we treat dogs as men when they steal our dinner or bite us.
- Since the words "it" and "he" are both expressed by the French word "il," it is not clear whether Voltaire would have spoken of his supreme being as "it" or "he." I interpret his feeling as carefully as the context permits.—J. M.
- Leibnitz taught that material things never acted on each other; the only cause was God. The leaf fell from the tree, when the wind blew, because God had pre-established that coincidence, or harmony, of movements.—J. M.
- The allusion is to priests, in their coloured vestments, singing masses for a successful war.—J. M.
- Voltaire always candidly faces the problem of evil, and admits that it is inconsistent with infinite power and goodness. In another treatise he makes the bold observation that, since morality is merely a social law regulating the relations of men, it has no application to his isolated "great being."—J. M.
- Well-known Jews in mediæval history.—J. M.