OR, MEDITATION ON THE REVOLUTIONS OF EMPIRES
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ALL RELIGIONS HAVE THE SAME OBJECT.
Thus spoke the orator in the name of those men who had studied the
origin and succession of religious ideas.
The theologians of various systems, reasoning on this discourse:
"It is an impious representation," said some, whose tendency is
nothing less than to overturn all belief, to destroy subordination
in the minds of men, and annihilate our ministry and power." "It
is a romance," said others, "a tissue of conjectures, composed with
art, but without foundation." The moderate and prudent men added:
"Supposing all this to be true, why reveal these mysteries?
Doubtless our opinions are full of errors; but these errors are a
necessary restraint on the multitude. The world has gone thus for
two thousand years; why change it now?"
A murmur of disapprobation, which never fails to rise at every
innovation, now began to increase; when a numerous group of the
common classes of people, and of untaught men of all countries and
of every nation, without prophets, without doctors, and without
doctrine, advancing in the circle, drew the attention of the whole
assembly; and one of them, in the name of all, thus addressed the
"Mediators and arbiters of nations! the strange relations which
have occupied the present debate were unknown to us until this day.
Our understanding, confounded and amazed at so many statements,
some of them learned, others absurd and all incomprehensible,
remains in uncertainty and doubt. One only reflection has struck
us: on reviewing so many prodigious facts, so many contradictory
assertions, we ask ourselves: What are all these discussions to us?
What need have we of knowing what passed five or six thousand years
ago, in countries we never heard of, and among men who will ever be
unknown to us? True or false, what interest have we in knowing
whether the world has existed six thousand, or twenty-five thousand
years? Whether it was made of nothing, or of something; by itself,
or by a maker, who in his turn would require another maker? What!
we are not sure of what happens near us, and shall we answer for
what happens in the sun, in the moon, or in imaginary regions of
space? We have forgotten our own infancy, and shall we know the
infancy of the world? And who will attest what no one has seen?
who will certify what no man comprehends?
"Besides, what addition or diminution will it make to our
existence, to answer yes or no to all these chimeras? Hitherto
neither our fathers nor ourselves have had the least knowledge or
notion of them, and we do not perceive that we have had on this
account either more or less of the sun, more or less of
subsistence, more or less of good or of evil.
"If the knowledge of these things is so necessary, why have we
lived as well without it as those who have taken so much trouble
concerning it? If this knowledge is superfluous, why should we
burden ourselves with it to-day?"
Then addressing himself to the doctors and theologians:
"What!" said he, "is it necessary that we, poor and ignorant men,
whose every moment is scarcely sufficient for the cares of life,
and the labors of which you take the profit,--is it necessary for
us to learn the numberless histories that you have recounted, to
read the quantity of books that you have cited, and to study the
various languages in which they are composed! A thousand years of
life would not suffice--"
"It is not necessary," replied the doctors, "that you should
acquire all this science; we have it for you--"
"But even you," replied the simple men, "with all your science, you
are not agreed; of what advantage, then, is your science? Besides,
how can you answer for us? If the faith of one man is applicable
to many, what need have even you to believe? your fathers may have
believed for you; and this would be reasonable, since they have
seen for you.
"Farther, what is believing, if believing influences no action?
And what action is influenced by believing, for instance, that the
world is or is not eternal?"
"The latter would be offensive to God," said the doctors.
"How prove you that?" replied the simple men.
"In our books," answered the doctors.
"We do not understand them," returned the simple men.
"We understand them for you," said the doctors.
"That is the difficulty," replied the simple men. "By what right
do you constitute yourselves mediators between God and us?"
"By his orders," said the doctors.
"Where is the proof of these orders?" said the simple men.
"In our books," said the doctors.
"We understand them not," said the simple men; "and how came this
just God to give you this privilege over us? Why did this common
father oblige us to believe on a less degree of evidence than you?
He has spoken to you; be it so; he is infallible, and deceives you
not. But it is you who speak to us! And who shall assure us that
you are not in error yourselves, or that you will not lead us into
error? And if we should be deceived, how will that just God save
us contrary to law, or condemn us on a law which we have not
"He has given you the natural law," said the doctors.
"And what is the natural law?" replied the simple men. "If that
law is sufficient, why has he given any other? If it is not
sufficient, why did he make it imperfect?"
"His judgments are mysteries," said the doctors, "and his justice
is not like that of men."
"If his justice," replied the simple men, "is not like ours, by
what rule are we to judge of it? And, moreover, why all these
laws, and what is the object proposed by them?"
"To render you more happy," replied a doctor, "by rendering you
better and more virtuous. It is to teach man to enjoy his
benefits, and not injure his fellows, that God has manifested
himself by so many oracles and prodigies."
"In that case," said the simple men, "there is no necessity for so
many studies, nor of such a variety of arguments; only tell us
which is the religion that best answers the end which they all
Immediately, on this, every group, extolling its own morality above
that of all others, there arose among the different sects a new and
most violent dispute.
"It is we," said the Mussulmans, "who possess the most excellent
morals, who teach all the virtues useful to men and agreeable to
God. We profess justice, disinterestedness, resignation to
providence, charity to our brethren, alms-giving, and devotion; we
torment not the soul with superstitious fears; we live without
alarm, and die without remorse."
"How dare you speak of morals," answered the Christian priests,
"you, whose chief lived in licentiousness and preached impurity?
You, whose first precept is homicide and war? For this we appeal
to experience: for these twelve hundred years your fanatical zeal
has not ceased to spread commotion and carnage among the nations.
If Asia, so flourishing in former times, is now languishing in
barbarity and depopulation, it is in your doctrine that we find the
cause; in that doctrine, the enemy of all instruction, which
sanctifies ignorance, which consecrates the most absolute despotism
in the governors, imposes the most blind and passive obedience in
the people, that has stupefied the faculties of man, and brutalized
"It is not so with our sublime and celestial morals; it was they
which raised the world from its primitive barbarity, from the
senseless and cruel superstitions of idolatry, from human
sacrifices,* from the shameful orgies of pagan mysteries; they it
was that purified manners, proscribed incest and adultery, polished
savage nations, banished slavery, and introduced new and unknown
virtues, charity for men, their equality in the sight of God,
forgiveness and forgetfulness of injuries, the restraint of all the
passions, the contempt of worldly greatness, a life completely
spiritual and completely holy!"
- Read the cold declaration of Eusebius (Proep. Evang. lib. I, p.
11,), who pretends that, since the coming of Christ, there have
been neither wars, nor tyrants, nor cannibals, nor sodomites, nor
persons committing incest, nor savages destroying their parents,
etc. When we read these fathers of the church we are astonished at
their insincerity or infatuation.
"We admire," said the Mussulmans, "the ease with which you
reconcile that evangelical meekness, of which you are so
ostentatious, with the injuries and outrages with which you are
constantly galling your neighbors. When you criminate so severely
the great man whom we revere, we might fairly retort on the conduct
of him whom you adore; but we scorn such advantages, and confining
ourselves to the real object in question, we maintain that the
morals of your gospel have by no means that perfection which you
ascribe to them; it is not true that they have introduced into the
world new and unknown virtues: for example, the equality of men in
the sight of God,--that fraternity and that benevolence which
follow from it, were formal doctrines of the sect of the Hermatics
or Samaneans,* from whom you descend. As to the forgiveness of
injuries, the Pagans themselves had taught it; but in the extent
that you give it, far from being a virtue, it becomes an
immorality, a vice. Your so much boasted precept of turning one
cheek after the other, is not only contrary to every sentiment of
man, but is opposed to all ideas of justice. It emboldens the
wicked by impunity, debases the virtuous by servility, delivers up
the world to despotism and tyranny, and dissolves all society.
Such is the true spirit of your doctrines. Your gospels in their
precepts and their parables, never represent God but as a despot
without any rules of equity; a partial father treating a debauched
and prodigal son with more favor than his respectful and virtuous
children; a capricious master, who gives the same wages to workmen
who had wrought but one hour, as to those who had labored through
the whole day; one who prefers the last comers to the first. The
moral is everywhere misanthropic and antisocial; it disgusts men
with life and with society; and tends only to encourage hermitism
- The equality of mankind in a state of nature and in the eyes of
God was one of the principal tenets of the Samaneans, and they
appear to be the only ancients that entertained this opinion.
"As to the manner in which you have practised these morals, we
appeal in our turn to the testimony of facts. We ask whether it is
this evangelical meekness which has excited your interminable wars
between your sects, your atrocious persecutions of pretended
heretics, your crusades against Arianism, Manicheism,
Protestantism, without speaking of your crusades against us, and of
those sacrilegious associations, still subsisting, of men who take
an oath to continue them?* We ask you whether it be gospel charity
which has made you exterminate whole nations in America, to
annihilate the empires of Mexico and Peru; which makes you continue
to dispeople Africa and sell its inhabitants like cattle,
notwithstanding your abolition of slavery; which makes you ravage
India and usurp its dominions; and whether it be the same charity
which, for three centuries past, has led you to harrass the
habitations of the people of three continents, of whom the most
prudent, the Chinese and Japanese, were constrained to drive you
off, that they might escape your chains and recover their internal
- The oath taken by the knights of the Order of Malta, is to kill,
or make the Mahometans prisoners, for the glory of God.
Here the Bramins, the Rabbins, the Bonzes, the Chamans, the Priests
of the Molucca islands, and the coasts of Guinea, loading the
Christian doctors with reproaches: "Yes!" cried they, "these men
are robbers and hypocrites, who preach simplicity, to surprise
confidence; humility, to enslave with more ease; poverty, to
appropriate all riches to themselves. They promise another world,
the better to usurp the present; and while they speak to you of
tolerance and charity, they burn, in the name of God, the men who
do not worship him in their manner."
"Lying priests," retorted the missionaries, "it is you who abuse
the credulity of ignorant nations to subjugate them. It is you who
have made of your ministry an art of cheating and imposture; you
have converted religion into a traffic of cupidity and avarice.
You pretend to hold communications with spirits, and they give for
oracles nothing but your wills. You feign to read the stars, and
destiny decrees only your desires. You cause idols to speak, and
the gods are but the instruments of your passions. You have
invented sacrifices and libations, to collect for your own profit
the milk of flocks, and the flesh and fat of victims; and under the
cloak of piety you devour the offerings of the gods, who cannot
eat, and the substance of the people who are forced to labor."
"And you," replied the Bramins, the Bonzes, the Chamans, "you sell
to the credulous living, your vain prayers for the souls of the
dead. With your indulgences and your absolutions you have usurped
the power of God himself; and making a traffic of his favors and
pardons, you have put heaven at auction; and by your system of
expiations you have formed a tariff of crimes, which has perverted
- As long as it shall be possible to obtain purification from
crimes and exemption from punishment by means of money or other
frivolous practices; as long as kings and great men shall suppose
that building temples or instituting foundations, will absolve them
from the guilt of oppression and homicide; as long as individuals
shall imagine that they may rob and cheat, provided they observe
fast during Lent, go to confession, and receive extreme unction, it
is impossible there should exist in society any morality or virtue;
and it is from a deep conviction of truth, that a modern
philosopher has called the doctrine of expiations la verola des
"Add to this," said the Imans, "that these men have invented the
most insidious of all systems of wickedness,--the absurd and
impious obligation of recounting to them the most intimate secrets
of actions and of thoughts (confessions); so their insolent
curiosity has carried their inquisition even into the sanctuary of
the marriage bed,* and the inviolable recesses of the heart."
- Confession is a very ancient invention of the priests, who did
not fail to avail themselves of that means of governing. It was
practised in the Egyptian, Greek, Phrygian, Persian mysteries, etc.
Plutarch has transmitted us the remarkable answer of a Spartan whom
a priest wanted to confess. "Is it to you or to God I am to
confess?" "To God," answered the priest: "In that case," replied
the Spartan, "man, begone!" (Remarkable Savings of the
Lacedemonians.) The first Christians confessed their faults
publicly, like the Essenians. Afterwards, priests began to be
established, with power of absolution from the sin of idolatry. In
the time of Theodosius, a woman having publicly confessed an
intrigue with a deacon, bishop Necterius, and his successor
Chrysostom, granted communion without confession. It was not until
the seventh century that the abbots of convents exacted from monks
and nuns confession twice a year; and it was at a still later
period that bishops of Rome generalized it.
The Mussulmen, who suppose women to have no souls, are shocked at
the idea of confession; and say; How can an honest man think of
listening to the recital of the actions or the secret thoughts of a
woman? May we not also ask, on the other hand, how can an honest
woman consent to reveal them?
Thus by mutual reproaches the doctors of the different sects began
to reveal all the crimes of their ministry--all the vices of their
craft; and it was found that among all nations the spirit of the
priesthood, their system of conduct, their actions their morals,
were absolutely the same:
That they had everywhere formed secret associations and
corporations at enmity with the rest of society:*
- That we may understand the general feelings of priests respecting
the rest of mankind, whom they always call by the name of the
people, let us hear one of the doctors of the church. "The
people," says Bishop Synnesius, in Calvit. page 315, "are desirous
of being deceived, we cannot act otherwise respecting them. The
case was similar with the ancient priests of Egypt, and for this
reason they shut themselves up in their temples, and there composed
their mysteries, out of the reach of the eye of the people." And
forgetting what he has before just said, he adds: "for had the
people been in the secret they might have been offended at the
deception played upon them. In the mean time how is it possible to
conduct one's self otherwise with the people so long as they are
people? For my own part, to myself I shall always be a
philosopher, but in dealing with the mass of mankind, I shall be a
"A little jargon," says Geogory Nazianzen to St. Jerome (Hieron.
ad. Nep.) "is all that is necessary to impose on the people. The
less they comprehend, the more they admire. Our forefathers and
doctors of the church have often said, not what they thought, but
what circumstances and necessity dictated to them."
"We endeavor," says Sanchoniaton, "to excite admiration by means of
the marvellous." (Proep. Evang. lib. 3.)
Such was the conduct of all the priests of antiquity, and is still
that of the Bramins and Lamas who are the exact counterpart of the
Egyptian priests. Such was the practice of the Jesuits, who
marched with hasty strides in the same career. It is useless to
point out the whole depravity of such a doctrine. In general every
association which has mystery for its basis, or an oath of secrecy,
is a league of robbers against society, a league divided in its
very bosom into knaves and dupes, or in other words agents and
instruments. It is thus we ought to judge of those modern clubs,
which, under the name of Illuminatists, Martinists,
Cagliostronists, and Mesmerites, infest Europe. These societies
are the follies and deceptions of the ancient Cabalists, Magicians,
Orphies, etc., "who," says Plutarch, "led into errors of
considerable magnitude, not only individuals, but kings and
That they had everywhere attributed to themselves prerogatives and
immunities, by means of which they lived exempt from the burdens of
That they everywhere avoided the toils of the laborer, the dangers
of the soldier, and the disappointments of the merchant:
That they lived everywhere in celibacy, to shun even the cares of a
That, under the cloak of poverty, they found everywhere the secret
of procuring wealth and all sorts of enjoyments:
That under the name of mendicity they raised taxes to a greater
amount than princes:
That in the form of gifts and offerings they had established fixed
and certain revenues exempt from charges:
That under pretence of retirement and devotion they lived in
idleness and licentiousness:
That they had made a virtue of alms-giving, to live quietly on the
labors of others:
That they had invented the ceremonies of worship, as a means of
attracting the reverence of the people, while they were playing the
parts of gods, of whom they styled themselves the interpreters and
mediators, to assume all their powers; that, with this design, they
had (according to the degree of ignorance or information of their
people) assumed by turns the character of astrologers, drawers of
horoscopes, fortune-tellers, magicians,* necromancers, quacks,
physicians, courtiers, confessors of princes, always aiming at the
great object to govern for their own advantage:
- What is a magician, in the sense in which people understand the
word? A man who by words and gestures pretends to act on
supernatural beings, and compel them to descend at his call and
obey his orders. Such was the conduct of the ancient priests, and
such is still that of all priests in idolatrous nations; for which
reason we have given them the denomination of Magicians.
And when a Christian priest pretends to make God descend from
heaven, to fix him to a morsel of leaven, and render, by means of
this talisman, souls pure and in a state of grace, what is this but
a trick of magic? And where is the difference between a Chaman of
Tartary who invokes the Genii, or an Indian Bramin, who makes
Vichenou descend in a vessel of water to drive away evil spirits?
Yes, the identity of the spirit of priests in every age and country
is fully established! Every where it is the assumption of an
exclusive privilege, the pretended faculty of moving at will the
powers of nature; and this assumption is so direct a violation of
the right of equality, that whenever the people shall regain their
importance, they will forever abolish this sacrilegious kind of
nobility, which has been the type and parent stock of the other
species of nobility.
That sometimes they had exalted the power of kings and consecrated
their persons, to monopolize their favors, or participate their
That sometimes they had preached up the murder of tyrants
(reserving it to themselves to define tyranny), to avenge
themselves of their contempt or their disobedience:
And that they always stigmatised with impiety whatever crossed
their interests; that they hindered all public instruction, to
exercise the monopoly of science; that finally, at all times and in
all places, they had found the secret of living in peace in the
midst of the anarchy they created, in safety under the despotism
that they favored, in idleness amidst the industry they preached,
and in abundance while surrounded with scarcity; and all this by
carrying on the singular trade of selling words and gestures to
credulous people, who purchase them as commodities of the greatest
- A curious work would be the comparative history of the agnuses of
the pope and the pastils of the grand Lama. It would be worth
while to extend this idea to religions ceremonies in general, and
to confront column by column, the analogous or contrasting points
of faith and superstitious practices in all nations. There is one
more species of superstition which it would be equally salutary to
cure, blind veneration for the great; and for this purpose it would
be alone sufficient to write a minute detail of the private life of
kings and princes. No work could be so philosophical as this; and
accordingly we have seen what a general outcry was excited among
kings and the panders of kings, when the Anecdotes of the Court of
Berlin first appeared. What would be the alarm were the public put
in possession of the sequel of this work? Were the people fairly
acquainted with all the absurdities of this species of idol, they
would no longer be exposed to covet their specious pleasures of
which the plausible and hollow appearance disturbs their peace, and
hinders them from enjoying the much more solid happiness of their
Then the different nations, in a transport of fury, were going to
tear in pieces the men who had thus abused them; but the
legislator, arresting this movement of violence, addressed the
chiefs and doctors:
"What!" said he, "instructors of nations, is it thus that you have
And the terrified priests replied.
"O legislator! we are men. The people are so superstitious! they
have themselves encouraged these errors."*
- Consider in this view the Brabanters.
And the kings said:
"O legislator! the people are so servile and so ignorant! they
prostrated themselves before the yoke, which we scarcely dared to
- The inhabitants of Vienna, for example, who harnessed themselves
like cattle and drew the chariot of Leopold.
Then the legislator, turning to the people--"People!" said he,
"remember what you have just heard; they are two indelible truths.
Yes, you yourselves cause the evils of which you complain;
yourselves encourage the tyrants, by a base adulation of their
power, by an imprudent admiration of their false beneficence, by
servility in obedience, by licentiousness in liberty, and by a
credulous reception of every imposition. On whom shall you wreak
vengeance for the faults committed by your own ignorance and
And the people, struck with confusion, remained in mournful