Front Page Quotations Other Quotes Week of 28 September, 2009
About this Quotation:
In a world in which religious intolerance is on the increase it is useful to reflect on what some of the great philosophers, like John Locke and David Hume, have had to say on the topic. In this quotation David Hume discusses the different approaches to intolerance taken by monotheistic religious versus polytheistic one. In his view the monotheistic religious have shown greater hostility to other religions and have accordingly committed some outrageous crimes such as persecution and murder. He believes that some individuals, because of their “virtue, knowledge, love of liberty” have attracted the wrath of the religious inquisitors who have often persecuted or even murdered them. When these “lovers of liberty” have been expelled or eliminated it leaves society in a much worse state than it was before, “in the most shameful ignorance, corruption, and bondage”. Hume concludes that “the illegal murder of one man by a tyrant is more pernicious than the death of a thousand by pestilence, famine, or any undistinguishing calamity.”
Other quotes from this week:
Other quotes about Religion & Toleration:
- 2013: Lord Acton argues that civil liberty arose out of the conflict between the power of the Church and the Monarchy (1877)
- 2012: The 6th Day of Christmas: Vicesimus Knox on the Christian religion and peace on earth (1793)
- 2012: The 5th Day of Christmas: Samuel Cooper on the Articles of Confederation and peace on earth (1780)
- 2009: Noah Webster on the resilience of common religious practices in the face of attempts by the state to radically change them (1794)
- 2009: St. John, private property, and the Parable of the Wolf and the Good Shepherd (2ndC AD)
- 2008: John Locke believed that the magistrate should not punish sin but only violations of natural rights and public peace (1689)
- 2008: Job rightly wants to know why he, “the just upright man is laughed to scorn” while robbers prosper (6thC BC)
- 2008: William Findlay wants to maintain the separation of church and state and therefore sees no role for the “ecclesiastical branch” in government (1812)
- 2006: In Ecclesiastes there is the call to plant, to love, to live, and to work and then to enjoy the fruits of all one’s labors (3rdC BC)
- 2006: Pierre Bayle begins his defence of religious toleration with this appeal that the light of nature, or Reason, should be used to settle religious differences and not coercion (1708)
- 2006: Voltaire argued that religious intolerance was against the law of nature and was worse than the “right of the tiger” (1763)
- 2004: Voltaire notes that where Commerce and Toleration predominate, a Multiplicity of Faiths can live together in Peace and Happiness (1764)
- 2004: Samuel warns his people that if they desire a King they will inevitably have conscription, requisitioning of their property, and taxation (7th century BC)
- 2004: The Prophet Isaiah urges the people to “beat their swords into plowshares” and learn war no more (700s BC)
- 2004: The Psalmist laments that he lives in a Society which “hateth peace” and cries out “I am for peace: but when I speak they are for war” (1000 BC)
28 September, 2009
Read the full quote in context here.
When faced with the problem of religious persecution and even death at the hands of the inquisitor Hume argues that “the illegal murder of one man by a tyrant is more pernicious than the death of a thousand by pestilence, famine, … calamity”:
[V]irtue, knowledge, love of liberty, are the qualities which call down the fatal vengeance of inquisitors; and when expelled, leave the society in the most shameful ignorance, corruption, and bondage. The illegal murder of one man by a tyrant is more pernicious than the death of a thousand by pestilence, famine, or any undistinguishing calamity.
The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):
The intolerance of almost all religions which have maintained the unity of God is as remarkable as the contrary principle of polytheists. The implacable narrow spirit of the Jews is well known. Mahometanism set out with still more bloody principles; and even to this day, deals out damnation, though not fire and faggot, to all other sects. And if, among Christians, the English and Dutch have embraced the principles of toleration, this singularity has proceeded from the steady resolution of the civil magistrate, in opposition to the continued efforts of priest and bigots.
The disciples of Zoroaster shut the doors of heaven against all but the Magians. Nothing could more obstruct the progress of the Persian conquests than the furious zeal of that nation against the temples and images of the Greeks. And after the overthrow of that empire, we find Alexander, as a polytheist, immediately re-establishing the worship of the Babylonians, which their former princes, as monotheists, had carefully abolished. Even the blind and devoted attachment of that conqueror to the Greek superstition hindered not but he himself sacrificed according to the Babylonish rites and ceremonies.
So sociable is polytheism, that the utmost fierceness and aversion which it meets with in an opposite religion is scarcely able to disgust it, and keep it at a distance. Augustus praised extremely the reserve of his grandson, Caius Cæsar, when this latter prince, passing by Jerusalem, deigned not to sacrifice according to the Jewish law. But for what reason did Augustus so much approve of this conduct? Only because that religion was by the Pagans esteemed ignoble and barbarous. I may venture to affirm that few corruptions of idolatry and polytheism are more pernicious to political society than this corruption of theism, when carried to the utmost height. The human sacrifices of the Carthaginians, Mexicans, and many barbarous nations, scarcely exceed the Inquisition and persecutions of Rome and Madrid. For besides that the effusion of blood may not be so great in the former case as in the latter; besides this, I say, the human victims, being chosen by lot, or by some exterior signs, affect not in so considerable a degree the rest of the society. Whereas virtue, knowledge, love of liberty, are the qualities which call down the fatal vengeance of inquisitors; and when expelled, leave the society in the most shameful ignorance, corruption, and bondage. The illegal murder of one man by a tyrant is more pernicious than the death of a thousand by pestilence, famine, or any undistinguishing calamity. In the temple of Diana at Aricia near Rome, whoever murdered the present priest was legally entitled to be installed his successor. A very singular institution! For, however barbarous and bloody the common superstitions often are to the laity, they usually turn to the advantage of the holy order.
[More works by David Hume (1711 – 1776)]