Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. XXI.: PROBLEM OF RELIGIOUS CONTRADICTIONS. - The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires
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CHAP. XXI.: PROBLEM OF RELIGIOUS CONTRADICTIONS. - Constantin-François Chasseboeuf, marquis de Volney, The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires 
The Ruins: or a Survery of the Revolutions of Empires, 3rd ed. (London: J. Johnson, 1796).
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PROBLEM OF RELIGIOUS CONTRADICTIONS.
The different groupes having taken their stations, and profound silence succeeding to the confused uproar of the multitude, the legislators said: “Chiefs and doctors of the people! you perceive how the various nations of mankind, living apart, have hitherto pursued different paths, each believing its own to be that of truth. If truth, however, is one, and your opinions are opposite, it is manifest that some of you must be in error: and since so many men deceive themselves, what individual shall dare say, I am not mistaken? Begin, then, by being indulgent respecting your disputes and dissentions. Let us all seek truth, as if none of us had possession of it. The opinions which to this day have governed the earth, produced by chance, disseminated in obscurity, admitted without discussion, credited from a love of novelty and imitation, have in a manner clandestinely usurped their empire. It is time, if they are founded in reality, to give them the solemn stamp of certainty, and to legitimate their existence. Let us this day cite them to a common and general examination; let each make known his creed; let the united assembly be the judge, and let us acknowledge that to be the only true one, which is proper for the whole human race.”
Then, in order of position, the first standard at the left being desired to speak: “There can be no doubt,” said they, “that ours is the only true and infallible doctrine. In the first place, it is revealed by God himself.”
“So also is ours,” exclaimed all the other standards, “and there can be no room for doubt.”
“But it is at least necessary to explain it,” said the legislators, “for it is impossible for us to believe any thing of which we are ignorant.”
“Our doctrine,” resumed the first standard, “is proved by numerous facts, by a crowd of miracles, by resurrections from the dead, by torrents suddenly dried up, mountains removed from their situations, &c. &c.”
“We also,” cried the rest, “are in possession of miracles without number;” and each began to recite the most incredible things.
“Their miracles,” replied the first standard, “are imaginary, or the prestiges of the evil spirit who has deluded them.”
To this it was answered by the others: “They are yours, on the contrary, that are imaginary;” and each speaking of himself added: “Ours are the only true ones, all other miracles are false.”
“Have you living witnesses of their truth?” the legislators asked.
“No,” they universally answered: “they are ancient facts, of which the witnesses are dead, but these facts are recorded.”
“Be it so,” replied the legislators: “but as they contradict each other, who shall reconcile them?”
“Just arbiters!” cried one of the standards, “as a proof that our witnesses have seen the truth, they died in confirmation of it; and our creed is sealed with the blood of martyrs.”
“So also is ours,” exclaimed the rest: “we have thousands of martyrs, who have died in the most agonizing tortures, without in a single instance abjuring the truth.” And the Christians of every sect, the Mussulmans, the Indians, the Japanese, recounted endless legends of confessors, martyrs, penitents, &c.
One of these parties having denied the martyrology of the others: “We are ready,” cried they, “to die ourselves to prove the infallibility of our creed.”
Instantly a crowd of men of every sect and of every religion, presented themselves to endure whatever torments might be inflicted on them; and numbers of them began to tear their arms, and to beat their head and their breast, without discovering any symptom of pain.
But the legislators putting a stop to this violence: “O men!” said they to them, “hear with composure the words we address to you. If you die to prove that two and two make four, will this truth gain additional confirmation by your death?”
“No,” was the general answer.
“If you die to prove they are five, will this make them five?”
“No,” they again replied.
“What, then, does your persuasion prove, since it makes no alteration in the existence of things. Truth is one; your opinions are various; many of you must therefore be mistaken. And since man, as is evident, can persuade himself of error, how can his persuasion be regarded as the demonstration of evidence? Since error has its martyrs, what is the signet of truth? Since the evil spirit works miracles, what is the distinguishing characteristic of the Divinity? Beside, why this uniform resort to incomplete and insufficient miracles? Why not rather, instead of these violations of nature, change the opinions of rational beings? Why murder and terrify men, instead of enlightening and instructing them?
“O credulous mortals, and obstinate in your credulity! as we are none of us certain of what passed yesterday, of what is passing this very day before our eyes, how can we swear to the truth of what happened two thousand years ago? Weak, and at the same time proud beings! the laws of nature are immutable and profound, our understandings full of illusion and frivolity, and yet we would decide upon and comprehend every thing. But in reality it is easier for the whole human race to fall into error, than an atom of the universe to change its nature.”
“Well then,” said one of the doctors, “let us leave the evidence of facts, since such evidence is equivocal, and let us attend to the proofs of reason, and the intrinsic merit of the doctrine itself.”
An Iman of the law of Mahomet, with a look of confidence, then advanced in the sand, and having turned himself towards Mecca, and uttered with emphasis his confession of faith: “Let God be praised!” said he, in a grave and authoritative voice; “the light shines in all its splendour, and the truth has no need of examination.” Then exhibiting the Koran: “Behold the light and the truth in their genuine colours! In this book every doubt is removed; it will conduct the blind man safely, who shall receive without discussion the divine word, given to the prophet to save the simple and confound the wise. God hath appointed Mahomet to be his minister upon earth; he has delivered up the world to him, that he might subdue by his sword such as refuse to believe in his law. Infidels dispute his authority, and resist the truth: their obduracy proceeds from God, who has hardened their hearts that he might inflict upon them the most dreadful chastisements* .”
Here a violent murmur from all sides interrupted the Iman. “What man is this,” cried every groupe, “who thus gratuitously commits outrage? By what right does he pretend, as conqueror and tyrant, to impose his creed on mankind? Has not God created us as well as him with eyes, understanding, and reason? Have we not an equal right to make use of them in determining what we ought to reject, and what to believe? If he have the right to attack, have not we the right to defend ourselves? If he be content to believe without examination, are we therefore not to employ our reason in the choice of our creed?
“And what is this splendid doctrine which fears the light? What this apostle of a God of clemency who preaches only carnage and murder? What this God of justice who punishes a blindness which himself has caused? If violence and persecution are the arguments of truth, mildness and charity must they be the indices of falsehood?”
A man advancing from the next groupe then said to the Iman: “Admitting that Mahomet is the apostle of the better doctrine, the prophet of the true religion, condescend to tell us, in practising this doctrine whom we are to follow, his son-in-law Ali, or his vicars Omar and Aboubekre(24) ?”
At the mention of these names a terrible schism arose among the Mussulmans. The partisans of Omar and of Ali, treating each other as heretics and blasphemers, were equally lavish of execrations. The dispute even became so violent, that it was necessary for the neighbouring groupes to interpose to prevent their coming to blows.
Some degree of tranquillity being at length restored, the legislators said to the Imans: “You see what are the consequences which result from your principles! were they carried into practice, you would by your enmity destroy each other till not an individual would remain: and is it not the first law of God, that man should live?” Then addressing themselves to the other groupes: “This spirit of intolerance and exclusion,” said they, “is doubtless shocking to every idea of justice, and destroys the whole basis of morals and society: shall we not, however, before we entirely reject this code, agree to hear some of its dogmas recited, that we may not decide from forms only, without having investigated the religion itself?”
The groupes having consented to the proposal, the Iman began to explain to them how God, who before time had spoken to the nations sunk in idolatry by twenty-four thousand prophets, had at length sent the last, the extract and perfection of all the rest, Mahomet, in whom was vested the salvation of peace: he informed them that to prevent the word of truth from being any more perverted by infidels, the divine clemency had written with its own fingers the chapters of the Koran; and that the Koran, by virtue of its character of the word of God, was, like its author, uncreated and eternal. He proceeded to explain to them the dogmas of Islamism; that this book had been transmitted from heaven leaf by leaf in twenty-four thousand miraculous visions of the angel Gabriel; that the angel announced his approach by a small still knocking, which threw the prophet into a cold sweat; that Mahomet had in one night traversed ninety heavens, mounted upon the animal called Borak, one half woman and one half horse; that being endowed with the gift of miracles, he walked in the sunshine unattended by a shadow, caused with a single word trees already withered to resume their verdure, filled the wells and the cisterns with water, and cut in two equal parts the body of the moon; that, authorized by a commission from heaven, he had propagated, sword in hand, a religion the most worthy of God for its sublimity, the most suitable to man for the simplicity of its injunctions, consisting indeed only of eight or ten principal doctrines, such as the unity of God; the authority of Mahomet, the only prophet of God; our duty to pray five times in a day; to fast one month in the year; to repair to Mecca once at least in our lives; to pay the tenth of all that we possess; to drink no wine, to eat no pork, and to make war upon the infidels(25) ; upon which conditions every Mussulman, being himself an apostle and a martyr, should enjoy in this life a thousand blessings, and in the world to come, after a solemn trial, his soul being weighed in the balance of good works, his absolution pronounced by the two black angels, and his progress performed over the bridge that crosses the infernal pit, as narrow as a hair and as keen as a razor, should be received in the seat of delights, bathed in rivers of milk and honey, embalmed in the perfumes of India and Arabia, and live in uninterrupted commerce with those chaste females, the celestial Houris, who present a perpetually renewed virginity to the elect, who preserve a perpetual vigour.
An involuntary smile was visible in the countenance of every one at this relation; and the various groupes, reasoning upon these articles of belief, unanimously said: “Is it possible for reasonable beings to have faith in such reveries? Might one not suppose that a chapter had been just read to us from the Thousand and One Nights?”
A Samoiede advancing in the sand then said: “The paradise of Mahomet is in my opinion excellent: but one of the means of obtaining it puzzles me extremely. If, as this prophet ordains, it is necessary to abstain from meat and drink between the rising and setting of the sun, how in our country is such a fast practicable, where the sun continues above the horizon for six months together?”
To vindicate the honour of their prophet, the Mussulman doctors denied the possibility of this; but a hundred people bearing testimony to the fact, the infallibility of Mahomet sustained a violent shock.
“It is singular,” said a European, “that God should continually have revealed what was going on in heaven, without ever having informed us of what passes upon earth.”
“Their pilgrimage,” said an American, “is to me an insuperable difficulty. For let us suppose a generation to be twenty-five years, and the number of males existing on the globe to be a hundred millions: in this case, each being obliged to travel to Mecca once during his life, there would be annually engaged in the pilgrimage four millions of men; and as it would be impracticable for them to return in the same year, the number would be doubled, or in other words would amount to eight millions. Where are provisions, accommodation, water, and vessels to be found for this universal procession? What numerous miracles would it not be necessary to work!”
“The proof,” said a Catholic Divine, “that the religion of Mahomet is not a revealed religion, is, that the majority of ideas upon which it is founded existed for a long time before it, and that it is nothing more than a confused mixture formed out of the truths of our holy religion and that of the Jews, which an ambitious man has made serve his projects of dominion, and his worldly views. Turn over the pages of his book: you will see little else than the histories of the Old and New Testament travestied into the most absurd tales, and the rest a tissue of vague and contradictory declamation, and ridiculous or dangerous precepts. Analyze the spirit of these precepts, and the conduct of their apostle: you will find a subtle and daring character, which, to arrive at its end, works, it is true, with admirable skill upon the passions of those whom it wishes to govern. It addresses itself to simple and credulous men, and it tells them of prodigies: they are ignorant and jealous, and it flatters their vanity by despising science; they are poor and rapacious, and it excites their avidity by the hope of plunder; having nothing at first to give them on earth, it creates treasures in heaven; it makes them long for death, as the supreme blessing; the dastardly it threatens with hell; to the brave it promises paradise; the weak it strengthens by the principle of fatality: in short, it produces the attachment it requires, by every allurement of the senses, and the fascination of all the passions.
“How different is the character of the Christian doctrine! and how much does its empire, established on the wreck of every natural inclination and the extinction of all the passions, prove its celestial origin! How forcibly does its mild and compassionate morality attest its emanation from the Divinity! Many of its dogmas, it is true, are beyond the reach of human understanding, and impose on reason a respectful silence; but this very circumstance the more fully confirms its revelation, since the faculties of men could never have invented such sublime mysteries.”—Then, with the Bible in one hand, and the Four Evangelists in the other, the doctor began to relate that in the beginning, God (after having passed an eternity without doing any thing) conceived at length the design (without apparent motive) of forming the world out of nothing: that having in six days created the whole universe, he found himself tired on the seventh: that having placed the first pair of human beings in a delightful garden to make them completely happy, he nevertheless forbad them to taste of the fruit of one tree which he planted within their reach: that these first parents having yielded to temptation, all their race (as yet unborn) were condemned to suffer the penalty of a fault which they had no share in committing: that after permitting the human species to damn themselves for four or five thousand years, this God of compassion ordered his well-beloved son, engendered without a mother and of the same age as himself, to descend upon the earth in order to be put to death, and this for the salvation of mankind, the majority of whom have nevertheless continued in the road to sin and damnation: that to remedy this inconvenience, this God, the son of a woman, who was at once a mother and a virgin, after having died and risen again, commences a new existence every day, and under the form of a morsel of dough is multiplied a thousand fold at the pleasure of the basest of mankind. Having explained these dogmas, he was going on to treat of the doctrine of the Sacraments, of absolution and anathema, of the means of purifying men from crimes of every sort with a drop of water and the muttering half a dozen words; but he had no sooner pronounced the names of indulgence, papal prerogative, sufficient grace, and effectual grace, than he was interrupted by a thousand voices at once. It is a horrid corruption, cried the Lutherans, to pretend to sell for money the pardon of sin; it is contrary to the sense of the gospel, said the Calvinists, to talk of the real presence in the Sacrament. The Pope, exclaimed the Jansenists, has no power to decide upon any thing without a council. Thirty sects at once mutually accused each other of heresy and blasphemy, and their voices were so confused that it was no longer possible to distinguish a word they uttered.
After some time, silence being at length restored, the Mussulmans said to the legislators: “Since you have rejected our doctrine as containing things incredible, can you possibly admit that of the Christians, which is still more contrary to justice and common sense? An immaterial and infinite God to transform himself into a man! To have a son as old as himself! This God-man to become bread, which is eaten and undergoes digestion! What absurdities have we equal to these? Is it to these men belong the exclusive right of exacting a blind obedience? And will you accord to them privileges of faith, to our detriment?”
Some savage tribes then advanced: “What,” said they, “because a man and a woman eat an apple six thousand years ago, is the whole human race to be involved in damnation? And do you call God just? What tyrant ever made the children responsible for the sins of their fathers? How can one man answer for the actions of another? Would not this be overthrowing every principle of equity and reason?”
“Where,” exclaimed others, “are the witnesses and proofs of all these pretended facts? It is impossible to receive them without evidence. The most trivial action in a court of judicature requires two witnesses, and are we to believe all this upon mere tradition and hearsay?”
A Jewish Rabbin then, addressing the assembly, said: “For the general facts we are indeed sureties; but as to the form and application of those facts, the case is different, and the Christians are here condemned out of their own mouth. They cannot deny that we are the stock from which they are descended, the trunk upon which they have been grafted: from whence it follows by an inevitable dilemma, that either our law is from God, and then theirs is a heresy, since it differs from ours; or our law is not from God, and then whatever proves its falsehood is destructive of theirs.”
“But there is a proper line of distinction,” said the Christian, “to which it is necessary to attend. Your law is of God as typical and preparative, not as final and absolute; you are but the image, of which we are the reality.”
“We are not ignorant,” replied the Rabbin, “that such are your pretensions; but they are perfectly suppositious and false. Your system rests entirely on mystical(26) , visionary, and allegorical interpretations. You pervert the letter of our books, substitute continually for the true sense of a passage the most chimerical ideas, and find in them whatever is agreeable to your fancy, just as a roving imagination discovers figures in the clouds. You have thus imagined a spiritual Messiah, where our prophets speak only of a political king. You have interpreted into a redemption of the human race, what refers solely to the re-establishment of our nation. Your pretended conception of the virgin is derived from a phrase which you have wrested from its true meaning. You construe every thing as you please. You even find in our books your doctrine of the Trinity, though they contain not the most indirect allusion to it, and though the idea was an invention of profane nations, and admitted into your code, together with a multitude of other opinions of every worship and sect of which it is composed, during the chaos and anarchy of the three first ages.”
At these words, transported with indignation, and crying out sacrilege, blasphemy! the Christian doctors were disposed to lay violent hands upon the Jew: and a motley groupe of monks, some in black, some in white, advancing with a standard on which pincers, a gridiron, and a funeral pile, and the words justice, charity, and mercy, were painted* , exclaimed: “It is proper to make an example of this impious heretic, and to burn him alive for the glory of God.” And already they had pictured to their imaginations the scene of torture, when the Mussulmans in a tone of irony said to them: “Such is the religion of peace, whose humble and humane spirit you have so loudly vaunted! Such that evangelical charity which combats incredulity with no other weapon than mildness, and opposes only patience to injuries! Hypocrites, it is thus you deceive nations! It is in this manner you have propagated your destructive errors! When weak, you have preached liberty, toleration, and peace; when power has been in your hands, you have practised violence and persecution!” . . . . And they were beginning to recite the wars and murders of Christianity, when the legislators, demanding silence, assuaged for a while the discord.
“It is not,” replied the monks in a tone of affected mildness and humility, “ourselves that we would avenge, we are desirous only of defending the cause and glory of God.”
“And what right have you,” said the Imans, “to constitute yourselves his representatives more than we? Have you privileges that we are not favoured with? Are you beings of a different nature from us?”
“To take upon ourselves to defend God, is to insult his wisdom and power,” said another groupe. “Does he not know better than mortals what is becoming his dignity!”
“Certainly,” rejoined the monks; “but his ways are secret.”
“You, however,” said the Rabbins, “will always find the difficulty insuperable of proving that you enjoy the exclusive privilege of comprehending them.” And the Jews, proud of finding their cause supported, fondly pleased themselves with the idea that their books would be triumphant; when the Mobed* of the Parses begged leave to speak.
“We have heard,” said he to the legislators, the account of the Jews and Christians respecting the origin of the world, and though they have introduced various curruptions, they have related a number of facts which our religion admits; but we deny that they are to be attributed to the Hebrew legislator. It was not he who made known to mankind these sublime dogmas, these celestial events: it was not to him that God revealed them, but to our holy prophet Zoroaster; and proofs of this are to be found in the very books in question. If you examine with attention the detail of laws, of rights, and of precepts established by Moses, you will no where find the most tacit indication of what constitutes at present the basis of the Jewish and Christian theology. You will perceive no trace either of the immortality of the soul, or a life to come, or hell, or paradise, or the revolt of the principal angel, author of all the evils which have afflicted the human race, &c. These ideas were unknown to Moses, and this appears from indisputable evidence, since it was not till four hundred years after him that they were first promulgated by Zoroaster in Asia(27) .”
The Mobed added, addressing himself to the Rabbins: “It was not till this epocha, till after the age of your first kings, that these ideas appeared in your writings; and then their appearance was furtive and gradual, according as there grew up a political relation between your ancestors and ours. It was particularly at the period when, conquered and dispersed by the kings of Nineveh and Babylon, your progenitors resorted to the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates, and resided in our country for three successive generations, that they imbibed our manners and opinions, which before they had regarded with aversion, as contrary to their law. When our king, Cyrus, had delivered them from slavery they felt attached to us from sentiments of gratitude; they became our disciples and imitators, and introduced our peculiar doctrines into the corrected publication of their sacred books(28) ; for your Genesis in particular was never the work of Moses, but a compilation digested after the return from the Babylonish captivity, and containing in it the Chaldean opinions respecting the origin of the world.
“At first the pure followers of the law, opposing to the emigrants the letter of the text and the absolute silence of the prophet, endeavoured to overpower these innovations; but they ultimately prevailed, and our doctrines, modified according to your ideas, gave rise to a new sect. You expected a king, the restorer of your political independence; we announced a God, the regenerator of the world, and the saviour of mankind. These ideas blended together, constituted the tenets of the Essenians, and through them became the basis of Christianity. Jews, Christians, Mahometans, however lofty may be your pretensions, you are, in your spiritual and immaterial system, only the blundering followers of Zoroaster!”
Having thus commenced his discourse, the Mobed went on to the detail of his religion; and supporting his sentiments by quotations from the Zadder and the Zendavesta, he recounted in the same order as they are found in the book of Genesis, the creation of the world in six gahans(29) ; the formation of a first man and a first woman in a peculiar and celestial habitation, under the reign of perfect good; the introduction of evil into the world by the greatlizard, the emblem of Ahrimanes; the revolt and combat of this magnificent genius of darkness, against Ormuz the benevolent God of light; the distribution of angels into white and black, good and ill; their hierarchy consisting of cherubim, feraphim, thrones, dominions, &c.; the end of the world at the close of six thousand years; the coming of the Lamb, the regenerator of nature; the new world; the life to come in an abode of felicity or anguish; the passage of souls over the bridge of the abyss; the celebration of the mysteries of Mithra; the unleavened bread that is set a part for the initiated: the baptism of new-born children; extreme unction and auricular confession(30) ; in a word, he repeated so many articles analogous to those of the three preceding religions, that his discourse seemed to be a commentary or a continuation of the Koran or the Apocalypse.
But the Jewish, Christian, and Mahometan doctors excepted to this detail, and treating the Parses as idolatrous worshippers of fire, charged them with falsehood, invention, and alteration of facts. A violent dispute then arose respecting the dates of events, their order and succession, respecting the origin of opinions, their transmission from one people to another, the authenticity of the books which establish them, the epocha when these books were composed, the character of their compilers, the value of their testimony; and the various parties proving, each against the rest, contradictions, improbabilities, and the counterfeit nature of their books, accused one another of having founded their creed upon popular rumours, upon vague traditions, upon absurd fables, invented by folly, and admitted without examination by unknown, ignorant, or partial writers, at doubtful periods, and different from those to which their partisans referred them.
A loud rumour was now excited under the standards of the various Indian sects, and the Bramins, entering their protest against the claims of the Jews and the Parses, said: “What are these upstart and almost unknown people, who thus arrogantly consider themselves as the founders of nations, and the depositories of the sacred archives? To hear their calculations of five or six thousand years, one would suppose that the world was but of yesterday, whereas our monuments prove a duration of many thousands of centuries. And in what respect are their books preferable to ours? Are then the Vedes, the Chastres, the Pourans, inferior to the Bible, the Zendavesta, the Sadder(31) ? Is not the testimony of our progenitors and our Gods, of equal value with that of the Gods and progenitors of the western world? Oh! were we permitted to reveal to profane men the mysteries of our religion! Did not a sacred veil justly hide our doctrine from every eye!”. . . .
The Bramins suddenly observing a profound silence: “How,” said the legislators, “can we admit your doctrine, if you resuse to make it known? How could its first authors propagate it, when, having sole possession of it, they regarded even their own people as profane? Has heaven revealed it that it might be kept a secret?”
The Bramins however persisted in their silence; and a European at this moment offering to speak, remarked, that their secrecy was at present an empty form, that their sacred books were divulged and their doctrine explained: he accordingly undertook to recapitulate its several articles.
Beginning with an abstract of the four Vedes, the twenty-eight Pourans, and the five or six Chastres, he recounted how an immaterial, infinite, eternal, and round Being, after having passed an unlimited portion of time in self-contemplation, desirous at length of manifesting himself, separated the faculties of male and female which were in him, and operated an act of generation of which the Lingam remains the emblem: how from this first act were born three divine powers, of the names of Brama, Bichen, or Vichenou, and Chibor Chiven(32) , the first deputed to create, the second to preserve, the third to destroy or change the form of the universe. He then detailed the history of their exploits and adventures, and related how Brama, proud of having created the world and the eight Bobouns (or spheres) of probation, and of being preferred to his equal Chib, this pride occasioned between them a combat, in which the globes or celestial orbits were broken to pieces, as if they had been a basket of eggs: how Brama overcome in this contest, was reduced to serve as a pedestal to Chib, metamorphosed into the Lingam: how Vichenou, the preserver of the universe, had, in the discharge of his function, assumed nine animal and mortal forms; how under the first, that of a fish, he saved from the universal deluge a family by whom the earth was re-peopled; afterwards, in the shape of a tortoise(33) , drew from the sea of milk the mountain Mandreguiri (the Pole); then, under that of a boar, tore the entrails of the giant Erenniachessen, by whom the earth had been sunk in the abyss of Djole, from which he delivered it; how he became incarnate under the form of the Black Shepherd, and bearing the name of Chris-en rescued the world from the venomous serpent Calengam, whose head he crushed, after having himself received a wound in his heel.
Passing to the history of the secondary Genii, unfolded to the assembly how the Eternal, for the display of his glory, had created divers orders of angels, whose office it was to sing his praises and direct the universe: that a part of these angels had revolted under the conduct of an ambitious chief, who wished to usurp the power of God, and take the reigns of government into his own hands: that God precipitated them into a world of darkness as a punishment for their misdeeds: that at last, touched with compassion, he consented to withdraw them from thence, and to receive them again into favour, after previously subjecting them to a long state of probation: that for this purpose, having created fifteen orbits or regions of planets, and bodies to inhabit them, he obliged these rebellious angels to undergo eighty-seven transmigrations: that the souls, thus purified, returned to their primitive source, to the ocean of life from which they had emanated: that as all living beings contained a portion of this universal soul, it was an act of great criminality to deprive them of it. He was proceeding to develope the rites and ceremonies of this religion, when, speaking of offerings and libations of milk and butter to Gods of wood and of brass, he was interrupted by a universal murmur mixed with loud bursts of laughter.
Each of the different groupes reasoned in its own particular manner respecting this system. “They are idolaters,” said the Mussulmans, “it is our duty to exterminate them”. . . . “They are mad,” said the followers of Confucius, “it is our duty to cure them”. . . . “What absurd Gods,” cried the rest, “a set of fat monkeys begrimmed with smoke, whom they wash like children in clouts, and from whom they drive away the flies, lured by the taste of honey, who would otherwise defile them with their excrements!”
At these words a Bramin, bursting with indignation, exclaimed: “These are inscrutable mysteries, the profound emblems of truth, which you are not worthy to know.”
“And how comes it,” replied a Lama of Thibet, “that you are more worthy than we? Is it because you pretend to be sprung from the head of Brama, while the rest of mankind derive their origin from the less noble parts of his body? If you would support the fable of your origin, and the vain distinctions of your casts, prove that you are of a nature different from us; prove at least by historical testimony the allegories you maintain; nay, prove that you are really the authors of this system; for on our part we are able to prove, if that were necessary, that you have only stolen and disfigured it; that you have borrowed the ancient paganism of the western world, and blended it by an absurd conceit with the purely spiritual nature of our Gods(34) , a nature which stoops not to address itself to the senses, and was wholly unknown to the world till the mission of Beddou.”
Instantly innumerable voices demanded to be informed of this nature, and to hear of that God with whose very name the majority of them were unacquainted. In pursuance of this demand, the Lama resumed.
“In the beginning,” said he, “there was one God, self-existent, who passed through a whole eternity, absorbed in the contemplation of his own reflections, ere he determined to manifest those perfections to created beings, when he produced the matter of the world. The four elements, at their production, lay in a state of mingled confusion, till he breathed upon the face of the waters, and they immediately became an immense bubble, shaped like an egg, which when complete became the vault or globe of the heavens in which the world is inclosed(35) . No sooner was the earth and the bodies of animals produced, than God, the source of motion, bestowed upon them as a living soul a portion of his substance. Thus the soul of every living thing, being only a fraction or separate part of the universal soul, no percipient being is liable to perish, but merely changes its form and mould as it passes successively into different bodies. But of all the substantial forms that of man is most pleasing to the Divine Being, as most resembling his uncreated perfections; and man, when, by withdrawing himself from the commerce of the senses, he becomes absorbed in the contemplation of his own nature, discovers the Divinity that resides in it, and himself becomes worthy of Divinity. Thus is God incessantly rendering himself incarnate; but his greatest and most solemn incarnation was three thousand years ago, in the province of Cassimere, under the name of Fôt or Beddou, for the purpose of teaching the doctrine of self-denial and self-annihilation.” The Lama proceeded to detail the history of Fôt, observing, that he had sprung from the right intercostal of a virgin of the royal blood, who, when she became a mother, did not the less continue to be a virgin: that the king of the country, uneasy at his birth, was desirous to put him to death, and caused all the males who were born at the same period to be massacred: that being saved by shepherds, Beddou lived in the desert to the age of thirty years, at which time he opened his commission, preaching the doctrine of truth and casting out devils: that he performed a multitude of the most astonishing miracles, spent his life in fasting and the severest mortifications, and at his death bequeathed to his disciples the volume in which the principles of his religion are contained. The Lama then began to read—
“He that forsaketh his father and his mother,” says Fôt, “to follow me, shall become a perfect Samanean (a heavenly being).
“He that keepeth my precepts to the fourth degree of perfection, shall acquire the power of flying in the air, of moving earth and heaven, of protracting or shortening his life, and of rising again.
“The Samanean looks with contempt on riches, and makes use only of such things as are strictly necessary. He mortifies the flesh, subdues his passions, fixes his desires and affections on nothing terrestrial, meditates without ceasing upon my doctrine, endures injuries with patience, and bears no enmity against his neighbour.
“Heaven and earth,” says Fôt, “shall pass away; despise therefore your bodies which are composed of the four perishable elements, and think only of your immortal soul.
“Hearken not to the suggestions of the flesh: fear and sorrow are the produce of the passions: stifle the passions, and fear and sorrow will thus be destroyed.
“Whosoever dies,” says Fôt, “without having received my doctrine, becomes again and again an inhabitant of the earth, till he shall have embraced it.”
The Lama was going on with his extracts when the Christians interrupted him, observing, that this religion was an alteration of theirs; that Fôt was Jesus himself disfigured, and that the Lamas were nothing more than a degenerate sect of the Nestorians and Manicheans.
But the Lama(36) , supported by all the Chamans, Bonzes, Gonnis, Talapoins of Siam, of Ceylon, of Japan, and of China, demonstrated to the Christians from their own Theologians, that the doctrine of the Samaneans was known through the East upwards of a thousand years before Christianity existed; that their name was cited previous to the reign of Alexander, and that that of Boutta or Beddou could be traced to a more remote antiquity than that of Jesus—“And now, said they, retorting upon the Christians, do you prove to us that you are not yourselves degenerated Samaneans; that the man whom you consider as the author of your sect is not Fôt himself in a different form. Demonstrate his existence by historical monuments of so remote a period as those which we have adduced(37) ; for as it appears to be founded on no authentic testimony, we absolutely deny its truth; and we maintain that your gospels are taken from the books of the Mythriacs of Persia, and the Essenians of Syria, who were themselves only reformed Samaneans(38) .”
These words excited a general outcry on the part of the Christians, and a new dispute more violent than any preceding one was on the point of taking place, when a groupe of Chinese Chamans, and Talapoins of Siam came forward, pretending that they could easily adjust every difference, and produce in the assembly a uniformity of opinion, and one of them speaking for the rest, said: “It is time that we should put an end to all these frivolous disputes, by drawing aside the veil and exposing to your view the interior and secret doctrine which Fôt himself, on his death-bed, revealed to his disciples(39) . These various theological opinions are mere chimeras; these accounts of the attributes, actions and life of the Gods are nothing more than allegories and mysterious symbols, under which moral ideas, and the knowledge of the operations of nature in the action of the elements and the revolutions of the planets, are ingeniously depicted.
“The truth is, that there is no reality in any thing; that all is illusion, appearance, a dream; that the moral metemsychosis is nothing more than a figurative sense of the physical metemsychosis, of that successive motion by which the elements of which a body is composed, and which never perish, pass, when the body itself is dissolved, into a thousand others, and form new combinations. The soul is merely the vital principle resulting from the properties of matter, and the action of the elements in bodies, in which they create a spontaneous movement. To suppose that this result of organization, which is born with it, developed with it, sleeps with it, continues to exist when organization is no more, is a romance that may be pleasing enough, but that is certainly chimerical. God himself is nothing more than the principal mover, the occult power diffused through every thing that has being, the sum of its laws and its properties, the animating principle, in a word, the soul of the universe; which, by reason of the infinite diversity of its connections and operations, considered sometimes as simple and sometimes as multiple, sometimes as active and sometimes as passive, has ever presented to the human mind an insolvable enigma. What we can comprehend with greatest perspicuity is, that matter does not perish; that it possesses essential properties, by which the world is governed in a mode similar to that of a living and organised being; that, with respect to man, the knowledge of its laws is what constitutes his wisdom; that in their observance consist virtue and merit; and evil, sin, vice, in the ignorance and violation of them; that happiness and misfortune are the respective result of this observance or neglect, by the same necessity that occasions light substances to ascend, heavy ones to fall, and by a fatality of causes and effects, the chain of which extends from the smallest atom to the stars of greatest magnitude and elevation(40) .”
A crowd of Theologians of every sect instantly exclaimed, that this doctrine was rank materialism, and those who professed it impious Atheists, enemies both of God and man, who ought to be extirpated from the earth.—“Strange reasoning,” replied the Chamans. “Supposing us to be mistaken, which is by no means impossible, since it is one of the attributes of the human mind to be subject to illusion, what right have you to deprive beings like yourselves of the life which God has given them? If heaven considers us as culpable, and looks upon us with horror, why does it dispense to us the same blessings as to you! If it treats us with endurance, what right have you to be less indulgent? Pious men, who speak of God with so much certainty and confidence, condescend to tell us what he is; explain, so that we may comprehend them, those abstract and metaphysical beings which you call God and the soul; substances without matter, existence without body, life without organs or sensations. If you discover these beings by means of your senses, render them in like manner perceptible to us. If you speak of them only upon testimony and tradition, show us a uniform recital, and give an identical and determinate basis to your creed.”
There now arose a warm controversy between the Theologians respecting the nature of God and his mode of acting and manifesting himself; respecting the soul and its union with the body, whether it has existence previous to the organs, or from the time of their formation only; respecting the life to come and another world; and every sect, every school, every individual, differing from the rest as to all these points, and assigning for its dissent plausible reasons and respectable but opposite authorities, they were all involved in an inextricable labyrinth of contradictions.
At length, the legislators having restored silence, recalled the dispute to its true object, and said: “Leaders and instructors of the people, you came hither for the purpose of investigating truth; and at first every one of you, confident in his own infallibility, demanded an implicit faith: presently, however, you felt the contrariety of your opinions, and consented to submit them to a fair comparison and a common rule of evidence. You proceeded to expose your proofs: you began with the allegation of facts; but it presently appeared that every religion and every sect had its miracles and its martyrs, and had an equal cloud of witnesses to boast, who were ready to prove the rectitude of their sentiments by the sacrifice of their lives. Upon this first point therefore the balance remained equal.
“You next passed to proofs of reasoning: the same arguments were alternately applied to the support of opposite propositions; the same assertions, equally gratuitous were successively advanced and repelled; every one was found to have an equal reason for denying his assent to the system of the others. A farther consequence that arose from thus confronting your systems was, that, notwithstanding their dissimilitude in some points, their resemblance in others was not less striking. Each of you claimed the first deposit and the original discovery; each of you taxed his neighbour with adulteration and plagiarism; and a previous question to the embracing of any of your doctrines appeared to result from the history of opinions.
“A still greater embarrassment arose when you entered into the explication of your doctrines: the more assiduous were your endeavours, the more confused did they appear; they rested upon a basis inaccessible to human understanding, of consequence you had no means to judge of their validity, and you readily admitted that, in asserting them, you were the echos of your fathers. Hence it became important to know how they had come into the hands of that former generation, who had no means of learning them different from yourselves. Thus the transmission of theological ideas from country to country, and their first rise in the human understanding, were equally mysterious, and the question became every moment more complicated with metaphysical subtlety and antiquarian research.
“But as these opinions, however extraordinary, have some origin; as all ideas, even the most abstracted and fantastical, have in nature some physical model, we must ascend to that origin in order to discover what this model is, and how the understanding came by those ideas of Deity, the soul and immaterial beings, that are so obscure, and which form the foundation of so many religious systems; we must trace their lineal descent and the alterations they have undergone in their various successions and ramifications. If therefore there are in this assembly men who have made these objects their peculiar study, let them come forward and endeavour to dispel, in the presence of the nations of the earth, the obscurity of opinions in which for so long a period they have all wandered.”
[* ]This passage contains the sense and nearly the very words of the first chapter of the Koran; and the reader will observe in general, that, in the pictures that follow, the writer has endeavoured to give as accurately as possible the letter and spirit of the opinions of each party.
[* ]This description answers exactly to the colours of the Inquisition of Spanish Jacobins.
[Page 179. (24).]His son-in-law Ali, or his vicars Omar and Aboubekre. These are the two grand parties into which the Mussulmans are divided. The Turks have embraced the second, the Persians the first.
[Page 182. (25).]To make war upon infidels. Whatever the advocates for the philosophy and civilization of the Turks may assert, to make war upon infidels is considered by them as an obligatory precept and an act of religion. See Reland de Relig. Moham.
[Page 190. (26).]Your system rests entirely on mystical interpretations. When we read the fathers of the church, and see upon what arguments they have built the edifice of religion, we are inexpressibly astonished with their credulity, or their knavery; but allegory was the rage of that period: the Pagans employed it to explain the actions of their Gods, and the Christians acted in the same spirit when they employed it after their fashion.
[Page 195. (27).]It was not till four hundred years after. See the Chronology of the Twelve Ages, in which I conceive myself to have clearly proved that Moses lived about 1400 years before Jesus Christ, and Zoroaster about a thousand.
[Page 196. (28).]In the corrected publication of their sacred books. In the first periods of the Christian church, not only the most learned of those who have since been denominated heretics, but many of the orthodox, conceived Moses to have written neither the law nor the Pentateuch, but that the work was a compilation made by the elders of the people and the Seventy, who, after the death of Moses, collected his scattered ordinances, and mixed with them things that were extraneous; similar to what happened as to the Koran of Mahomet. See Les Clementines, Homel. 2. sect. 51. and Homel. 3. sect. 42.
[Page 197. (29).]Creation of the world in six gahans, or periods, or into six gahan-bars, that is, six periods of time. These periods are what Zoroaster calls the thousands of God or of light, meaning the six summer months. In the first, say the Persians, God created (arranged in order) the heavens; in the second the waters; in the third the earth; in the fourth trees; in the fifth animals; and in the sixth man: corresponding with the account in Genesis. For particulars see Hyde, ch. 9. and Henry Lord, ch. 2. On the religion of the ancient Persians. It is remarkable, that the same tradition is found in the sacred books of the Etrurians, which relate, “that the Fabricator of all things had comprised the duration of his work in a period of twelve thousand years, which period was distributed to the twelve houses of the sun.” In the first thousand, God made heaven and earth; in the second, the firmament; in the third, the sea and the waters; in the fourth, the sun, moon, and stars; in the fifth, the soul of animals, birds, and reptiles; in the sixth, man. See Suidas, at the word Tyrrhena; which shows first, the identity of their theological and astrological opinions; and secondly, the identity, or rather confusion of ideas, between absolute and systematical creation, that is, the periods assigned for renewing the face of nature, which were at first the period of the year, and afterwards periods of 60, of 600, of 25,000, of 36,000, and of 432,000 years.
[Page 198. (30).]Auricular confession, &c. The modern Parses and the ancient Mithriacs, who are the same sect, observe all the Christian sacraments, even the laying on of hands in confirmation. “The priest of Mithra,” says Tertullian (de Prœscriptione, c. 40.) “promises absolution from sin on confession and baptism; and, if I rightly remember, Mithra marks the soldiers in the forehead (with the chrism, called in Egyptian Kouphi); he celebrates the sacrifice of bread, which is the resurrection, and presents the crown to his followers, menacing them at the same time with the sword, &c.”
[Page 199. (31).]The Vedes, the Chastres, and the Pourans. These are the sacred volumes of the Hindoos; they are sometimes written Vedams, Pouranams, Chastrans, because the Hindoos, like the Persians, are accustomed to give a nasal sound to the terminations of their words, which we represent by the affixes on and an, and the Portuguese by the affixes om and am. Many of these books have been translated, thanks to the liberal spirit of Mr. Hastings, who has founded at Calcutta a literary society and a printing press. At the same time, however, that we express our gratitude to this society, we must be permitted to complain of its exclusive spirit, the number of copies printed of each book being such as it is impossible to purchase them even in England; they are wholly in the hands of the East India proprietors. Scarcely even is the Asiatic Miscellany known in Europe, and a man must be very learned in oriental antiquity before he so much as hears of the Jones’s, the Wilkins’s and the Halhed’s, &c. As to the sacred books of the Hindoos, all that are yet in our hands are the Bhagvat Geeta, the Ezour-Vedam, the Bagavadam, and certain fragments of the Chastres printed at the end of the Bhagvat Geeta. These books are in Indostan what the Old and New Testament are in Christendom, the Koran in Turkey, the Sad-der and the Zendavesta among the Parses, &c. When I have taken an extensive survey of their contents, I have sometimes asked myself, what would be the loss to the human race if a new Omar condemned them to the flames; and unable to discover any mischief that would ensue, I call the imaginary chest that contains them, the box of Pandora.
[Page 201. (32).]Brama, Bichen or Vichenou, Chib or Chiven. These names are differently pronounced according to the different dialects: thus they say Birmah, Bremma, Brouma. Bichen has been turned into Vichen by the easy exchange of a B for a V, and into Vichenou by means of a grammatical affix. In the same manner Chib, which is synonymous with Satan, and signifies adversary, is frequently written Chib-a and Chiv-en; he is called also Rouder and Routr-en, that is, the destroyer.
[Page id. (33).]In the shape of a tortoise. This is the constellation testudo, or the lyre, which was at first a tortoise, on account of its slow motion round the Pole; then a lyre, because it is the shell of this reptile on which the strings of the lyre are mounted. See an excellent memoir of M. Dupuis, sur l’Origine des Constellations, in 4to.
[Page 204. (34).]That you have borrowed the ancientPaganism of the Western world. All the ancient opinions of the Egyptian and Grecian theologians are to be found in India, and they appear to have been introduced, by means of the commerce of Arabia and the vicinity of Persia, time immemorial.
[Page 205. (35).]Breathed upon the face of the waters. This cosmogony of the Lamas, the Bonzes, and even the Bramins, as Henry Lord asserts, is literally that of the ancient Egyptians. “The Egyptians,” says Porphyry, “call Kneph, intelligence, or efficient cause of the universe. They relate that this God vomitted an egg, from which was produced another God named Phtha or Vulcan, (igneous principle, or the sun,) and they add, that this egg is the world. Euseb. Præp. Evang. p. 115.
[Page 208. (36).]That the Lamas were a degenerate sect. of the Nestorians. This is asserted by our missionaries, and among others by Georgi in his unfinished work of the Thibetan alphabet: but if it can be proved that the Manicheans were but plagiarists, and the ignorant echo of a doctrine that existed fifteen hundred years before them, what becomes of the declarations of Georgi? See upon this subject Beausob. Hist. du Manicheisme.
[Page 209. (37).]Demonstrate his existence, &c. There are absolutely no other monuments of the existence of Jesus Christ as a human being, than a passage in Josephus (Antiq. Jud. lib. 18. c. 3.), a single phrase in Tacitus, (Annal. lib. 15. c. 44.), and the Gospels. But the passage in Josephus is unanimously acknowledged to be apocryphal, and to have been interpolated towards the close of the third century, (See Trad. de Josephe, par M. Gillet); and that of Tacitus is so vague, and so evidently taken from the deposition of the Christians before the tribunals, that it may be ranked in the class of evangelical records. It remains to enquire of what authority are these records. “All the world knows,” says Faustus, who, though a Manichean, was one of the most learned men of the third century, “All the world knows, that the Gospels were neither written by Jesus Christ, nor his apostles, but by certain unknown persons, who, rightly judging that they should not obtain belief respecting things which they had not seen, placed at the head of their recitals the names of contemporary apostles.” See Beausob. vol. i. and Hist. des Apologistes de la Relig. Chret. par Burigni, a sagacious writer, who has demonstrated the absolute uncertainty of these foundations of the Christian religion; so that the existence of Jesus is no better proved than that of Osiris and Hercules, or that of Fôt or Bedou, with whom, says M. de Guignes, the Chinese continually confound him, for they never call Jesus by any other name than Fôt. Hist. de Huns.
[Page id. (38.)]Your Gospels are taken from the books of the Mithriacs. That is to say, from the pious romances formed out of the sacred legends of the Mysteries of Mithra, Ceres, Isis, &c.; from whence are equally derived the books of the Hindoos and the Bonzes. Our missionaries have long remarked a striking resemblance between those books and the Gospels. M. Wilkins expresly mentions it in a note in the Bhagvat-Geeta. All agree that Krisna, Fôt, and Jesus, have the same characteristic features; but religious prejudice has stood in the way of drawing from this circumstance the proper and natural inference. To time and reason must it be left to display the truth.
[Page 210. (39).]The interior and secret doctrine. The Budsoists have two doctrines, the one public and ostensible, the other interior and secret, precisely like the Egyptian priests. It may be asked, why this distinction? It is, that as the public doctrine recommends offerings, expiations, endowments, &c. the priests find their profit in teaching it to the people; whereas the other, teaching the vanity of worldly things, and attended with no lucre, it is thought proper to make it known only to adepts. Can the teachers and followers of this religion, be better classed than under the heads of knavery and credulity?
[Page 212. (40).]That happiness and misfortune, &c. These are the expressions of La Loubere, in his description of the kingdom of Siam and the theology of the Bonzes. Their dogmas, compared with those of the ancient philosophers of Greece and Italy, give a complete representation of the whole system of the Stoics and Epicureans, mixed with astrological superstitions, and some traits of Pythagorism.