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THE SERMON OF THE FIFTY - Voltaire, Toleration and Other Essays 
Toleration and Other Essays by Voltaire. Translated, with an Introduction, by Joseph McCabe (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1912).
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THE SERMON OF THE FIFTY
Fifty cultivated, pious, and reasonable persons have, for a year past, met every Sunday in a large commercial town. They have prayers, and then a member of the society gives a discourse. They afterwards dine, and a collection for the poor is made after dinner. Each presides in turn, and it is the duty of the president to offer the prayer and give the sermon. Here are one of the prayers and one of the sermons.
If the seed of these words fall on good soil, it will assuredly bear fruit.
God of all the globes and stars, the one prayer that it is meet to offer to you is submission. How can we ask anything of him who arranged and enchained all things from the beginning? Yet if it is permitted to expose our needs to a father, preserve in our hearts this feeling of submission and a pure religion. Keep from us all superstition. Since there are those who insult you with unworthy sacrifices, abolish those infamous mysteries. Since there are those who dishonour the divinity with absurd fables, may those fables perish for ever. If the days of the prince and the magistrate were not numbered from all eternity, give them length of days. Preserve the purity of our ways, the friendship of our brethren for each other, their goodwill towards all men, their obedience to the laws, and their wisdom in private life. Let them live and die in the worship of one God, the rewarder of good, the punisher of evil; a God that could not be born or die, nor have associates, but who has too many rebellious children in this world.
My brethren, religion is the secret voice of God speaking to men. It ought to unite men, not divide them; hence every religion that belongs to one people only is false. Ours is, in principle, that of the whole universe; for we worship a supreme being as all nations do, we practise the justice which all nations teach, and we reject all the untruths with which the nations reproach each other. At one with them in the principle which unites them, we differ from them in the things about which they are in conflict.
The point on which all men of all times agree must be the centre of truth, and the points on which they all differ must be standards of falsehood. Religion must conform to morality, and, like it, be universal; hence every religion whose dogmas offend against morality is certainly false. It is under this twofold aspect of perversity and falseness that we will, in this discourse, examine the books of the Hebrews and of those who have succeeded them. Let us first see if these books conform to morality; we shall then see if they have any shade of probability. The first two points will deal with the Old Testament; the third will discuss the New.
You know, my brethren, what horror fell on us when we read together the writings of the Hebrews, confining our attention to those features which offend against purity, charity, good faith, justice, and reason—features which one not only finds in every chapter, but, unhappily, one finds consecrated in them.
First, to say nothing of the extravagant injustice which they venture to ascribe to the supreme being, in endowing a serpent with speech in order to seduce a woman and her innocent posterity, let us run over in succession all the historical horrors which outrage nature and good sense. One of the patriarchs, Lot, the nephew of Abraham, receives in his house two angels disguised as pilgrims; the inhabitants of Sodom entertain impure desires of these angels; Lot, who had two daughters promised in marriage, offers to abandon them to the people instead of the two strangers. These young women must have been strangely familiar with evil ways, since the first thing they do after the destruction of their town by a rain of fire, and after their mother has been changed into a pillar of salt, is to intoxicate their father on two consecutive nights, in order to sleep with him in succession. It is an imitation of the ancient Arabic legend of Cyniras and Myrrha. But in this more decent legend Myrrha is punished for her crime, while the daughters of Lot are rewarded with what is, in Jewish eyes, the greatest and dearest blessing: they become the mothers of a numerous posterity.
We will not insist on the falsehood of Isaac, the father of the just, who says that his wife is his sister; whether he was merely repeating the falsehood of Abraham, or Abraham was really guilty of taking his sister to wife. But let us dwell for a moment on the patriarch Jacob, who is offered to us as a model man. He compels his brother, who is dying of hunger, to give up his birthright for a dish of lentils. He afterwards deceives his aged father on his death-bed. After deceiving his father, he deceives and robs his father-in-law Laban. Not content with wedding two sisters, he lies with all his servants; and God blesses this licentiousness and trickery. Who are the children of such a father? His daughter Dinah pleases a prince of Sichem, and it is probable that she loves the prince, since she lies with him. The prince asks her in marriage, and she is promised on condition that he and all his people are circumcised. The prince accepts the condition; but as soon as he and his people undergo this painful operation—which, nevertheless, leaves them strong enough to defend themselves—Jacob’s family murder all the men of Sichem and enslave their women and children.
We have in our infancy heard the story of Pelopæus. This incestuous abomination is repeated in Judah, the patriarch and father of the first tribe. He lies with his daughter-in-law, and then wishes to have her killed. The book declares that then Joseph, a child of this vagabond family, is sold into Egypt, and that, foreigner as he is, he is made first minister as a reward for explaining a dream. What a first minister he was, compelling a whole nation to enslave itself, during a time of famine, to obtain food! What magistrate among us would, in time of famine, dare to propose so abominable a bargain, and what nation would accept it? Let us not stay to examine how seventy members of the family of Joseph, who settled in Egypt, could in two hundred and fifteen years increase to six hundred thousand fighting men, without counting the women, old men, and children, which would make a total of more than two millions. Let us not discuss how it is that the text has four hundred and thirty years, when the same text has given two hundred and fifteen. The infinite number of contradictions, which are the seal of imposture, is not the point which we are considering. Let us likewise pass over the ridiculous prodigies of Moses and of Pharaoh’s magicians, and all the miracles wrought to give the Jewish people a wretched bit of poor country, which they afterwards purchase by blood and crime, instead of giving them the fertile soil of Egypt, where they were. Let us confine ourselves to the frightful iniquity of their ways.
Their God had made a thief of Jacob, and he now makes thieves of the entire people. He orders his people to steal and take away with them all the gold and silver vessels and utensils of the Egyptians. Behold these wretches, to the number of six hundred thousand fighting men, instead of taking up arms like men of spirit, flying like brigands led by their God. If their God had wished to give them a good country, he might have given them Egypt. He does not, however; he leads them into a desert. They might have fled by the shortest route, yet they go far out of their way to cross the Red Sea dryfoot. After this fine miracle Moses’ own brother makes them another god, and this god is a calf. To punish his brother Moses commands certain priests to kill their sons, brothers, and fathers; and they kill twenty-three thousand Jews, who let themselves be slain like cattle.
After this butchery it is not surprising to hear that this abominable people sacrifices human victims to its god, whom it calls Adonai, borrowing the name of Adonis from the Phœnicians. The twenty-ninth verse of chapter xxvii. of Leviticus expressly forbids the redemption of those who are destined for sacrifice, and it is in virtue of this cannibalistic law that Jephthah, some time afterwards, offers up his own daughter.
It was not enough to slay twenty-three thousand men for a calf; we have again twenty-four thousand sacrificed for having intercourse with idolatrous women. It is, my brethren, a worthy prelude and example of persecution on the ground of religion.
This people advances in the deserts and rocks of Palestine. Here is your splendid country, God says to them. Slay all the inhabitants, kill all the male infants, make an end of their married women, keep the young girls for yourselves. All this is carried out to the letter, according to the Hebrew books; and we should shudder at the account, if the text did not add that the Jews found in the camp of the Midianites 675,000 sheep, 62,000 cattle, 61,000 asses, and 32,000 girls. Happily, the absurdity undoes the barbarism. Once more, however, I am not concerned here with what is ridiculous and impossible; I select only what is execrable. Having passed the Jordan dry-shod, as they crossed the sea, we find our people in the promised land.
The first person to let in this holy people, by an act of treachery, is Rahab, a strange character for God to associate with himself. He levels the walls of Jericho at the sound of the trumpet; the holy people enters the town—to which it had no right, on its own confession—and slays the men, women, and children. Let us pass over the other carnages, the crucifixion of kings, the supposed wars against the giants of Gaza and Ascalon, and the murder of those who could not pronounce the word “Shibboleth.”
Listen to this fine story.
A Levite, with his wife, arrives on his ass at Gibeah, in the tribe of Benjamin. Some of the Benjamites, who are bent on committing the sin of sodomy with the Levite, turn their brutality upon the woman, who dies of the violence. Were the culprits punished? Not at all. The eleven tribes slaughtered the whole tribe of Benjamin; only six hundred men escaped. But the eleven tribes are afterwards sorry to see a tribe perish, and, to restore it, they exterminate the inhabitants of one of their own towns in order to take from it six hundred girls, whom they give to the six hundred Benjamites who survive to perpetuate this splendid race.
How many crimes committed in the name of the Lord! We will give only that of the man of God (Ehud). The Jews, having come so far to conquer, are subject to the Philistines. In spite of the Lord, they have sworn obedience to King Eglon. A holy Jew, named Ehud, asks permission to speak in private with the king on the part of God. The king does not fail to grant the audience. Ehud assassinates him, and his example has been used many times by Christians to betray, destroy, or massacre so many sovereigns.
At length this chosen nation, which had thus been directed by God himself, desires to have a king; which greatly displeases the priest Samuel. The first Jewish king renews the custom of immolating men. Saul prudently enjoined that his soldiers should not eat on the day they fought the Philistines, to give them more vigour; he swore to the Lord that he would immolate to him any man who ate. Happily, the people were wiser than he; they would not suffer the king’s son to be sacrificed for eating a little honey. But listen, my brethren, to this most detestable, yet most consecrated, act. It is said that Saul takes prisoner a king of the country, named Agag. He did not kill his prisoner; he acted as is usual in humane and civilised nations. What happened? The Lord is angry, and Samuel, priest of the Lord, says to Saul: “You are reprobate for having spared a king who surrendered to you.” And the priestly butcher at once cuts Agag into pieces. What would you say, my brethren, if, when the Emperor Charles V. had a French king in his hands, his chaplain came and said to him: “You are damned for not killing Francis I.,” and proceeded to cut the French king to pieces before the eyes of the emperor?
What will you say of the holy King David, the king who found favour in the eyes of the God of the Jews, and merited to be an ancestor of the Messiah? This good king is at first a brigand, capturing and pillaging all he finds. Among others, he despoils a rich man named Nabal, marries his wife, and flies to King Achish. During the night he descends upon the villages of King Achish, his benefactor, with fire and sword. He slaughters men, women, and children, says the sacred text, lest there be any one left to take the news. When he is made king he ravishes the wife of Uriah, and has the husband put to death; and it is from this adulterous homicide that the Messiah—God himself—descends. What blasphemy! This David, who thus becomes an ancestor of God as a reward of his horrible crime, is punished for the one good and wise action which he did. There is no good and prudent prince who ought not to know the number of his people, as the shepherd should know the number of his flock. David has them enumerated—though we are not told what the number was—and for making this wise and useful enumeration a prophet comes from God to give him the choice of war, pestilence, or famine.
Let us not linger, my dear brethren, over the numberless barbarities of the kings of Judah and Israel—their murders and outrages, mixed up always with ridiculous stories; though even the ridiculous in them is always bloody, and not even the prophet Elisha is free from barbarism. This worthy devotee has forty children devoured by bears because the innocent youngsters had called him “bald.” Let us leave this atrocious nation in the Babylonian captivity and in its bondage to the Romans, with all the fine promises of their god Adonis or Adonai, who had so often promised the Jews the sovereignty of the earth. In fine, under the wise government of the Romans, a king is born to the Hebrews. You know, my brethren, who this king, shilo, or Messiah is; it is he who, after being at first numbered among the prophets without a mission, who, though not priests, made a profession of inspiration, was, after some centuries, regarded as a god. We need go no farther; let us see on what pretexts, what facts, what miracles, what prophecies—in a word, on what foundation, this disgusting and abominable history is based.
O God, if thou thyself didst descend upon the earth, and didst command me to believe this tissue of murders, thefts, assassinations, and incests committed by thy order and in thy name, I should say to thee: No; thy sanctity cannot ask me to acquiesce in these horrible things that outrage thee. Thou seekest, no doubt, to try me.
How, then, my virtuous and enlightened hearers, could we accept this frightful story on the wretched evidence which is offered in support of it?
Run briefly over the books that have been falsely attributed to Moses. I say falsely, since it is not possible for Moses to have written about things that happened long after his time. None of us would believe that the memoirs of William, Prince of Orange, were written with his own hand if there were allusions in these memoirs to things that happened after his death. Let us see what is narrated in the name of Moses. First, God created the light, which he calls “day”; then the darkness, which he calls “night,” and it was the first day. Thus there were days before the sun was made.
On the sixth day God makes man and woman; but the author, forgetting that woman has been made already, afterwards derives her from one of Adam’s ribs. Adam and Eve are put in a garden from which four rivers issue; and of these rivers there are two, the Euphrates and the Nile, which have their sources a thousand miles from each other. The serpent then spoke like a man; it was the most cunning of animals. It persuades the woman to eat an apple, and so has her driven from paradise. The human race increases, and the children of God fall in love with the daughters of men. There were giants on the earth, and God was sorry that he had made man. He determined to exterminate him by a flood; but wished to save Noah, and ordered him to make a vessel of poplar wood, three hundred cubits in length. Into this vessel were to be brought seven pairs of all the clean animals, and two pairs of the unclean. It was necessary to feed them during the ten months that the water covered the earth. You can imagine what would be needed to feed fourteen elephants, fourteen camels, fourteen buffaloes, and as many horses, asses, deer, serpents, ostriches—in a word, more than two thousand species.1 You will ask me whence came the water to cover the whole earth and rise fifteen cubits above the highest mountains? The text replies that it came from the cataracts of heaven. Heaven knows where these cataracts are. After the deluge God enters into an alliance with Noah and with all the animals; and in confirmation of this alliance he institutes the rainbow.
Those who wrote these things were not, as you perceive, great physicists. However, here is Noah with a religion given to him by God, and this religion is neither Jewish nor Christian. The posterity of Noah seeks to build a tower that shall reach to heaven. A fine enterprise! But God fears it, and causes the workers suddenly to speak several different tongues, and they disperse. The whole is written in this ancient oriental vein.
A rain of fire converts towns into a lake; Lot’s wife is changed into a salt statue; Jacob fights all night with an angel, and is hurt in the leg; Joseph, sold as a slave into Egypt, is made first minister because he explains a dream. Seventy members of the family settle in Egypt, and in two hundred and fifteen years, as we saw, multiply into two millions. It is these two million Hebrews who fly from Egypt, and go the longest way in order to have the pleasure of crossing the sea dry-shod.
But there is nothing surprising about this miracle. Pharaoh’s magicians performed some very fine miracles. Like Moses, they changed a rod into a serpent, which is a very simple matter. When Moses changed water into blood, they did the same. When he brought frogs into existence, they imitated him. But they were beaten when it came to the plague of lice; on that subject the Jews knew more than other nations.
In the end Adonai causes the death of each first-born in Egypt in order to allow his people to leave in peace. The sea divides to let them pass; it was the least that could be done on such an occasion. The remainer is on the same level. The people cry out in the desert. Some of the husbands complain of their wives; at once a water is found which causes any woman who has forfeited her honour to swell and burst. They have neither bread nor paste; quails and manna are rained on them. Their garments last forty years, and grow with the children. Apparently clothes descend from heaven for the new-born children.
A prophet of the district seeks to curse the people, but his ass opposes the project, together with an angel, and the ass speaks very reasonably and at great length to the prophet.
When they attack a town, the walls fall at the sound of trumpets; just as Amphion built walls to the sound of the flute. But the finest miracle is when five Amorite kings—that is to say, five village sheiks—attempt to oppose the ravages of Joshua. They are not merely vanquished and cut to pieces, but the Lord sends a great rain of stones upon the fugitives. Even that is not enough. A few escape, and, in order to give the Israelites time to pursue them, nature suspends its eternal laws. The sun halts at Gibeon, and the moon at Aijalon. We do not quite understand how the moon comes in, but the books of Joshua leave no room for doubt as to the fact. Now let us pass to other miracles, and go on to Samson, who is depicted as a famous plunderer, a friend of God. Samson routs a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, because he is not shaved, and ties by the tails three hundred foxes which he found in a certain place.
There is hardly a page that does not contain similar stories. In one place it is the shade of Samuel appearing in response to the voice of a witch; in another it is the shadow on a sun-dial (assuming that these miserable folk had sun-dials) receding ten degrees at the prayer of Hezekiah, who prudently asks for this sign. God gives him the alternatives of advancing or retarding the hour, and Dr. Hezekiah thinks that it is not difficult to put the shadow on, but very difficult to put it back.
Elias rises to heaven in a fiery chariot; children sing in a fiery furnace. I should never come to an end if I wished to enter into all the details of the unheard-of extravagances that swarm in this book. Never was common-sense assailed with such indecency and fury.
Such is, from one end to the other, the Old Testament, the father of the New, a father who disavows his child and regards it as a rebellious bastard; for the Jews, faithful to the law of Moses, regard with detestation the Christianity that has been reared on the ruins of their law. The Christians, however, have with great subtlety sought to justify the New Testament by the Old. The two religions thus fight each other with the same weapons; they invoke the same prophets and appeal to the same predictions.
Will the ages to come, which will have seen the passing of these follies, yet may, unhappily, witness the rise of others not less unworthy of God and men, believe that Judaism and Christianity based their claims on such foundations and such prophecies? What prophecies! Listen. The prophet Isaiah is summoned by Ahaz, king of Judah, to make certain predictions to him, in the vain and superstitious manner of the East. These prophets were, as you know, men who earned more or less of a living by divination; there were many like them in Europe in the last century, especially among the common people. King Ahaz, besieged in Jerusalem by Shalmaneser, who had taken Samaria, demanded of the soothsayer a prophecy and a sign. Isaiah said to him: This is the sign:
“A girl will conceive, and will bear a child who shall be called Emmanuel. He shall eat butter and honey until the day when he shall reject evil and choose good; and before this child is of age, the land which thou detestest shall be forsaken by its two kings; and the Lord shall hiss for the flies that are on the banks of the streams of Egypt and Assyria; and the Lord will take a razor, and shave the King of Assyria; he will shave his head and the hair of his feet.”
After this splendid prophecy, recorded in Isaiah, but of which there is not a word in Kings, the prophet orders him first to write on a large roll, which they hasten to seal. He urges the king to press to the plunder of his enemies, and then ensures the birth of the predicted child. Instead of calling it Emmanuel, however, he gives it the name of Maher Salabas. This, my brethren, is the passage which Christians have distorted in favour of their Christ; this is the prophecy that set up Christianity. The girl to whom the prophet ascribes a child is incontestably the Virgin Mary.1 Maher Salabas is Jesus Christ. As to the butter and honey, I am unaware what it means. Each soothsayer promises the Jews deliverance when they are captive; and this deliverance is, according to the Christians, the heavenly Jerusalem, and the Church of our time. Prophecy is everything with the Jews; with the Christians miracle is everything, and all the prophecies are figures of Jesus Christ.
Here, my brethren, is one of these fine and striking prophecies. The great prophet Ezekiel sees a wind from the north, and four animals, and wheels of chrysolite full of eyes; and the Lord says to him: “Rise, eat a book, and then depart.”
The Lord orders him to sleep three hundred and ninety days on the left side, and then forty on the right side. The Lord binds him with cords; he was certainly a man that needed binding. What follows in Ezekiel is very distasteful.
But we need not waste our time in assailing all the disgusting and abominable dreams which are the subject of controversy between the Jews and Christians. We will be content to deplore the most pitiful blindness that has ever darkened the mind of man. Let us hope that this blindness will pass like so many others, and let us proceed to the New Testament, a worthy sequel to what has gone before.
Vain was it that the Jews were a little more enlightened in the time of Augustus than in the barbaric ages of which we have spoken. Vainly did the Jews begin to recognise the immortality of the soul, a dogma unknown to Moses, and the idea of God rewarding the just after death and punishing the wicked, a dogma equally unknown to Moses. Reason none the less penetrated this miserable people, from whom issued the Christian religion, which has proved the source of so many divisions, civil wars, and crimes; which has caused so much blood to flow; and which is broken into so many sects in the corner of the earth where it rules.
There were at all times among the Jews people of the lowest order, who made prophecies in order to distinguish themselves from the populace. We deal here with the one who has become best known, and has been turned into a god; we give a brief account of his career, as it is described in the books called the gospels. We need not seek to determine when these books were written; it is evident that they were written after the fall of Jerusalem. You know how absurdly the four authors contradict each other. It is a demonstrative proof that they are wrong. We do not, however, need many proofs to demolish this miserable structure. We will be content with a short and faithful account.
In the first place, Jesus is described as a descendant of Abraham and David, and the writer Matthew counts forty-two generations in two thousand years. In his list, however, we find only forty-one, and in the genealogical tree which he borrows from Kings he blunders clumsily in making Josiah the father of Jechoniah.
Luke also gives a genealogy, but he assigns forty-nine generations after Abraham, and they are entirely different generations. To complete the absurdity, these generations belong to Joseph, and the evangelists assure us that Jesus was not the son of Joseph. Would one be received in a German chapter on such proofs of nobility? Yet there is question here of the son of God, and God himself is the author of the book!
Matthew says that when Jesus, King of the Jews, was born in a stable in the town of Bethlehem, three magi or kings saw his star in the east, and followed it, until it halted over Bethlehem; and that King Herod, hearing these things, caused all the children under two years of age to be put to death. Could any horror be more ridiculous? Matthew adds that the father and mother took the child into Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. Luke says precisely the contrary; he observes that Joseph and Mary remained peacefully at Bethlehem for six weeks, then went to Jerusalem, and from there to Nazareth; and that they went every year to Jerusalem.
The evangelists contradict each other in regard to the time of the life of Jesus, his miracles, the night of the supper, and the day of his death—in a word, in regard to nearly all the facts. There were forty-nine gospels composed by the Christians of the first few centuries, and these were still more flagrant in their contradictions. In the end, the four which we have were selected. Even if they were in harmony, what folly, what misery, what puerile and odious things they contain!
The first adventure of Jesus, son of God, is to be taken up by the devil; the devil, who makes no appearance in the books of Moses, plays a great part in the gospels. The devil, then, takes God up a mountain in the desert. From there he shows him all the kingdoms of the earth. Where is this mountain from which one can see so many lands? We do not know.
John records that Jesus goes to a marriage-feast, and changes water into wine; and that he drives from the precincts of the temple those who were selling the animals of the sacrifices ordered in the Jewish law.
All diseases were at that time regarded as possession by the devil, and Jesus makes it the mission of his apostles to expel devils. As he goes along, he delivers one who was possessed by a legion of devils, and he makes these devils enter a herd of swine, which cast themselves into the sea of Tiberias. We may suppose that the owners of the swine, who were not Jews apparently, were not pleased with this comedy. He heals a blind man, and the blind man sees men as if they were trees. He wishes to eat figs in winter, and, not finding any on a tree, he curses the tree and causes it to wither; the text prudently adds: “For it was not the season of figs.”
He is transformed during the night, and causes Moses and Elias to appear. Do the stories of romancers even approach these absurdities? At length, after constantly insulting the Pharisees, calling them “races of vipers,” “whitened sepulchres,” etc., he is handed over by them to justice, and executed with two thieves; and the historians are bold enough to tell us that at his death the earth was darkened at midday, and at a time of full moon. As if every writer of the time would not have mentioned so strange a miracle.
After that it is a small matter to make him rise from the dead and predict the end of the world; which, however, has not happened.
The sect of Jesus lingers in concealment; fanaticism increases. At first they dare not make a god of this man, but they soon take courage. Some Platonic metaphysic amalgamates with the Nazaræan sect, and Jesus becomes the logos, the word of God, then consubstantial with God his father. The Trinity is invented; and, in order to have it accepted, the first gospels are falsified.
A passage is added in regard to this truth, and the historian Josephus is falsified and made to speak of Jesus, though Josephus is too serious an historian to mention such a man. They go so far as to forge sibylline books. In a word, there is no kind of trickery, fraud, and imposture that the Nazaræans do not adopt. At the end of three years they succeeded in having Jesus recognised as a god. Not content with this extravagance, they go so far as to locate their god in a bit of paste. While their god is eaten by mice and digested, they hold that there is no such thing as bread in the host; that God has, at the word of a man, put himself in the place of the bread. All kinds of superstitions flood the Church; plunder is predominant in it; indulgences, benefices, and all kinds of spiritual things are put up for sale.
The sect splits into a multitude of sects; age after age they fight and slaughter each other. At every dispute kings and princes are massacred.
Such, my dear brethren, is the fruit of the tree of the Cross, the power that has been declared divine.
For this they have dared to bring God upon the earth; to commit Europe for ages to murder and brigandage. It is true that our fathers have in part shaken off this frightful yoke, and rid themselves of some errors and superstitions. But how imperfect they have left the work! Everything tells us that it is time to complete it; to destroy utterly the idol of which we have as yet broken only a finger or two. Numbers of theologians have already embraced Socinianism (Unitarianism), which comes near to the worship of one God, freed from superstition. England, Germany, and the provinces of France are full of wise doctors, who ask only the opportunity to break away. There are great numbers in other countries. Why persist in teaching what we do not believe, and make ourselves guilty before God of this great sin?
We are told that the people need mysteries, and must be deceived. My brethren, dare any one commit this outrage on humanity? Have not our fathers already taken from the people their transubstantiation, auricular confession, indulgences, exorcisms, false miracles, and ridiculous statues? Are not the people accustomed to the deprivation of this food of superstition? We must have the courage to go a few steps farther. The people are not so weak of mind as is thought; they will easily admit a wise and simple cult of one God, such as was professed, it is said, by Abraham and Noah, and by all the sages of antiquity, and as is found among the educated people of China. We seek not to despoil the clergy of what the liberality of their followers has given them; we wish them, since most of them secretly laugh at the untruths they teach, to join us in preaching the truth. Let them observe that, while they now offend and dishonour the Deity. they would, if they follow us, glorify him. What incalculable good would be done by that happy change? Princes and magistrates would be better obeyed, the people would be tranquil, the spirit of division and hatred would be expelled. They would offer to God, in peace, the first fruits of their work. There would assuredly be more righteousness on the earth, for many weak-minded folk who hear contempt expressed daily for the Christian superstition, and know that it is ridiculed by the priests themselves, thoughtlessly imagine that there is no such thing as religion, and abandon themselves to excesses. But when they learn that the Christian sect is really only a perversion of natural religion; when reason, freed from its chains, teaches the people that there is but one God; that this God is the common parent of all men, who are brothers; that, as brothers, they must be good and just to each other, and practise every virtue; that God, being good and just, must reward virtue and punish crime; then assuredly, my brethren, men will gain in righteousness as they lose in superstition.
We begin by giving this example in secret, and we trust that it will be followed in public.
May the great God who hears me—a God who certainly could not be born of a girl, nor die on a gibbet, nor be eaten in a morsel of paste, nor have inspired this book with its contradictions, follies. and horrors—may this God, creator of all worlds. have pity on the sect of the Christians who blaspheme him. May he bring them to the holy and natural religion, and shower his blessing on the efforts we make to have him worshipped. Amen.
[1 ]More than a million species, on modern estimates.—J. M.
[1 ]As is well known, the word “virgin” is a wilful mistranslation of the text of Isaiah. “Girl” is the correct translation.—J. M.