Front Page Titles (by Subject) ATHEISM. - The Works of Voltaire, Vol. III (Philosophical Dictionary Part 1)
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ATHEISM. - Voltaire, The Works of Voltaire, Vol. III (Philosophical Dictionary Part 1) 
The Works of Voltaire. A Contemporary Version. A Critique and Biography by John Morley, notes by Tobias Smollett, trans. William F. Fleming (New York: E.R. DuMont, 1901). In 21 vols. Vol. III.
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It seems to me that, in the “Dictionnaire Encyclopédique,” a more powerful refutation might have been brought against the Jesuit Richeome’s opinion concerning atheists and idolaters—an opinion formerly maintained by St. Thomas, St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Cyprian, and Tertullian—an opinion which Arnobius placed in a strong light when he said to the pagans, “Do you not blush to reproach us with contempt for your gods? Is it not better to believe in no god than to impute to them infamous actions?”—an opinion long before established by Plutarch, who stated that he would rather have it said that there was no Plutarch than that there was a Plutarch, inconstant, choleric, and vindictive—an opinion, too, fortified by all the dialectical efforts of Bayle.
Such is the ground of dispute, placed in a very striking point of view by the Jesuit Richeome, and made still more specious by the way in which Bayle sets it off:
“There are two porters at the door of a house. You ask to speak to the master. He is not at home, answers one. He is at home, answers the other, but is busied in making false money, false contracts, daggers, and poisons, to destroy those who have only accomplished his designs. The atheist resembles the former of these porters, the pagan the latter. It is then evident that the pagan offends the Divinity more grievously than the atheist.
With the permission of Father Richeome, and that of Bayle himself, this is not at all the state of the question. For the first porter to be like the atheist, he must say, not “My master is not here,” but “I have no master; he who you pretend is my master does not exist. My comrade is a blockhead to tell you that the gentleman is engaged in mixing poisons and wetting poniards to assassinate those who have executed his will. There is no such being in the world.”
Richeome, therefore, has reasoned very ill; and Bayle, in his rather diffuse discourses, has so far forgotten himself as to do Richeome the honor of making a very lame comment upon him.
Plutarch seems to express himself much better, in declaring that he prefers those who say there is no Plutarch to those who assert that Plutarch is unfit for society. Indeed, of what consequence to him was its being said that he was not in the world? But it was of great consequence that his reputation should not be injured. With the Supreme Being it is otherwise.
Still Plutarch does not come to the real point in discussion. It is only asked who most offends the Supreme Being—he who denies Him, or he who disfigures Him? It is impossible to know, otherwise than by revelation, whether God is offended at the vain discourses which men hold about Him.
Philosophers almost always fall unconsciously into the ideas of the vulgar, in supposing that God is jealous of His glory, wrathful, and given to revenge, and in taking rhetorical figures for real ideas. That which interests the whole world is to know whether it is not better to admit a rewarding and avenging God, recompensing hidden good actions, and punishing secret crimes, than to admit no God at all.
Bayle exhausts himself in repeating all the infamous things imputed to the gods of antiquity. His adversaries answer him by unmeaning commonplaces. The partisans and the enemies of Bayle have almost always fought without coming to close quarters. They all agree that Jupiter was an adulterer, Venus a wanton, Mercury a rogue. But this, I conceive, ought not to be considered; the religion of the ancient Romans should be distinguished from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.” It is quite certain that neither they nor even the Greeks ever had a temple dedicated to Mercury the Rogue, Venus the Wanton, or Jupiter the Adulterer.
The god whom the Romans called “Deus optimus maximus”—most good, most great—was not believed to have encouraged Clodius to lie with Cæsar’s wife, nor Cæsar to become the minion of King Nicomedes.
Cicero does not say that Mercury incited Verres to rob Sicily, though, in the fable, Mercury had stolen Apollo’s cows. The real religion of the ancients was that Jupiter, most good and just, with the secondary divinities, punished perjury in the infernal regions. Thus, the Romans were long the most religious observers of their oaths. It was in no wise ordained that they should believe in Leda’s two eggs, in the transformation of Inachus’s daughter into a cow, or in Apollo’s love for Hyacinthus. Therefore it must not be said that the religion of Numa was dishonoring to the Divinity. So that, as but too often happens, there has been a long dispute about a chimera.
Then, it is asked, can a people of atheists exist? I consider that a distinction must be made between the people, properly so called, and a society of philosophers above the people. It is true that, in every country, the populace require the strongest curb; and that if Bayle had had but five or six hundred peasants to govern, he would not have failed to announce to them a rewarding and avenging God. But Bayle would have said nothing about them to the Epicureans, who were people of wealth, fond of quiet, cultivating all the social virtues, and friendship in particular, shunning the dangers and embarrassments of public affairs—leading, in short, a life of ease and innocence. The dispute, so far as it regards policy and society, seems to me to end here.
As for people entirely savage, they can be counted neither among the theists nor among the atheists. To ask them what is their creed would be like asking them if they are for Aristotle or Democritus. They know nothing; they are no more atheists than they are peripatetics.
But, it may be insisted, that they live in society, though they have no God, and that, therefore, society may subsist without religion.
In this case I shall reply that wolves live so; and that an assemblage of barbarous cannibals, as you suppose them to be, is not a society. And, further, I will ask you if, when you have lent your money to any one of your society, you would have neither your debtor, nor your attorney, nor your notary, nor your judge, believe in a God?
Modern Atheists.—Arguments of the Worshippers of God.
We are intelligent beings, and intelligent beings cannot have been formed by a blind, brute, insensible being; there is certainly some difference between a clod and the ideas of Newton. Newton’s intelligence, then, came from some other intelligence.
When we see a fine machine, we say there is a good machinist, and that he has an excellent understanding. The world is assuredly an admirable machine; therefore there is in the world, somewhere or other, an admirable intelligence. This argument is old, but is not therefore the worse.
All animated bodies are composed of levers and pulleys, which act according to the laws of mechanics; of liquors, which are kept in perpetual circulation by the laws of hydrostatics; and the reflection that all these beings have sentiment which has no relation to their organization, fills us with wonder.
The motions of the stars, that of our little earth round the sun—all are operated according to the laws of the profoundest mathematics. How could it be that Plato, who knew not one of these laws—the eloquent but chimerical Plato, who said that the foundation of the earth was an equilateral triangle, and that of water a right-angled triangle—the strange Plato, who said there could be but five worlds, because there were but five regular bodies—how, I say, was it that Plato, who was not even acquainted with spherical trigonometry, had nevertheless so fine a genius, so happy an instinct, as to call God the Eternal Geometrician—to feel that there exists a forming Intelligence? Spinoza himself confesses it. It is impossible to controvert this truth, which surrounds us and presses us on all sides.
Argument of the Atheists.
I have, however, known refractory individuals, who have said that there is no forming intelligence, and that motion alone has formed all that we see and all that we are. They say boldly that the combination of this universe was possible because it exists; therefore it was possible for motion of itself to arrange it. Take four planets only—Mars, Venus, Mercury, and the Earth; let us consider them solely in the situations in which they now are; and let us see how many probabilities we have that motion will bring them again to those respective places. There are but twenty-four chances in this combination; that is, it is only twenty-four to one that these planets will not be found in the same situations with respect to one another. To these four globes add that of Jupiter; and it is then only a hundred and twenty to one that Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury, and our globe will not be placed in the same positions in which we now see them.
Lastly, add Saturn; and there will then be only seven hundred and twenty chances to one against putting these planets in their present arrangement, according to their given distances. It is, then, demonstrated that once, at least, in seven hundred and twenty cases, chance might place these planets in their present order.
Then take all the secondary planets, all their motions, all the beings that vegetate, live, feel, think, act, on all these globes; you have only to increase the number of chances; multiply this number to all eternity—to what our weakness calls infinity—there will still be an unit in favor of the formation of the world, such as it is, by motion alone; therefore it is possible that, in all eternity, the motion of matter alone has produced the universe as it exists. Nay, this combination must, in eternity, of necessity happen. Thus, say they, not only it is possible that the world is as it is by motion alone, but it was impossible that it should not be so after infinite combinations.
All this supposition seems to me to be prodigiously chimerical, for two reasons: the first is, that in this universe there are intelligent beings, and you cannot prove it possible for motion alone to produce understanding. The second is, that, by your own confession, the chances are infinity to unity, that an intelligent forming cause produced the universe. Standing alone against infinity, a unit makes but a poor figure.
Again Spinoza himself admits this intelligence; it is the basis of his system. You have not read him, but you must read him. Why would you go further than he, and, through a foolish pride, plunge into the abyss where Spinoza dared not to descend? Are you not aware of the extreme folly of saying that it is owing to a blind cause that the square of the revolution of one planet is always to the squares of the others as the cube of its distance is to the cubes of the distances of the others from the common centre? Either the planets are great geometricians, or the Eternal Geometrician has arranged the planets.
But where is the Eternal Geometrician? Is He in one place, or in all places, without occupying space? I know not. Has He arranged all things of His own substance? I know not. Is He immense, without quantity and without quality? I know not. All I know is, that we must adore Him and be just.
New Objection of a Modern Atheist.
Can it be said that the conformation of animals is according to their necessities? What are those necessities? Self-preservation and propagation. Now, is it astonishing that, of the infinite combinations produced by chance, those only have survived which had organs adapted for their nourishment and the continuation of their species? Must not all others necessarily have perished?
This argument, taken from Lucretius, is sufficiently refuted by the sensation given to animals and the intelligence given to man. How, as has just been said in the preceding paragraph, should combinations produced by chance produce this sensation and this intelligence? Yes, doubtless, the members of animals are made for all their necessities with an incomprehensible art, and you have not the boldness to deny it. You do not mention it. You feel that you can say nothing in answer to this great argument which Nature brings against you. The disposition of the wing of a fly, or of the feelers of a snail, is sufficient to confound you.
An Objection of Maupertuis.
The natural philosophers of modern times have done nothing more than extend these pretended arguments; this they have sometimes done even to minuteness and indecency. They have found God in the folds of a rhinoceros’s hide; they might, with equal reason, have denied His existence on account of the tortoise’s shell.
What reasoning! The tortoise and the rhinoceros, and all the different species, prove alike in their infinite varieties the same cause, the same design, the same end, which are preservation, generation, and death. Unity is found in this immense variety; the hide and the shell bear equal testimony. What! deny God, because a shell is not like a skin! And journalists have lavished upon this coxcombry praises which they have withheld from Newton and Locke, both worshippers of the Divinity from thorough examination and conviction!
Another of Maupertuis’s Objections.
Of what service are beauty and fitness in the construction of a serpent? Perhaps, you say, it has uses of which we are ignorant. Let us then, at least, be silent, and not admire an animal which we know only by the mischief it does.
Be you silent, also, since you know no more of its utility than myself; or acknowledge that, in reptiles, everything is admirably proportioned. Some of them are venomous; you have been so too. The only subject at present under consideration is the prodigious art which has formed serpents, quadrupeds, birds, fishes, and bipeds. This art is evident enough. You ask, Why is not the serpent harmless? And why have you not been harmless? Why have you been a persecutor? which, in a philosopher, is the greatest of crimes. This is quite another question; it is that of physical and moral evil. It has long been asked, Why are there so many serpents, and so many wicked men worse than serpents? If flies could reason, they would complain to God of the existence of spiders; but they would, at the same time, acknowledge what Minerva confessed to Arachne in the fable, that they arrange their webs in a wonderful manner.
We cannot, then, do otherwise than acknowledge an ineffable Intelligence, which Spinoza himself admitted. We must own that it is displayed as much in the meanest insect as in the planets. And with regard to moral and physical evil, what can be done or said? Let us console ourselves by the enjoyment of physical and moral good, and adore the Eternal Being, who has ordained the one and permitted the other.
One word more on this topic. Atheism is the vice of some intelligent men, and superstition is the vice of fools. And what is the vice of knaves?—Hypocrisy.
Formerly, whoever was possessed of a secret in any art was in danger of passing for a sorcerer; every new sect was charged with murdering infants in its mysteries; and every philosopher who departed from the jargon of the schools was accused of atheism by knaves and fanatics, and condemned by blockheads.
Anaxagorus dares to assert that the sun is not conducted by Apollo, mounted in a chariot and four; he is condemned as an atheist, and compelled to fly.
Aristotle is accused of atheism by a priest, and not being powerful enough to punish his accuser, he retires to Chalcis. But the death of Socrates is the greatest blot on the page of Grecian history.
Aristophanes—he whom commentators admire because he was a Greek, forgetting that Socrates was also a Greek—Aristophanes was the first who accustomed the Athenians to regard Socrates as an atheist.
This comic poet, who is neither comic nor poetical, would not, among us, have been permitted to exhibit his farces at the fair of St. Lawrence. He appears to me to be much lower and more despicable than Plutarch represents him. Let us see what the wise Plutarch says of this buffoon: “The language of Aristophanes bespeaks his miserable quackery; it is made up of the lowest and most disgusting puns; he is not even pleasing to the people; and to men of judgment and honor he is insupportable; his arrogance is intolerable, and all good men detest his malignity.”
This, then, is the jack-pudding whom Madame Dacier, an admirer of Socrates, ventures to admire! Such was the man who, indirectly, prepared the poison by which infamous judges put to death the most virtuous man in Greece.
The tanners, cobblers, and seamstresses of Athens applauded a farce in which Socrates was represented lifted in the air in a hamper, announcing that there was no God, and boasting of having stolen a cloak while he was teaching philosophy. A whole people, whose government sanctioned such infamous licences, well deserved what has happened to them, to become slaves to the Romans, and, subsequently, to the Turks. The Russians, whom the Greeks of old would have called barbarians, would neither have poisoned Socrates, nor have condemned Alcibiades to death.
We pass over the ages between the Roman commonwealth and our own times. The Romans, much more wise than the Greeks, never persecuted a philosopher for his opinions. Not so the barbarous nations which succeeded the Roman Empire. No sooner did the Emperor Frederick II. begin to quarrel with the popes, than he was accused of being an atheist, and being the author of the book of “The Three Impostors,” conjointly with his chancellor De Vincis.
Does our high-chancellor, de l’Hôpital, declare against persecution? He is immediately charged with atheism—“Homo doctus, sed vetus atheus.” There was a Jesuit, as much beneath Aristophanes as Aristophanes is beneath Homer—a wretch, whose name has become ridiculous even among fanatics—the Jesuit Garasse, who found atheists everywhere. He bestows the name upon all who are the objects of his virulence. He calls Theodore Beza an atheist. It was he, too, that led the public into error concerning Vanini.
The unfortunate end of Vanini does not excite our pity and indignation like that of Socrates, because Vanini was only a foreign pedant, without merit; however, Vanini was not, as was pretended, an atheist; he was quite the contrary.
He was a poor Neapolitan priest, a theologian and preacher by trade, an outrageous disputer on quiddities and universals, and “utrum chimæra bombinans in vacuo possit comedere secundas intentiones.” But there was nothing in him tending to atheism. His notion of God is that of the soundest and most approved theology: “God is the beginning and the end, the father of both, without need of either, eternal without time, in no one place, yet present everywhere. To him there is neither past nor future; he is within and without everything; he has created all, and governs all; he is immutable, infinite without parts; his power is his will.” This is not very philosophical, but it is the most approved theology.
Vanini prided himself on reviving Plato’s fine idea, adopted by Averroës, that God had created a chain of beings from the smallest to the greatest, the last link of which was attached to his eternal throne; an idea more sublime than true, but as distant from atheism as being from nothing.
He travelled to seek his fortune and to dispute; but, unfortunately, disputation leads not to fortune; a man makes himself as many irreconcilable enemies as he finds men of learning or of pedantry to argue against. Vanini’s ill-fortune had no other source. His heat and rudeness in disputation procured him the hatred of some theologians; and having quarrelled with one Franconi, this Franconi, the friend of his enemies, charged him with being an atheist and teaching atheism.
Franconi, aided by some witnesses, had the barbarity, when confronted with the accused, to maintain what he had advanced. Vanini, on the stool, being asked what he thought of the existence of a God, answered that he, with the Church, adored a God in three persons. Taking a straw from the ground, “This,” said he, “is sufficient to prove that there is a creator.” He then delivered a very fine discourse on vegetation and motion, and the necessity of a Supreme Being, without whom there could be neither motion nor vegetation.
The president Grammont, who was then at Toulouse, repeats this discourse in his history of France, now so little known; and the same Grammont, through some unaccountable prejudice, asserts that Vanini said all this “through vanity, or through fear, rather than from inward conviction.”
On what could this atrocious, rash judgment of the president be founded? It is evident, from Vanini’s answer, that he could not but be acquitted of the charge of atheism. But what followed? This unfortunate foreign priest also dabbled in medicine. There was found in his house a large live toad, which he kept in a vessel of water; he was forthwith accused of being a sorcerer. It was maintained that this toad was the god which he adored. An impious meaning was attributed to several passages of his books, a thing which is both common and easy, by taking objections for answers, giving some bad sense to a loose phrase, and perverting an innocent expression. At last, the faction which oppressed him forced from his judges the sentence which condemned him to die.
In order to justify this execution it was necessary to charge the unfortunate man with the most enormous of crimes. The grey friar—the very grey friar Marsenne, was so besotted as to publish that “Vanini set out from Naples, with twelve of his apostles, to convert the whole world to atheism.” What a pitiful tale! How should a poor priest have twelve men in his pay? How should he persuade twelve Neapolitans to travel at great expense, in order to spread this revolting doctrine at the peril of their lives? Would a king himself have it in his power to pay twelve preachers of atheism? No one before Father Marsenne had advanced so enormous an absurdity. But after him it was repeated; the journals and historical dictionaries caught it, and the world, which loves the extraordinary, has believed the fable without examination.
Even Bayle, in his miscellaneous thoughts (Pensées Diverses), speaks of Vanini as of an atheist. He cites his example in support of his paradox, that “a society of atheists might exist.” He assures us that Vanini was a man of very regular morals, and that he was a martyr to his philosophical opinions. On both these points he is equally mistaken. Vanini informs us in his “Dialogues,” written in imitation of Erasmus, that he had a mistress named Isabel. He was as free in his writings as in his conduct; but he was not an atheist.
A century after his death, the learned Lacroze, and he who took the name of Philaletes, endeavored to justify him. But as no one cares anything about the memory of an unfortunate Neapolitan, scarcely any one has read these apologies.
The Jesuit Hardouin, more learned and no less rash than Garasse, in his book entitled “Athei Detecti,” charges the Descartes, the Arnaulds, the Pascals, the Malebranches, with atheism. Happily, Vanini’s fate was not theirs.
A word on the question in morals, agitated by Bayle, “Whether a society of atheists can exist.” Here let us first observe the enormous self-contradictions of men in disputation. Those who have been most violent in opposing the opinion of Bayle, those who have denied with the greatest virulence the possibility of a society of atheists, are the very men who have since maintained with equal ardor that atheism is the religion of the Chinese government.
They have most assuredly been mistaken concerning the government of China; they had only to read the edicts of the emperors of that vast country, and they would have seen that those edicts are sermons, in which a Supreme Being—governing, avenging, and rewarding—is continually spoken of.
But, at the same time, they are no less deceived respecting the impossibility of a society of atheists; nor can I conceive how Bayle could forget a striking instance which might have rendered his cause victorious.
In what does the apparent impossibility of a society of atheists consist? In this: It is judged that men without some restraint could not live together; that laws have no power against secret crimes; and that it is necessary to have an avenging God—punishing, in this world or in the next, such as escape human justice.
The laws of Moses, it is true, did not teach the doctrine of a life to come, did not threaten with chastisements after death, nor even teach the primitive Jews the immortality of the soul; but the Jews, far from being atheists, far from believing that they could elude the divine vengeance, were the most religious of men. They believed not only in the existence of an eternal God, but that He was always present among them; they trembled lest they should be punished in themselves, their wives, their children, their posterity to the fourth generation. This was a very powerful check.
But among the Gentiles various sects had no restraint; the Skeptics doubted of everything; the Academics suspended their judgment on everything; the Epicureans were persuaded that the Divinity could not meddle in human affairs, and in their hearts admitted no Divinity. They were convinced that the soul is not a substance, but a faculty which is born and perishes with the body; consequently, they had no restraint but that of morality and honor. The Roman senators and knights were in reality atheists; for to men who neither feared nor hoped anything from them, the gods could not exist. The Roman senate, then, in the time of Cæsar and Cicero, was in fact an assembly of atheists.
That great orator, in his oration for Cluentius, says to the whole assembled senate: “What does he lose by death? We reject all the silly fables about the infernal regions. What, then, can death take from him? Nothing but the susceptibility of sorrow.”
Does not Cæsar, wishing to save the life of his friend Catiline, threatened by the same Cicero, object that to put a criminal to death is not to punish him—that death is nothing—that it is but the termination of our ills—a moment rather fortunate than calamitous? Did not Cicero and the whole senate yield to this reasoning? The conquerors and legislators of all the known world then, evidently, formed a society of men who feared nothing from the gods, but were real atheists.
Bayle next examines whether idolatry is more dangerous than atheism—whether it is a greater crime not to believe in the Divinity than to have unworthy notions of it; in this he thinks with Plutarch—that it is better to have no opinion than a bad opinion; but, without offence to Plutarch, it was infinitely better that the Greeks should fear Ceres, Neptune, and Jupiter than that they should fear nothing at all. It is clear that the sanctity of oaths is necessary; and that those are more to be trusted who think a false oath will be punished, than those who think they may take a false oath with impunity. It cannot be doubted that, in an organized society, it is better to have even a bad religion than no religion at all.
It appears then that Bayle should rather have examined whether atheism or fanaticism is the most dangerous. Fanaticism is certainly a thousand times the most to be dreaded; for atheism inspires no sanguinary passion, but fanaticism does; atheism does not oppose crime, but fanaticism prompts to its commission. Let us suppose, with the author of the “Commentarium Rerum Gallicarum,” that the High-Chancellor de l’Hôpital was an atheist; he made none but wise laws; he recommended only moderation and concord. The massacres of St. Bartholomew were committed by fanatics. Hobbes passed for an atheist; yet he led a life of innocence and quiet, while the fanatics of his time deluged England, Scotland, and Ireland with blood. Spinoza was not only an atheist—he taught atheism; but assuredly he had no part in the judicial assassination of Barneveldt; nor was it he who tore in pieces the two brothers De Witt, and ate them off the gridiron.
Atheists are, for the most part, men of learning, bold but bewildered, who reason ill and, unable to comprehend the creation, the origin of evil, and other difficulties, have recourse to the hypothesis of the eternity of things and of necessity.
The ambitious and the voluptuous have but little time to reason; they have other occupations than that of comparing Lucretius with Socrates. Such is the case with us and our time.
It was otherwise with the Roman senate, which was composed almost entirely of theoretical and practical atheists, that is, believing neither in Providence nor in a future state; this senate was an assembly of philosophers, men of pleasure, and ambitious men, who were all very dangerous, and who ruined the commonwealth. Under the emperors, Epicureanism prevailed. The atheists of the senate had been factious in the times of Sulla and of Cæsar; in those of Augustus and Tiberius, they were atheistical slaves.
I should not wish to come in the way of an atheistical prince, whose interest it should be to have me pounded in a mortar; I am quite sure that I should be so pounded. Were I a sovereign, I would not have to do with atheistical courtiers, whose interest it was to poison me; I should be under the necessity of taking an antidote every day. It is then absolutely necessary for princes and people that the idea of a Supreme Being—creating, governing, rewarding, and punishing—be profoundly engraved on their minds.
There are nations of atheists, says Bayle in his “Thoughts on Comets.” The Kaffirs, the Hottentots, and many other small populations, have no god; they neither affirm nor deny that there is one; they have never heard of Him; tell them that there is one, and they will easily believe it; tell them that all is done by the nature of things, and they will believe you just the same. To pretend that they are atheists would be like saying they are anti-Cartesians. They are neither for Descartes nor against him; they are no more than children; a child is neither atheist nor deist; he is nothing.
From all this, what conclusion is to be drawn? That atheism is a most pernicious monster in those who govern; that it is the same in the men of their cabinet, since it may extend itself from the cabinet to those in office; that, although less to be dreaded than fanaticism, it is almost always fatal to virtue. And especially, let it be added, that there are fewer atheists now than ever—since philosophers have become persuaded that there is no vegetative being without a germ, no germ without a design, etc., and that the corn in our fields does not spring from rottenness.
Unphilosophical geometricians have rejected final causes, but true philosophers admit them; and, as it is elsewhere observed, a catechist announces God to children, and Newton demonstrates Him to the wise.
If there be atheists, who are to blame? Who but the mercenary tyrants of our souls, who, while disgusting us with their knavery, urge some weak spirits to deny the God whom such monsters dishonor? How often have the people’s bloodsuckers forced overburdened citizens to revolt against the king!
Men who have fattened on our substance, cry out to us: “Be persuaded that an ass spoke; believe that a fish swallowed a man, and threw him up three days after, safe and sound, on the shore; doubt not that the God of the universe ordered one Jewish prophet to eat excrement, and another to buy two prostitutes, and have bastards by them;” such are the words put into the mouth of the God of purity and truth! Believe a hundred things either visibly abominable or mathematically impossible; otherwise the God of Mercy will burn you in hell-fire, not only for millions of millions of ages, but for all eternity, whether you have a body or have not a body.
These brutal absurdities are revolting to rash and weak minds, as well as to firm and wise ones. They say: “Our teachers represent God to us as the most insensate and barbarous of all beings; therefore, there is no God.” But they ought to say, “Our teachers represent God as furious and ridiculous, therefore God is the reverse of what they describe Him; He is as wise and good as they say He is foolish and wicked.” Thus do the wise decide. But, if a fanatic hears them, he denounces them to a magistrate—a sort of priest’s officer, which officer has them burned alive, thinking that he is therein imitating and avenging the Divine Majesty which he insults.