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David Hume argues that “love of liberty” in some individuals often attracts the religious inquisitor to persecute them and thereby drive society into a state of “ignorance, corruption, and bondage” (1757)

When faced with the problem of religious persecution and even death at the hands of the inquisitor Hume argues that “the illegal murder of one man by a tyrant is more pernicious than the death of a thousand by pestilence, famine, … calamity”:

[V]irtue, knowledge, love of liberty, are the qualities which call down the fatal vengeance of inquisitors; and when expelled, leave the society in the most shameful ignorance, corruption, and bondage. The illegal murder of one man by a tyrant is more pernicious than the death of a thousand by pestilence, famine, or any undistinguishing calamity.

The intolerance of almost all religions which have maintained the unity of God is as remarkable as the contrary principle of polytheists. The implacable narrow spirit of the Jews is well known. Mahometanism set out with still more bloody principles; and even to this day, deals out damnation, though not fire and faggot, to all other sects. And if, among Christians, the English and Dutch have embraced the principles of toleration, this singularity has proceeded from the steady resolution of the civil magistrate, in opposition to the continued efforts of priest and bigots.

The disciples of Zoroaster shut the doors of heaven against all but the Magians. Nothing could more obstruct the progress of the Persian conquests than the furious zeal of that nation against the temples and images of the Greeks. And after the overthrow of that empire, we find Alexander, as a polytheist, immediately re-establishing the worship of the Babylonians, which their former princes, as monotheists, had carefully abolished. Even the blind and devoted attachment of that conqueror to the Greek superstition hindered not but he himself sacrificed according to the Babylonish rites and ceremonies.

So sociable is polytheism, that the utmost fierceness and aversion which it meets with in an opposite religion is scarcely able to disgust it, and keep it at a distance. Augustus praised extremely the reserve of his grandson, Caius Cæsar, when this latter prince, passing by Jerusalem, deigned not to sacrifice according to the Jewish law. But for what reason did Augustus so much approve of this conduct? Only because that religion was by the Pagans esteemed ignoble and barbarous. I may venture to affirm that few corruptions of idolatry and polytheism are more pernicious to political society than this corruption of theism, when carried to the utmost height. The human sacrifices of the Carthaginians, Mexicans, and many barbarous nations, scarcely exceed the Inquisition and persecutions of Rome and Madrid. For besides that the effusion of blood may not be so great in the former case as in the latter; besides this, I say, the human victims, being chosen by lot, or by some exterior signs, affect not in so considerable a degree the rest of the society. Whereas virtue, knowledge, love of liberty, are the qualities which call down the fatal vengeance of inquisitors; and when expelled, leave the society in the most shameful ignorance, corruption, and bondage. The illegal murder of one man by a tyrant is more pernicious than the death of a thousand by pestilence, famine, or any undistinguishing calamity. In the temple of Diana at Aricia near Rome, whoever murdered the present priest was legally entitled to be installed his successor. A very singular institution! For, however barbarous and bloody the common superstitions often are to the laity, they usually turn to the advantage of the holy order.

About this Quotation:

In a world in which religious intolerance is on the increase it is useful to reflect on what some of the great philosophers, like John Locke and David Hume, have had to say on the topic. In this quotation David Hume discusses the different approaches to intolerance taken by monotheistic religious versus polytheistic one. In his view the monotheistic religious have shown greater hostility to other religions and have accordingly committed some outrageous crimes such as persecution and murder. He believes that some individuals, because of their “virtue, knowledge, love of liberty” have attracted the wrath of the religious inquisitors who have often persecuted or even murdered them. When these “lovers of liberty” have been expelled or eliminated it leaves society in a much worse state than it was before, “in the most shameful ignorance, corruption, and bondage”. Hume concludes that “the illegal murder of one man by a tyrant is more pernicious than the death of a thousand by pestilence, famine, or any undistinguishing calamity.”

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