« הקודםהמשך »
and ready to receive the false impressions of guides who would lead them astray. It must perceive what immense resources might be derived from the wealth which has been accumulated by a body of useless men, who, under pretensions of teaching the nation, cheat and devour it.' Upon this foundation (which to the shame of mankind be it said, has hitherto served only to support sacerdotal pride) a wise government might raise establishments which would become useful to the state in forming the youth, cherishing talents, rewarding virtuous services, and comforting the people.
I flatter myself, Sir, that these reflections. will exculpate me in your eyes. I do not hope for the suf
rages of those who feel themselves interested in the continuance of the evils suffered by their fellow-citizens ; it is not such whom I aim to convince ; nothing can be made to appear evident to vicious and unreasonable men.
But I presume to hope, that you will: cease to look upon my book as dangerous, and my expectations as altogether chimerical. Many immoral men have attacked the Christian religion, because it opposed their propensities; many wise men have despised it, because to them it appeared ridiculous ; many persons have looked upon it with indifference, because they did not feel its real inconveniencies. I attack it as a citizen, because it appears to me to be injurious to the welfare of the state, an enemy to the progress of the human mind, and opposed to the principles of true morality, from which political interests, can never be separated. It remains only for me to say, with a poet, who was, like myself, an enemy to superstition :
... Si tibi vera videtur
I am, &c.
Some have thought that the clergy might one day serve as a harrier against despotism, but experience sufficiently proves that this body always stipulates for itself alone.
OF THE NECESSITY OF AN INQUIRY RESPECTING RELIGION, AND THE OBSTACLES WHICH ARE MET IN
PURSUING THIS INQUIRY.
A REASONABLE being ought in all his actions to aim at his own happiness and that of his fellow-creatures. Religion, which is held up as an object most important to our temporal and eternal felicity, can be advantageous to us only so far as it renders our existence happy in this world, or as we are assured that it will fulfil the flattering promises which it makes us respecting another. Our duty towards God, whom we look upon as the ruler of our destinies, can be founded, it is said, only on the evils which we fear on his part. It is then necessary that man should examine the grounds of his fears. He ought, for this purpose, to consult experience and reason, which are the only guides to truth. By the benefits which he derives from religion in the visible world which he inhabits, he may judge of the reality of those blessings for which it leads him to hope in that invisible world, to which it commands him to turn his views.
Mankind, for the most part, hold to their religion through habit. They have never seriously examined the reasons why they are attached to it, the motives of their conduct, or the foundations of their opinions. Thus, what has ever been considered as most important to all, has been of all things least subjected to scrutiny. Men blindly follow on in the paths which their fathers trod; they believe, because in infancy they were told they must believe; they hope, because their progenitors hoped ; and they tremble, because they trembled. Scarcely ever have they deigned to render an account of the motives of their belief. Very few men have leisure to examine, or fortitude to analyse, the objects of their habitual veneration, their blind attachment, or their traditional fears. Nations are carried away in the torrent of habit, example, and prejudice. Education habituates the mind to opinions the most monstrous, as it accustoms the body to attitudes the most uneasy. All that has long existed appears sacred to the eyes of man; they think it sacri- . lege to examine things stamped with the seal of antiquity. Prepossessed in favour of the wisdom of their fathers, they have not the presumption to investigate what has received their sanction. They see not that man has ever been the dupe of his prejudices, his hopes, and his fears ; and that the same reasons have almost always rendered this enquiry equally impracticable.
The vulgar, busied in the labours necessary to their subsistence, place a blind confidence in those who
pretend to guide them, give up to them the right of thinking, and submit without murmuring to all they prescribe. They believe they shall offend God, if they
. doubt, for a moment, the veracity of those who speak to them in his name. The great, the rich, the men of the world, even when they are more enlightened than the vulgar, have found it their interest to conform to received prejudices, and even to maintain them; or, swallowed up in dissipation, pleasure, and effeminacy, they have no time to bestow on a religion, which they easily accommodate to their passions, propensities, and fondness for amusement. In childhood, we receive all the impressions others wish to make upon us; we have neither the capacity, experience, or courage, necessary to examine what is taught us by those, on
whom our weakness renders us dependent. In youth, the ardour of our passions, and the continual ebriety of our senses, prevent our thinking seriously of a religion, too austere and gloomy to please ; if by chance a young man examines it, he does it with partiality, or without perseverance ; he is often disgusted with a single glance of the eye on an object so disgusting. In riper age, new passions and cares, ideas of ambition, greatness, power, the desire of riches, and the hurry of business, absorb the whole attention of man, or leave him but few moments to think of religion, which he never has the leisure to scrutinize. In old age, the faculties are blunted, habits become incorporated with the machine, and the senses are debilitated by time and infirmity; and we are no longer able to penetrate back to the source of our opinions ; besides, the fear of death then renders an examination, over which terror commonly presides, very liable to suspicion.
Thus, religious opinions, once received, maintain their ground, through a long succession of ages; thus nations transmit froin generation to generation ideas which they have never examined: they imagine their welfare to be attached to institutions in which, were the truth known, they would behold the source of the greater part of their misfortunes. Civil authority also flies to the support of the prejudices of mankind, compels them to ignorance by forbidding inquiry, and holds itself in continual readiness to punish all who attempt to undeceive themselves.
Let us not be surprised, then, if we see error almost inextricably interwoven with human nature. All things seem to concur to perpetuate our blindness, and hide the truth from us. Tyrants detest and oppress truth, because it dares to dispute their unjust and, chimerical titles ; it is opposed by the priesthood because it annihilates their superstitions. Ignorance, indolence, and passion render the great part of mankind accomplices of those who strive to deceive them,
in order to keep their necks beneath the yoke, and profit by their miseries. Hence nations groan under hereditary evils, thoughtless of a remedy ; being either ignorant of the cause, or so long accustomed to disease, that they have lost even the desire of health.
If religion be the object most important to mankind, if it extends its influences not only over our conduct in this life, but also over our eternal happiness, nothing can demand from us a more serious examination. Yet it is of all things, that, respecting which, mankind exercise the most implicit credulity. The same man, who examines with scrupulous nicety things of little moment to his welfare, wholly neglects inquiry concerning the motives which determine him to believe and perform things, on which, according to his own confession, depend both his temporal and eternal felicity. He blindly abandons himself to those whom chance has given him for guides; he confides to them the care of thinking for him, and even makes a merit of his own indolence and credulity. In matters of
. religion, infancy and barbarity seem to be the boast of the greater part of the human race.
Nevertheless, men have in all ages appeared, who, shaking off the prejudices of their fellows, have dared to lift before their eyes the light of truth. But what could their feeble voice effect against errors imbibed at the breast, confirmed by habit, authorised by example, and fortified by a policy, which often became the accomplice of its own ruin? The stentorian clamours of imposture soon overwhelm the calm exhortations of the advocates of reason. In vain shall the philosopher endeavour to inspire mankind with courage, so long as they tremble' beneath the rod of priests and kings.
The surest means of deceiving mankind, and perpetuating their errors, is to deceive them in infancy. Amongst many nations at the present day, education seems designed only to form fanatics, devotees, and monks ; that is to say, men either useless or injurious