Chapter 13-15

Mortal Sins


IT appears from a passage of the books of the pontiffs, quoted by Cicero*, that they had amongst the Romans unpardonable crimes.

it is on this that Zozymus founds the narration so proper to blacken the motives of Constantine’s conversion; and Julian, that bitter raillery on this conversion in his Cæsars.

The Pagan religion prohibited only some of the grosser crimes, and which stopped the hand, but meddled not with the heart, might have crimes that were inexpiable=

but a religion which bridles all the passions; which is not more jealous of actions than of thoughts and desires; which holds us not by a few chains, but by an infinite number of threads; which, leaving human justice aside, establishes another kind of justice; which is so ordered, as to lead us continually from repentance to love, and from love to repentance; which puts between the judge and the criminal a greater mediator, between the just and the mediator a great judge;

A religion like this should not have unforgivable crimes. Such crimes give fear and hope to all. But it makes us realize that there is no such thing as an unforgivable crime in its own nature. Yet a whole criminal life may be so. It is extremely dangerous to affront mercy by doing new crimes which require new pardons.

Our past sins should make us afraid of:

  • contracting new ones or
  • filling up beyond the limit of paternal goodness

Chapter 14= How Religion Influences Civil Laws

Both religion and the civil laws should render men good citizens. When one of these deviates from this end, the tendency of the other should be strengthened.

The less severity there is in religion, the more there ought to be in the civil laws.

Thus the reigning religion of Japan having few doctrines, and proposing neither future rewards nor punishments, the laws to supply these defects have been made with the spirit of severity, and are executed with an extraordinary punctuality.

When the doctrine of necessity is established by religion, the penalties of the laws ought to be more severe, and the magistrate more vigilant; to the end that men, who would otherwise become abandoned, might be determined by these motives; but it is quite otherwise, where religion has established the doctrine of liberty.

The inactivity of the soul leads to the Islamic doctrine of predestination. From this doctrine springs the inactivity of the soul.

They say that this is the decree of God and so they must indulge their rest. In this case, the magistrate should awaken, through lawmaking, those who are lulled asleep by religion.

When religion condemns things which the civil laws ought to permit, there is danger lest the civil laws, on the other hand, should permit what religion should condemn. Either of these is a constant proof of a want of true ideas of that harmony and proportion which ought to subsist between both.

The Mongols under Genghis Khan believed that it was a sin and capital crime:

  • to put a knife in the fire
  • to lean against a whip,
  • to strike a horse with his bridle,
  • break one bone with another;

But they did not believe it to be any sin to:

  • break their word,
  • seize another man’s goods,
  • injure another person, or
  • commit murder.

Laws which render that necessary which is only indifferent, have this inconveniency, that they make those things indifferent which are absolutely necessary.

The Taiwanese believe that there is a kind of hell; but it is to punish those who at certain seasons have not gone naked; who have dressed in callico, and not in silk; who have presumed to look for oysters; or who have undertaken any business without consulting the song of birds= whilst drunkenness and debauchery are not regarded as crimes.

They believe, even that the debauches of their children are agreeable to their gods.

When religion absolves the mind by a thing merely accidental, it loses its greatest influence on mankind.

The people of India believe, that the waters of the Ganges have a sanctifying virtue. Those who die on its banks are imagined to be exempted from the torments of the other life, and to be entitled to dwell in a region full of delights. This is why the ashes of the dead are sent from the most distant places to be thrown into this river. Little then does it signify whether they have lived virtuously or not, so they be but thrown into the Ganges.

The idea of a place of rewards has a necessary connection with the idea of the abodes of misery. When they hope for the former without fearing the latter, the civil laws have no longer any influence. Men who think themselves sure of the rewards of the other life, are above the power of the legislator; they look upon death with too much contempt= how shall the man be restrained by laws, who believes that the greatest pain the magistrate can inflict, will end in a moment to begin his happiness?

Chapter 15= How false Religious are sometimes corrected by the Civil Laws

We are shocked at ceremonies established by:

  • simplicity,
  • superstition, or
  • a respect for antiquity

Aristotle says that the law permits the fathers of families to repair to the temple to celebrate these mysteries for their wives and children. How admirable the civil law, which in spite of religion preserves the manners untainted!

Augustus excluded the youth from assisting at any nocturnal ceremony, unless accompanied by a more aged relation. He revived the Lupercalia and would not allow the young men to run naked.


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