Chapter 16

How the Laws of Religion correct the Inconveniencies of a political Constitution


ON the other hand, religion may support a state, when the laws themselves are incapable of doing it.

Thus, when a kingdom is frequently agitated by civil wars, religion may do much, by obliging one part of the state to remain always quiet. Among the Greeks, the Eleans, as priests of Apollo, lived always in peace.

In Japan*, the city of Meaco enjoys a constant peace, as being a holy city= religion supports this regulation, and that empire which seems to be alone upon earth, and which neither has, nor will have, any dependence on foreigners, has always, in its own bosom, a trade which war cannot ruin.

In kingdoms, where wars are not entered upon by a general consent, and where the laws have not pointed out any means either of terminating or preventing them, religion establishes times of peace, or cessation from hostilities, that the people may be able to sow their corn, and perform those other labours, which are absolutely necessary for the subsistence of the state.

Every year all hostility ceases between the† Arabian tribes for four months; the least disturbance would then be an impiety. In former times, when every lord in France declared war or peace, religion granted a truce, which was to take place at certain seasons.

Chapter 17= continued

WHEN a state has many causes for hatred, religion ought to produce many ways of reconciliation. The Arabs, a people addicted to robbery, are frequently guilty of doing injury and injustice. Mahomet‡ enacted this law= “If any one forgives∥ the [174] blood of his brother, he may pursue the malefactor for damages and interest= but he who shall injure the wicked, after having received satisfaction, shall, in the day of judgment, suffer the most grievous torments.”

The Germans inherited the hatred and enmity of their near relations= but these were not eternal. Homicide was expiated by giving a certain number of cattle, and all the family received satisfaction= a thing extremely useful, says Tacitus*, because enmities are most dangerous amongst a free people. I believe, indeed, that their ministers of religion, who were held by them in so much credit, were concerned in these reconciliations.

Amongst the inhabitants of Malacca†, where no form of reconciliation is established, he who has committed murder, certain of being assassinated by the relations or friends of the deceased, abandons himself to fury, and wounds or kills all he meets.

Chapter 18= How the Laws of Religion have the Effect of Civil Laws

THE first Greeks were small nations, frequently dispersed, pirates at sea, unjust at land, without government, and without laws. The mighty actions of Hercules and Theseus let us see the state of that rising people. What could religion do more, to inspire them with horror against murder? It declared, that the man who had been‡ murdered was enraged against the assassin, that he would possess his mind with terror and trouble, and oblige him to yield to him the places he had frequented when alive. They could not touch the criminal, nor converse with him*, without being defiled= the murderer was to be expelled the city, and an expiation made for the crime†.

Chapter 19= It is not so much the Truth or Falsity of a Doctrine which renders it useful or pernicious to Men in Civil Government, as the Use or Abuse of it.

THE most true and holy doctrines may be attended with the very worst consequences, when they are not connected with the principles of society; and, on the contrary, doctrines the most false may be attended with excellent consequences, when contrived so as to be connected with these principles.

The religion of Confucius‡ disowns the immortality of the soul; and the sect of Zeno did not believe it. These two sects have drawn from their bad principles consequences, not just indeed, but most admirable as to their influence on society. Those of the religion of Tao, and of Foe, believe the immortality of the soul; but from this sacred doctrine they draw the most frightful consequences.

The doctrine of the immortality of the soul falsely understood, has, almost in every part of the globe, and in every age, engaged women, slaves, subjects, friends, to murder themselves, that they might go and serve in the other world the object of their respect or love in this. Thus it was in the West-Indies; thus it was amongst the Danes*; thus it is at present in Japan†, in Macassar‡, and many other places.

These customs do not so directly proceed from the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, as from that of the resurrection of the body, from whence they have drawn this consequence, that, after death, the same individual will have the same wants, the same sentiments, the same passions. In this point of view, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul has a prodigious effect on mankind; because the idea of only a simple change of habitation, is more within the reach of the human understanding, and more adapted to flatter the heart, than the idea of a new modification.

It is not enough for religion to establish a doctrine, it must also direct its influence. This the Christian religion performs in the most admirable manner, particularly with regard to the doctrines of which we have been speaking. It makes us hope for a state, which is the object of our belief; not for a state which we have already experienced, or known= thus every article, even the resurrection of the body, leads us to spiritual ideas.

Chapter 20= continued

THE sacred books* of the ancient Persians say, “If you would be holy, instruct your children, because all the good actions which they perform will be imputed to you.” They advise them to marry betimes, because children at the day of judgment will be as a bridge, over which those who have none cannot pass. These doctrines were false, but extremely useful.

Chapter 21= Reincarnation

THE doctrine of the immortality of the soul is divided into three branches, that of pure immortality, that of a simple change of habitation, and that of a reincarnation. ; that is, the system of the Christians, that of the Scythians, and that of the Indians.

We have just been speaking of the two first, and I shall say of the last, that as it has been well or ill explained, it has had good or bad effects. As it inspires men with a certain horror against bloodshed, very few murders are committed in the Indies; and though they seldom punish with death, yet they enjoy a perfect tranquility.

On the other hand, women burn themselves at the death of their husbands; thus it is only the innocent who suffer a violent death.

Chapter 22= Religions should not inspire an Aversion for Things in themselves indifferent

A KIND of honour established in the Indies by the prejudices of religion, has made the several tribes conceive an aversion against each other. This honour is founded entirely on religion; these family distinctions form no civil distinctions; there are Indians who would think themselves dishonoured by eating with their king.

These sorts of distinctions are connected with a certain aversion for other men, very different from those sentiments which naturally arise from difference of rank; which, amongst us, comprehends a love for inferiors.

The laws of religion should never inspire an aversion to any thing but vice, and, above all, they should never estrange man from a love and tenderness for his own species.

The Muslim and Indian religions embrace an infinite number of people.

  • The Indians hate the Muslims, because they eat cows
  • The Muslims detest the Indians, because they eat pigs.