The Laws of Perfection in Religionby Montesquieu
HUMAN laws are made to direct the will. These should give precepts, not counsels.
Religion is made to influence the heart. It should give many counsels and few precepts. It gives rules:
- not for what is good, but for what is better
- not to direct to what is right, but to what is perfect
Religious teachings should be counsels, and not laws, for perfection can have no relation to the universality of men or things. Besides, if these were laws, there would be a necessity for an infinite number of others, to make people observe the first.
Celibacy was advised by Christianity. When they made it a law, it became necessary to make new ones every day in order to oblige those men to observe it.
The legislator wearied himself and he wearied society, when he should have given it as counsel instead.
Chapter 8= The Connection between Moral and Religious Laws
IN a country so unfortunate as to have a religion that God has not revealed, it is necessary for it to be agreeable to morality; because, even a false religion is the best security we can have of the probity of men.
The principal points of religion of the inhabitants of Pegu* are, not to commit murder, not to steal, to avoid uncleanness, not to give the least uneasiness to their neighbour, but to do him, on the contrary, all the good in their power. With these rules they think they should be saved in any religion whatsoever. From hence it proceeds, that those people, though poor and proud, behave with gentleness and compassion to the unhappy.
Chapter 9= The Essenes
THE Essenes† made a vow to observe justice to mankind, to do no ill to any person, upon whatsoever account, to keep faith with all the world, to hate injustice, to command with modesty, always to side with truth, and to fly from all unlawful gain.
Chapter 10= The Stoics
THE several sects of philosophy amongst the ancients, were a species of religion. Never were any principles more worthy of human nature, and more proper to form the good man, than those of the Stoics; and if I could for a moment cease to think that I am a Christian, I should not be able to hinder myself from ranking the destruction of the sect of Zeno among the misfortunes that have befallen the human race.
It carried to excess only those things in which there is true greatness, the contempt of pleasure and of pain.
It was this sect alone that made citizens; this alone that made great men; this alone, great emperors.
Laying aside for a moment revealed truths, let us search through all nature, and we shall not find a nobler object than the Antoninus’s= even Julian himself, Julian, (a commendation thus wrested from me, will not render me an accomplice of his apostacy) no, there has not been a prince since his reign more worthy to govern mankind.
While the Stoics looked upon riches, human grandeur, grief, disquietudes and pleasure, as vanity; they were entirely employed in labouring for the happiness of mankind, and in exercising the duties of society. It seems as if they regarded that sacred spirit, which they believed to dwell within them, as a kind of favourable providence watchful over the human race.
Born for society, they all believed that it was their destiny to labour for it; with so much the less fatigue, as their rewards were all within themselves. Happy by their philosophy alone, it seemed as if only the happiness of others could increase theirs.
Chapter 11= Contemplation
MEN being made to preserve, to nourish, to clothe themselves, and do all the actions of society, religion ought not to give them too contemplative a life.
The Muslims become speculative by habit. They pray five times a day, and each time they are obliged to cast behind them every thing which has any concern with this world. This forms them for speculation. In addition, the indifference for all things which is inspired by the doctrine of unalterable sate.
If other causes besides these concur to disengage their affections; for instance, if the severity of the government, if the laws concerning the property of land, give them a precarious spirit, all is lost.
The religion of the Gaurs formerly rendered Persia a flourishing kingdom; it corrected the bad effects of despotic power. The same empire is now destroyed by the Mahometan religion.
Chapter 12= Penances
PENANCES ought to be joined with the idea of labour, not with that of idleness; with the idea of good, not with that of super-eminent; with the idea of frugality, not with that of avarice.