Chapter 1

Religious Sentiments


THE pious man and the atheist always talk of religion; the one speaks of what he loves, and the other of what he fears.

Chapter 2: Motives to Religion

THE different religions do not give to those who profess them equal motives of attachment. This depends greatly on the manner in which they agree with the turn of thought and perceptions of mankind.

  • We are extremely addicted to idolatry, yet we have no great inclination for the religion of idolaters.
  • We are not very fond of spiritual ideas, yet we are most attached to religions which teach us to adore a spiritual being

This comes from our satisfaction at having been so intelligent as to chuse a religion, which raises the deity from that baseness in which he had been placed by others.

We look upon idolatry as the religion of an ignorant people; and the religion which has a spiritual being for its object, as that of the most enlightened nations.

When with a doctrine that gives us the idea of a spiritual supreme being, we can still join those of a sensible nature, and admit them into our worship, we contract a greater attachment to religion; because those motives, which we have just mentioned, are added to our natural inclinations for the objects of sense. Thus the Catholics, who have more of this kind of worship than the Protestants, are more attached to their religion than the Protestants are to theirs, and more zealous for its propagation.

When the* people of Ephesus were informed that the fathers of the council had declared they might call the Virgin Mary the mother of God, they were transported with joy, they kissed the hands of the bishops, they embraced their knees, and the whole city refounded with acclamations.

When an intellectual religion superadds a choice made by the deity, and a preference to those who prosess it to those who do not, this greatly attaches us to religion. The Mahometans would not be such good mussulmans, if on the one hand there were not idolatrous nations, who make them imagine themselves the champions of the unity of God; and on the other Christians, to make them believe that they are the objects of his preference.

A religion burthened with many† ceremonies, attaches us to it more strongly than that which has a fewer number. We have an extreme propensity to things in which we are continually employed; witness the obstinate prejudices of the‡ Mahometans and the [185] Jews; and the readiness with which barbarous and savage nations change their religion, who, as they are employed entirely in hunting, or war, have but few religious ceremonies.

Men are extremely inclined to the passions of hope and fear; a religion therefore, that had neither a heaven nor a hell, could hardly please them. This is proved by the ease with which foreign religions have been established in Japan, and the zeal and fondness with which they were received*.

In order to raise an attachment to religion, it is necessary that it should inculcate pure morals. Men who are knaves by retail, are extremely honest in the gross= they love morality. And were I not treating of so grave a subject, I should say, that this appears remarkably evident in our theatres= we are sure of pleasing the people by sentiments avowed by morality; we are sure of shocking them by those it disapproves.

When external worship is attended with great magnificence, it flatters our minds, and strongly attaches us to religion. The riches of temples, and those of the clergy, greatly affect us. Thus, even the misery of the people, is a motive that renders them fond of a religion, which has served as a pretext to those who were the cause of their misery.

Chapter 3= Temples

ALMOST all civilized nations dwell in houses; from hence naturally arose the idea of building a house [186] for God, in which they might adore and seek him, amidst all their hopes and fears.

And, indeed, nothing is more comfortable to mankind, than a place in which they may find the deity peculiarly present, and where they may assemble together to confess their weakness, and tell their griefs.

But this natural idea never occurred to any but such as cultivated the land; those who have no houses for themselves, were never known to build temples.

This was the cause that made Jenghis-Khan discover such a prodigious contempt for mosques*. This prince† examined the Mahometans, he approved of all their doctrines, except that of the necessity of going to Mecca= he could not comprehend why God might not be every where adored. As the Tartars did not dwell in houses, they could have no idea of temples.

Those people who have no temples, have but a small attachment to their own religion. This is the reason why the Tartars have in all times given so great a toleration‡; why the barbarous nations who conquered the Roman empire, did not hesitate a moment to embrace Christianity; why the savages of America have so little fondness for their own religion; why, since our missionaries have built churches in Paraguay, the natives of that country are become so zealous for ours.

As the deity is the refuge of the unhappy, and none are more unhappy than criminals, men have been naturally led to think temples an asylum for those wretches. This idea appeared still more natural [187] to the Greeks, where murderers, chased from their city and the presence of men, seemed to have no houses but the temples, nor other protectors but the gods.

At first these were only designed for involuntary homicides; but when the people made them a sanctuary for those who had committed great crimes, they fell into a gross contradiction. If they had offended men, they had much greater reason to believe they had offended the gods.

These asylums multiplied in Greece. The temples, says Tacitus*, were filled with insolvent debtors, and wicked slaves; the magistrate found it difficult to exercise his office; the people protected the crimes of men as the ceremonies of the gods; at length the senate was obliged to retrench a great number of them.

The laws of Moses were perfectly wise. The man who involuntarily killed another, was innocent; but he was obliged to be taken away from before the eyes of the relations of the deceased= Moses therefore appointed an asylum† for such unfortunate people. The perpetrators of great crimes deserved not a place of safety, and they had none‡, the Jews had only a portable tabernacle, which continually changed its place= this excluded the idea of a sanctuary. It is true, that they had afterwards a temple; but the criminals, who would resort thither from all parts, might disturb the divine service. If persons who had committed manslaughter, had been driven out of the country, as was customary amongst the Greeks, they had reason to fear that they would worship strange gods. All these considerations made them establish cities of safety, where they might stay till the death of the high-priest.


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