Chapter 11

Changing a Religion

by Montesquieu Icon

A PRINCE who tries to destroy or change the established religion of his kingdom greatly exposes himself.

If his government is despotic, he runs a much greater risk of seeing a revolution arise from such a proceeding, than from any tyranny whatsoever, and a revolution is not an uncommon thing in such states. The reason of this is, because a state cannot change its religion, manners and customs, in an instant, and with the same rapidity as the prince publishes the ordinance which establishes a new religion.

Besides, the ancient religion is connected with the constitution of the kingdom, and the new one is not; the former agrees with the climate, and very often the new one is opposite to it. Moreover, the citizens become disgusted with their laws, and look upon the government already established with contempt; they conceive a jealousy against the two religions, instead of a firm belief in one; in a word, these innovations give to the state, at least for some time, both bad citizens and bad believers.

Chapter 12= Penal Laws.

PENAL laws should be avoided, in respect to religion= they imprint fear, it is true; but as religion has also penal laws which inspire the same passion, the one is effaced by the other; and between these two different kinds of fear, the mind becomes hardened.

The threatenings of religion are so terrible, and its promises so great, that when they actuate the mind, whatever efforts the magistrate may use to oblige us to renounce it, he seems to leave us nothing when he deprives us of the exercise of our religion, and to bereave us of nothing when we are allowed to profess it.

It is not therefore by filling the soul with the idea of this great object, by hastening her approach to that critical moment in which it ought to be of the highest importance, that religion can be most successfully attacked= a more certain way is to tempt her by favours, by the conveniencies of life, by hopes of fortune; not by that which revives, but by that which extinguishes the sense of her duty; not by that which shocks her, but by that which throws her into indifference, at the time when other passions actuate the mind, and those which religion inspires are hushed into silence. A generul rule in changing a religion; the invitations should be much stronger than the penalties.

The temper of the human mind has appeared even in the nature of punishments. If we take a survey of the persecutions in Japan*, we shall find that they were more shocked at cruel torments than at long sufferings, which rather weary than affright, which are the more difficult to surmount, from their appearing less difficult.

In a word, history sufficiently informs us, that penal laws have never had any other effect but to destroy.

Chapter 13= A most humble Remonstrance to the Inquisitors of Spain and Portugal.

A JEWESS of ten years of age, who was burnt at Lisbon at the last Auto-de-fé, gave occasion to the following little piece; the most idle, I believe, that ever was written. When we attempt to prove things so evident, we are sure never to convince.

The author declares, that though a Jew, he has a respect for the Christian religion; and that he should be glad to take away from the princes who are not Christians, a plausible pretence for persecuting this religion.

“You complain, says he to the inquisitors, that the emperor of Japan caused all the Christians in his dominions to be burnt by a slow fire. But he will answer, we treat you who do not believe like us, as you yourselves treat those who do not believe like you= you can only complain of your weakness, which has hindered you from exterminating us, and which has enabled us to exterminate you.

“But it must be confessed, that you are much more cruel than this emperor. You put us to death, who believe only what you believe, because we do not believe all that you believe. We follow a religion, which you yourselves know to have been formerly dear to God. We think that God loves it still, and you think that he loves it no more= and because you judge thus, you make those suffer by sword and fire, who hold an error so pardonable as to believe, that God* still loves what he once loved.

“If you are cruel to us, you are much more so to our children; you cause them to be burnt, because they follow the inspirations given them by those whom the law of nature, and the laws of all nations, teach them to regard as Gods.

“You deprive yourselves of the advantage you have over the Mahometans, with respect to the manner in which their religion was established. When they boast of the number of their believers, you tell them that they have obtained them by violence, and that they have extended their religion by the sword= why then do you establish yours by fire?

“When you would bring us over to you, we object a source from which you glory to descend. You reply to us, that though your religion is new, it is divine; and you prove it from its growing amidst the persecutions of Pagans, and when watered by the blood of your martyrs= but at present you play the part of the Dioclesians, and make us take yours.

“We conjure you, not by the mighty God whom both you and we serve, but by that Christ who, you tell us, took upon him a human form, to propose himself for an example for you to follow; we conjure you to behave to us, as he himself would behave was he upon earth. You would have us be Christians, and you will not be so yourselves.

“But if you will not be Christians, be at least men= treat us as you would, if having only the weak light of justice which nature bestows, you had not a religion to conduct, and a revelation to enlighten you.

“If heaven has had so great a love for you, as to make you see the truth, you have received a singular [199] favour= but is it for children, who have received the inheritance of their father, to hate those who have not?

“If you have this truth, hide it not from us, by the manner in which you propose it. The characteristic of truth is its triumph over hearts and minds, and not that impotency which you confess, when you would force us to receive it by tortures.

“If you were wise, you would not put us to death for no other reason, but because we are unwilling to deceive you. If your Christ is the son of God, we hope he will reward us for being so unwilling to profane his mysteries; and we believe, that the God whom both you and we serve, will not punish us for having suffered death for a religion which he formerly gave us, only because we believe that he still continues to give it.

“You live in an age in which the light of nature shines more bright than it has ever done; in which philosophy has enlightened human understandings; in which the morality of your gospel has been more known; in which the respective rights of mankind, with regard to each other, and the empire which one conscience has over another, are best understood. If you do not therefore shake off your ancient prejudices, which, whilst unregarded, mingle with your passions, it must be confessed, that you are incorrigible, incapable of any degree of light, or instruction; and a nation must be very unhappy that gives authority to such men.

“Would you have us frankly tell you our thoughts? You consider us rather as your enemies, than as the enemies of your religion= for if you loved your religion, you would not suffer it to be corrupted by such gross ignorance.

“It is necessary that we should advertise you of one thing; that is, if any one in times to come shall dare to assert, that in the age in which we live, the people of Europe were civilized, you will be cited to prove that they were barbarians; and the idea they will have of you, will be such as will dishonour your age, and spread hatred over all your cotemporaries.”

CHAP. XIV.= Why the Christian Religion is so odious in Japan. WE have already mentioned* the perverse temper of the people of Japan. The magistrates considered the firmness which Christianity inspires, when they attempted to make the people renounce their faith, as in itself most dangerous= they fancied that it increased their obstinacy. The law of Japan punishes severely the least disobedience. The people were ordered to renounce the Christian religion= they did not renounce it; this was disobedience= the magistrates punished this crime; and the continuance in disobedience seemed to deserve another punishment.

Punishments amongst the Japanese are considered as the revenge of an insult done to the prince. The songs of triumph sung by our martyrs appeared as an outrage against him; the title of martyr provoked the magistrates; in their opinion it signified rebel= they did all in their power to prevent their obtaining it. Then it was that their minds were exasperated, and a horrid struggle was seen between the tribunals that condemned, and the accused who suffered; between the civil laws, and those of religion.

Chapter 15= The Propagation of Religion

ALL the people of the East, except the Mahometans, believe all religions in themselves indifferent. They fear the establishment of another religion, no otherwise than as a change in government. Amongst the Japanese, where there are many sects, and where the state has had for so long a time an ecclesiastic superior, they* never dispute on religion. It is the same with the people of Siam†. The Calmucks‡ do more, they make it a point of conscience to tolerate every species of religion= at Calicut∥ it is a maxim of the state, that every religion is good.

But it does not follow from hence, that a religion brought from a far distant country, and quite different in climate, laws, manners, and customs, will have all the success to which its holiness might entitle it. This is more particularly true in great despotic empires= here strangers are tolerated at first, because there is no attention given to what does not seem to strike at the authority of the prince. As they are extremely ignorant, an European may render himself agreeable, by the knowledge he communicates= this is very well in the beginning. But as soon as he has any success, when disputes arise, and when men who have some interest, become informed of it; as their empire, by its very nature, above all things requires tranquility, and as the least disturbance may overturn it, they proscribe the new religion and those who [202] preach it= disputes between the preachers breaking out, they begin to entertain a distaste for religion, on which even those who propose it are not agreed

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