THE RUINS: MEDITATION ON THE REVOLUTIONS OF EMPIRES AND THE LAW OF
by C. F. VOLNEY
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XXIII. All Religions have the same Object
XXIV. Solution of the Problem of
ALL RELIGIONS HAVE THE SAME OBJECT
Thus spoke the orator in the name of those men who had studied the origin
and succession of religious ideas.
The theologians of various systems, reasoning on this discourse: "It is an
impious representation," said some, whose tendency is nothing less than to
overturn all belief, to destroy subordination in the minds of men, and annihilate
our ministry and power." "It is a romance," said others, "a tissue of
conjectures, composed with art, but without foundation." The moderate and
prudent men added: "Supposing all this to be true, why reveal these mysteries?
Doubtless our opinions are full of errors; but these errors are a necessary
restraint on the multitude. The world has gone thus for two thousand years;
why change it now?"
A murmur of disapprobation, which never fails to rise at every innovation,
now began to increase; when a numerous group of the common classes of people,
and of untaught men of all countries and of every nation, without prophets,
without doctors, and without doctrine, advancing in the circle, drew the
attention of the whole assembly; and one of them, in the name of all, thus
addressed the multitude:
"Mediators and arbiters of nations! the strange relations which have occupied
the present debate were unknown to us until this day. Our understanding,
confounded and amazed at so many statements, some of them learned, others
absurd and all incomprehensible, remains in uncertainty and doubt. One only
reflection has struck us: on reviewing so many prodigious facts, so many
contradictory assertions, we ask ourselves: What are all these discussions
to us? What need have we of knowing what passed five or six thousand years
ago, in countries we never heard of, and among men who will ever be unknown
to us? True or false, what interest have we in knowing whether the world
has existed six thousand, or twenty-five thousand years? Whether it was made
of nothing, or of something; by itself, or by a maker, who in his turn would
require another maker? What! we are not sure of what happens near us, and
shall we answer for what happens in the sun, in the moon, or in imaginary
regions of space? We have forgotten our own infancy, and shall we know the
infancy of the world? And who will attest what no one has seen? who will
certify what no man comprehends?
"Besides, what addition or diminution will it make to our existence, to answer
yes or no to all these chimeras? Hitherto neither our fathers nor ourselves
have had the least knowledge or notion of them, and we do not perceive that
we have had on this account either more or less of the sun, more or less
of subsistence, more or less of good or of evil.
"If the knowledge of these things is so necessary, why have we lived as well
without it as those who have taken so much trouble concerning it? If this
knowledge is superfluous, why should we burden ourselves with it to-day?"
Then addressing himself to the doctors and theologians:
"What!" said he, "is it necessary that we, poor and ignorant men, whose every
moment is scarcely sufficient for the cares of life, and the labors of which
you take the profit,--is it necessary for us to learn the numberless histories
that you have recounted, to read the quantity of books that you have cited,
and to study the various languages in which they are composed! A thousand
years of life would not suffice--"
"It is not necessary," replied the doctors, "that you should acquire all
this science; we have it for you--"
"But even you," replied the simple men, "with all your science, you are not
agreed; of what advantage, then, is your science? Besides, how can you answer
for us? If the faith of one man is applicable to many, what need have even
you to believe? your fathers may have believed for you; and this would be
reasonable, since they have seen for you.
"Farther, what is believing, if believing influences no action? And what
action is influenced by believing, for instance, that the world is or is
"The latter would be offensive to God," said the doctors.
"How prove you that?" replied the simple men.
"In our books," answered the doctors.
"We do not understand them," returned the simple men.
"We understand them for you," said the doctors.
"That is the difficulty," replied the simple men. "By what right do you
constitute yourselves mediators between God and us?"
"By his orders," said the doctors.
"Where is the proof of these orders?" said the simple men.
"In our books," said the doctors.
"We understand them not," said the simple men; "and how came this just God
to give you this privilege over us? Why did this common father oblige us
to believe on a less degree of evidence than you? He has spoken to you; be
it so; he is infallible, and deceives you not. But it is you who speak to
us! And who shall assure us that you are not in error yourselves, or that
you will not lead us into error? And if we should be deceived, how will that
just God save us contrary to law, or condemn us on a law which we have not
"He has given you the natural law," said the doctors.
"And what is the natural law?" replied the simple men. "If that law is
sufficient, why has he given any other? If it is not sufficient, why did
he make it imperfect?"
"His judgments are mysteries," said the doctors, "and his justice is not
like that of men."
"If his justice," replied the simple men, "is not like ours, by what rule
are we to judge of it? And, moreover, why all these laws, and what is the
object proposed by them?"
"To render you more happy," replied a doctor, "by rendering you better and
more virtuous. It is to teach man to enjoy his benefits, and not injure his
fellows, that God has manifested himself by so many oracles and prodigies."
"In that case," said the simple men, "there is no necessity for so many studies,
nor of such a variety of arguments; only tell us which is the religion that
best answers the end which they all propose."
Immediately, on this, every group, extolling its own morality above that
of all others, there arose among the different sects a new and most violent
"It is we," said the Mussulmans, "who possess the most excellent morals,
who teach all the virtues useful to men and agreeable to God. We profess
justice, disinterestedness, resignation to providence, charity to our brethren,
alms-giving, and devotion; we torment not the soul with superstitious fears;
we live without alarm, and die without remorse."
"How dare you speak of morals," answered the Christian priests, "you, whose
chief lived in licentiousness and preached impurity? You, whose first precept
is homicide and war? For this we appeal to experience: for these twelve hundred
years your fanatical zeal has not ceased to spread commotion and carnage
among the nations. If Asia, so flourishing in former times, is now languishing
in barbarity and depopulation, it is in your doctrine that we find the cause;
in that doctrine, the enemy of all instruction, which sanctifies ignorance,
which consecrates the most absolute despotism in the governors, imposes the
most blind and passive obedience in the people, that has stupefied the faculties
of man, and brutalized the nations.
"It is not so with our sublime and celestial morals; it was they which raised
the world from its primitive barbarity, from the senseless and cruel
superstitions of idolatry, from human sacrifices,* from the shameful orgies
of pagan mysteries; they it was that purified manners, proscribed incest
and adultery, polished savage nations, banished slavery, and introduced new
and unknown virtues, charity for men, their equality in the sight of God,
forgiveness and forgetfulness of injuries, the restraint of all the passions,
the contempt of worldly greatness, a life completely spiritual and completely
* Read the cold declaration of Eusebius (Proep. Evang. lib. I, p. 11,), who
pretends that, since the coming of Christ, there have been neither wars,
nor tyrants, nor cannibals, nor sodomites, nor persons committing incest,
nor savages destroying their parents, etc. When we read these fathers of
the church we are astonished at their insincerity or infatuation.
"We admire," said the Mussulmans, "the ease with which you reconcile that
evangelical meekness, of which you are so ostentatious, with the injuries
and outrages with which you are constantly galling your neighbors. When you
criminate so severely the great man whom we revere, we might fairly retort
on the conduct of him whom you adore; but we scorn such advantages, and confining
ourselves to the real object in question, we maintain that the morals of
your gospel have by no means that perfection which you ascribe to them; it
is not true that they have introduced into the world new and unknown virtues:
for example, the equality of men in the sight of God,--that fraternity and
that benevolence which follow from it, were formal doctrines of the sect
of the Hermatics or Samaneans,* from whom you descend. As to the forgiveness
of injuries, the Pagans themselves had taught it; but in the extent that
you give it, far from being a virtue, it becomes an immorality, a vice. Your
so much boasted precept of turning one cheek after the other, is not only
contrary to every sentiment of man, but is opposed to all ideas of justice.
It emboldens the wicked by impunity, debases the virtuous by servility, delivers
up the world to despotism and tyranny, and dissolves all society. Such is
the true spirit of your doctrines. Your gospels in their precepts and their
parables, never represent God but as a despot without any rules of equity;
a partial father treating a debauched and prodigal son with more favor than
his respectful and virtuous children; a capricious master, who gives the
same wages to workmen who had wrought but one hour, as to those who had labored
through the whole day; one who prefers the last comers to the first. The
moral is everywhere misanthropic and antisocial; it disgusts men with life
and with society; and tends only to encourage hermitism and celibacy.
* The equality of mankind in a state of nature and in the eyes of God was
one of the principal tenets of the Samaneans, and they appear to be the only
ancients that entertained this opinion.
"As to the manner in which you have practised these morals, we appeal in
our turn to the testimony of facts. We ask whether it is this evangelical
meekness which has excited your interminable wars between your sects, your
atrocious persecutions of pretended heretics, your crusades against Arianism,
Manicheism, Protestantism, without speaking of your crusades against us,
and of those sacrilegious associations, still subsisting, of men who take
an oath to continue them?* We ask you whether it be gospel charity which
has made you exterminate whole nations in America, to annihilate the empires
of Mexico and Peru; which makes you continue to dispeople Africa and sell
its inhabitants like cattle, notwithstanding your abolition of slavery; which
makes you ravage India and usurp its dominions; and whether it be the same
charity which, for three centuries past, has led you to harrass the habitations
of the people of three continents, of whom the most prudent, the Chinese
and Japanese, were constrained to drive you off, that they might escape your
chains and recover their internal peace?"
* The oath taken by the knights of the Order of Malta, is to kill, or make
the Mahometans prisoners, for the glory of God.
Here the Bramins, the Rabbins, the Bonzes, the Chamans, the Priests of the
Molucca islands, and the coasts of Guinea, loading the Christian doctors
with reproaches: "Yes!" cried they, "these men are robbers and hypocrites,
who preach simplicity, to surprise confidence; humility, to enslave with
more ease; poverty, to appropriate all riches to themselves. They promise
another world, the better to usurp the present; and while they speak to you
of tolerance and charity, they burn, in the name of God, the men who do not
worship him in their manner."
"Lying priests," retorted the missionaries, "it is you who abuse the credulity
of ignorant nations to subjugate them. It is you who have made of your ministry
an art of cheating and imposture; you have converted religion into a traffic
of cupidity and avarice. You pretend to hold communications with spirits,
and they give for oracles nothing but your wills. You feign to read the stars,
and destiny decrees only your desires. You cause idols to speak, and the
gods are but the instruments of your passions. You have invented sacrifices
and libations, to collect for your own profit the milk of flocks, and the
flesh and fat of victims; and under the cloak of piety you devour the offerings
of the gods, who cannot eat, and the substance of the people who are forced
"And you," replied the Bramins, the Bonzes, the Chamans, "you sell to the
credulous living, your vain prayers for the souls of the dead. With your
indulgences and your absolutions you have usurped the power of God himself;
and making a traffic of his favors and pardons, you have put heaven at auction;
and by your system of expiations you have formed a tariff of crimes, which
has perverted all consciences."*
* As long as it shall be possible to obtain purification from crimes and
exemption from punishment by means of money or other frivolous practices;
as long as kings and great men shall suppose that building temples or instituting
foundations, will absolve them from the guilt of oppression and homicide;
as long as individuals shall imagine that they may rob and cheat, provided
they observe fast during Lent, go to confession, and receive extreme unction,
it is impossible there should exist in society any morality or virtue; and
it is from a deep conviction of truth, that a modern philosopher has called
the doctrine of expiations la verola des societes.
"Add to this," said the Imans, "that these men have invented the most insidious
of all systems of wickedness,--the absurd and impious obligation of recounting
to them the most intimate secrets of actions and of thoughts (confessions);
so their insolent curiosity has carried their inquisition even into the sanctuary
of the marriage bed,* and the inviolable recesses of the heart."
* Confession is a very ancient invention of the priests, who did not fail
to avail themselves of that means of governing. It was practised in the Egyptian,
Greek, Phrygian, Persian mysteries, etc. Plutarch has transmitted us the
remarkable answer of a Spartan whom a priest wanted to confess. "Is it to
you or to God I am to confess?" "To God," answered the priest: "In that case,"
replied the Spartan, "man, begone!" (Remarkable Savings of the Lacedemonians.)
The first Christians confessed their faults publicly, like the Essenians.
Afterwards, priests began to be established, with power of absolution from
the sin of idolatry. In the time of Theodosius, a woman having publicly confessed
an intrigue with a deacon, bishop Necterius, and his successor Chrysostom,
granted communion without confession. It was not until the seventh century
that the abbots of convents exacted from monks and nuns confession twice
a year; and it was at a still later period that bishops of Rome generalized
The Mussulmen, who suppose women to have no souls, are shocked at the idea
of confession; and say; How can an honest man think of listening to the recital
of the actions or the secret thoughts of a woman? May we not also ask, on
the other hand, how can an honest woman consent to reveal them?
Thus by mutual reproaches the doctors of the different sects began to reveal
all the crimes of their ministry--all the vices of their craft; and it was
found that among all nations the spirit of the priesthood, their system of
conduct, their actions their morals, were absolutely the same:
That they had everywhere formed secret associations and corporations at enmity
with the rest of society:*
* That we may understand the general feelings of priests respecting the rest
of mankind, whom they always call by the name of the people, let us hear
one of the doctors of the church. "The people," says Bishop Synnesius, in
Calvit. page 315, "are desirous of being deceived, we cannot act otherwise
respecting them. The case was similar with the ancient priests of Egypt,
and for this reason they shut themselves up in their temples, and there composed
their mysteries, out of the reach of the eye of the people." And forgetting
what he has before just said, he adds: "for had the people been in the secret
they might have been offended at the deception played upon them. In the mean
time how is it possible to conduct one's self otherwise with the people so
long as they are people? For my own part, to myself I shall always be a
philosopher, but in dealing with the mass of mankind, I shall be a priest."
"A little jargon," says Geogory Nazianzen to St. Jerome (Hieron. ad. Nep.)
"is all that is necessary to impose on the people. The less they comprehend,
the more they admire. Our forefathers and doctors of the church have often
said, not what they thought, but what circumstances and necessity dictated
"We endeavor," says Sanchoniaton, "to excite admiration by means of the
marvellous." (Proep. Evang. lib. 3.)
Such was the conduct of all the priests of antiquity, and is still that of
the Bramins and Lamas who are the exact counterpart of the Egyptian priests.
Such was the practice of the Jesuits, who marched with hasty strides in the
same career. It is useless to point out the whole depravity of such a doctrine.
In general every association which has mystery for its basis, or an oath
of secrecy, is a league of robbers against society, a league divided in its
very bosom into knaves and dupes, or in other words agents and instruments.
It is thus we ought to judge of those modern clubs, which, under the name
of Illuminatists, Martinists, Cagliostronists, and Mesmerites, infest Europe.
These societies are the follies and deceptions of the ancient Cabalists,
Magicians, Orphies, etc., "who," says Plutarch, "led into errors of considerable
magnitude, not only individuals, but kings and nations."
That they had everywhere attributed to themselves prerogatives and immunities,
by means of which they lived exempt from the burdens of other classes:
That they everywhere avoided the toils of the laborer, the dangers of the
soldier, and the disappointments of the merchant:
That they lived everywhere in celibacy, to shun even the cares of a family:
That, under the cloak of poverty, they found everywhere the secret of procuring
wealth and all sorts of enjoyments:
That under the name of mendicity they raised taxes to a greater amount than
That in the form of gifts and offerings they had established fixed and certain
revenues exempt from charges:
That under pretence of retirement and devotion they lived in idleness and
That they had made a virtue of alms-giving, to live quietly on the labors
That they had invented the ceremonies of worship, as a means of attracting
the reverence of the people, while they were playing the parts of gods, of
whom they styled themselves the interpreters and mediators, to assume all
their powers; that, with this design, they had (according to the degree of
ignorance or information of their people) assumed by turns the character
of astrologers, drawers of horoscopes, fortune-tellers, magicians,* necromancers,
quacks, physicians, courtiers, confessors of princes, always aiming at the
great object to govern for their own advantage:
* What is a magician, in the sense in which people understand the word? A
man who by words and gestures pretends to act on supernatural beings, and
compel them to descend at his call and obey his orders. Such was the conduct
of the ancient priests, and such is still that of all priests in idolatrous
nations; for which reason we have given them the denomination of Magicians.
And when a Christian priest pretends to make God descend from heaven, to
fix him to a morsel of leaven, and render, by means of this talisman, souls
pure and in a state of grace, what is this but a trick of magic? And where
is the difference between a Chaman of Tartary who invokes the Genii, or an
Indian Bramin, who makes Vichenou descend in a vessel of water to drive away
evil spirits? Yes, the identity of the spirit of priests in every age and
country is fully established! Every where it is the assumption of an exclusive
privilege, the pretended faculty of moving at will the powers of nature;
and this assumption is so direct a violation of the right of equality, that
whenever the people shall regain their importance, they will forever abolish
this sacrilegious kind of nobility, which has been the type and parent stock
of the other species of nobility.
That sometimes they had exalted the power of kings and consecrated their
persons, to monopolize their favors, or participate their sway:
That sometimes they had preached up the murder of tyrants (reserving it to
themselves to define tyranny), to avenge themselves of their contempt or
And that they always stigmatised with impiety whatever crossed their interests;
that they hindered all public instruction, to exercise the monopoly of science;
that finally, at all times and in all places, they had found the secret of
living in peace in the midst of the anarchy they created, in safety under
the despotism that they favored, in idleness amidst the industry they preached,
and in abundance while surrounded with scarcity; and all this by carrying
on the singular trade of selling words and gestures to credulous people,
who purchase them as commodities of the greatest value.*
* A curious work would be the comparative history of the agnuses of the pope
and the pastils of the grand Lama. It would be worth while to extend this
idea to religions ceremonies in general, and to confront column by column,
the analogous or contrasting points of faith and superstitious practices
in all nations. There is one more species of superstition which it would
be equally salutary to cure, blind veneration for the great; and for this
purpose it would be alone sufficient to write a minute detail of the private
life of kings and princes. No work could be so philosophical as this; and
accordingly we have seen what a general outcry was excited among kings and
the panders of kings, when the Anecdotes of the Court of Berlin first appeared.
What would be the alarm were the public put in possession of the sequel of
this work? Were the people fairly acquainted with all the absurdities of
this species of idol, they would no longer be exposed to covet their specious
pleasures of which the plausible and hollow appearance disturbs their peace,
and hinders them from enjoying the much more solid happiness of their own
Then the different nations, in a transport of fury, were going to tear in
pieces the men who had thus abused them; but the legislator, arresting this
movement of violence, addressed the chiefs and doctors:
"What!" said he, "instructors of nations, is it thus that you have deceived
And the terrified priests replied.
"O legislator! we are men. The people are so superstitious! they have themselves
encouraged these errors."*
* Consider in this view the Brabanters.
And the kings said:
"O legislator! the people are so servile and so ignorant! they prostrated
themselves before the yoke, which we scarcely dared to show them."*
* The inhabitants of Vienna, for example, who harnessed themselves like cattle
and drew the chariot of Leopold.
Then the legislator, turning to the people--"People!" said he, "remember
what you have just heard; they are two indelible truths. Yes, you yourselves
cause the evils of which you complain; yourselves encourage the tyrants,
by a base adulation of their power, by an imprudent admiration of their false
beneficence, by servility in obedience, by licentiousness in liberty, and
by a credulous reception of every imposition. On whom shall you wreak vengeance
for the faults committed by your own ignorance and cupidity?"
And the people, struck with confusion, remained in mournful silence.
SOLUTION OF THE PROBLEM OF CONTRADICTIONS
The legislator then resumed his discourse: "O nations!" said he, "we have
heard the discussion of your opinions. The different sentiments which divide
you have given rise to many reflections, and furnished several questions
which we shall propose to you to solve.
"First, considering the diversity and opposition of the creeds to which you
are attached, we ask on what motives you found your persuasion? Is it from
a deliberate choice that you follow the standard of one prophet rather than
another? Before adopting this doctrine, rather than that, did you first compare?
did you carefully examine them? Or have you received them only from the chance
of birth, from the empire of education and habit? Are you not born Christians
on the borders of the Tiber, Mussulmans on those of the Euphrates, Idolaters
on the Indus, just as you are born fair in cold climates, and sable under
the scorching sun of Africa? And if your opinions are the effect of your
fortuitous position on the earth, of consanguinity, of imitation, how is
it that such a hazard should be a ground of conviction, an argument of
"Secondly, when we reflect on the mutual proscriptions and arbitrary intolerance
of your pretensions, we are frightened at the consequences that flow from
your own principles. Nations! who reciprocally devote each other to the bolts
of heavenly wrath, suppose that the universal Being, whom you revere, should
this moment descend from heaven on this multitude; and, clothed with all
his power, should sit on this throne to judge you; suppose that he should
say to you: Mortals! it is your own justice that I am going to exercise upon
you. Yes, of all the religious systems that divide you, one alone shall this
day be preferred; all the others, all this multitude of standards, of nations,
of prophets, shall be condemned to eternal destruction. This is not enough:
among the particular sects of the chosen system, one only can be favored;
all the others must be condemned: neither is this enough;--from this little
remnant of a group I must exclude all those who have not fulfilled the conditions
enjoined by its precepts. O men! to what a small number of elect have you
limited your race! to what a penury of beneficence do you reduce the immensity
of my goodness! to what a solitude of beholders do you condemn my greatness
and my glory!
"But," said the legislator rising, no matter you have willed it so. Nations!
here is an urn in which all your names are placed: one only is a prize: approach,
and draw this tremendous lottery!" And the nations, seized with terror cried:
"No, no; we are all brothers, all equal; we cannot condemn each other."
"Then," said the legislator, resuming his seat: "O men! who dispute on so
many subjects, lend an attentive ear to one problem which you exhibit, and
which you ought to decide yourselves."
And the people, giving great attention, he lifted an arm towards heaven,
and, pointing to the sun, said:
"Nations, does that sun, which enlightens you, appear square or
"No," answered they with one voice, "it is round."
Then, taking the golden balance that was on the altar:
"This gold," said the legislator, "that you handle every day, is it heavier
than the same volume of copper?"
"Yes,' answered all the people, "gold is heavier than Copper."
Then, taking the sword:
"Is this iron," said the legislator, "softer than lead?"
"No," said the people.
"Is sugar sweet, and gall bitter?"
"Do you love pleasure and hate pain?"
"Thus, then, you are agreed in these points, and many others of the same
"Now, tell us, is there a cavern in the centre of the earth, or inhabitants
in the moon?"
This question caused a universal murmur. Every one answered differently--some
yes, others no; one said it was probable, another said it was an idle and
ridiculous question; some, that it was worth knowing. And the discord was
After some time the legislator, having obtained silence, said:
"Explain to us, O Nations! this problem: we have put to you several questions
which you have answered with one voice, without distinction of race or of
sect: white men, black men, followers of Mahomet and of Moses, worshippers
of Boudha and of Jesus, all have returned the same answer. We then proposed
another question, and you have all disagreed! Why this unanimity in one case,
and this discordance in the other?"
And the group of simple men and savages answered and said: "The reason of
this is plain. In the first case we see and feel the objects, and we speak
from sensation; in the second, they are beyond the reach of our senses--we
speak of them only from conjecture."
"You have resolved the problem," said the legislator; "and your own consent
has established this first truth:
"That whenever objects can be examined and judged of by your senses, you
are agreed in opinion; and that you only differ when the objects are absent
and beyond your reach.
"From this first truth flows another equally clear and worthy of notice.
Since you agree on things which you know with certainty, it follows that
you disagree only on those which you know not with certainty, and about which
you are not sure; that is to say, you dispute, you quarrel, you fight, for
that which is uncertain, that of which you doubt. O men! is this wisdom?
"Is it not, then, demonstrated that truth is not the object of your contests?
that it is not her cause which you defend, but that of your affections, and
your prejudices? that it is not the object, as it really is in itself, that
you would verify, but the object as you would have it; that is to say, it
is not the evidence of the thing that you would enforce, but your own personal
opinion, your particular manner of seeing and judging? It is a power that
you wish to exercise, an interest that you wish to satisfy, a prerogative
that you arrogate to yourself; it is a contest of vanity. Now, as each of
you, on comparing himself to every other, finds himself his equal and his
fellow, he resists by a feeling of the same right. And your disputes, your
combats, your intolerance, are the effect of this right which you deny each
other, and of the intimate conviction of your equality.
"Now, the only means of establishing harmony is to return to nature, and
to take for a guide and regulator the order of things which she has founded;
and then your accord will prove this other truth:
"That real beings have in themselves an identical, constant and uniform mode
of existence; and that there is in your organs a like mode of being affected
"But at the same time, by reason of the mobility of these organs as subject
to your will, you may conceive different affections, and find yourselves
in different relations with the same objects; so that you are to them like
a mirror, capable of reflecting them truly as they are, or of distorting
and disfiguring them.
"Hence it follows, that whenever you perceive objects as they are, you agree
among yourselves, and with the objects; and this similitude between your
sensations and their manner of existence, is what constitutes their truth
with respect to you; and, on the contrary, whenever you differ in opinion,
your disagreement is a proof that you do not represent them such as they
are,--that you change them.
"Hence, also, it follows, that the causes of your disagreement exist not
in the objects themselves, but in your minds, in your manner of perceiving
"To establish, therefore, a uniformity of opinion, it is necessary first
to establish the certainty, completely verified, that the portraits which
the mind forms are perfectly like the originals; that it reflects the objects
correctly as they exist. Now, this result cannot be obtained but in those
cases where the objects can be brought to the test, and submitted to the
examination of the senses. Everything which cannot be brought to this trial
is, for that reason alone, impossible to be determined; there exists no rule,
no term of comparison, no means of certainty, respecting it.
"From this we conclude, that, to live in harmony and peace, we must agree
never to decide on such subjects, and to attach to them no importance; in
a word, we must trace a line of distinction between those that are capable
of verification, and those that are not; and separate by an inviolable barrier
the world of fantastical beings from the world of realities; that is to say,
all civil effect must be taken away from theological and religious
"This, O ye people of the earth! is the object proposed by a great nation
freed from her fetters and her prejudices; this is the work which, under
her eye and by her orders, we had undertaken, when your kings and your priests
came to interrupt it. O kings and priests! you may suspend, yet for a while,
the solemn publication of the laws of nature; but it is no longer in your
power to annihilate or to subvert them."
A general shout then arose from every part of the assembly; and the nations
universally, and with one voice, testified their assent to the proposals
of the delegates: "Resume," said they, "your holy and sublime labors, and
bring them to perfection. Investigate the laws which nature, for our guidance,
has implanted in our breasts, and collect from them an authentic and immutable
code; nor let this code be any longer for one family only, but for us all
without exception. Be the legislators of the whole human race, as you are
the interpreters of nature herself. Show us the line of partition between
the world of chimeras and that of realities; and teach us, after so many
religions of error and delusion, the religion of evidence and truth!
Then the delegates, having resumed their enquiries into the physical and
constituent attributes of man, and examined the motives and affections which
govern him in his individual and social state, unfolded in these words the
laws on which nature herself has founded his happiness.
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