Freethought Archives > Baron d'Holbach > Christianity Unveiled


CHAP. XI.

OF CHRISTIAN MORALITY.

WERE we to believe Christians, there could have been no true morality on earth, before the coming, of the founder of their sect. They represent the world as having been plunged in darkness and vice at all times and places where Christ was unknown. Yet morality was always necessary to mankind; for, without it, no society can exist. We find, that before the time of Christ, there were flourishing and virtuous nations, and enlightened philosophers, who continually reminded mankind of their duties. The precepts of Socrates, Confucius, and the Gymnosophists of India, are by no means inferior to those of the Messiah of the Christians. We find, amongst heathens, innumerable instances of equity, humanity, temperance, disinterestedness, patience, and meekness, which flatly contradict the pretensions of the Christians, and prove that, before Christ was known on earth, virtues flourished, which were far more real than those he came to teach to men.

Was a supernatural revelation necessary to inform mankind that society cannot exist without virtue, and that, by the admission of vice, societies consent to their own destruction? Was it necessary that a God should speak, to shew that they have need of mutual aid and mutual love ? Was assistance from on High necessary to discover that revenge is an evil, and an outrage upon the laws, which, when they are just, assume to themselves the right of retribution? Is not the forgiveness of injuries connected with this principle? And is not hatred eternalized where implacable revenge is exercised? Is not the pardoning of our enemies a greatness of soul, which gives us an advantage over those who offend us? When we do good to our enemies does it not give us a superiority over them? Is not such conduct calculated to multiply our friends? Does not every man, who is desirous to live, perceive that vice, intemperance, and voluptuousness must shorten the period of life? Has not experience demonstrated to every thinking being that vice is injurious and detestable, even to those who are not free from its empire, and that the practice of virtue is the only means of acquiring real esteem and love? However little mankind may reflect on what they themselves, their true interests, and the end of society are, they must feel what they ought to be to each other. Good laws will render them good; and where these exist, there is no need of flying to heaven for rules for the preservation and happiness of society. Reason is sufficient to teach us our duties to our fellow-creatures. What assistance can it receive from a religion by which it is continually contradicted and degraded?

It is said, that Christianity, far from counteracting morality, is its chief support, and renders its obligations more sacred, by giving them the sanction of God. In my opinion, however, the Christian religion, instead of supporting morality renders it weak and precarious. It cannot possibly have any solid foundation on the commands of a God, who is changing, partial and capricious; and ordains with the same mouth, justice and injustice, concord and carriage, toleration and persecution. It is impossible to follow the precepts of a rational morality, under the empire of a religion, which makes a merit of the most destructive zeal, enthusiasm, and fanaticism. A religion, which commands us to imitate the conduct of a despot who delights to ensnare his creatures, who is implacable in his vengeance, and devotes to flaming destruction all who have the misfortune to displease him, is incompatible with all morality. The innumerable crimes with which the Christian, more than any other religion, has stained itself, have always been committed under the pretext of pleasing the ferocious God whom the Christians have inherited from the Jews. The moral character of this God, must, of necessity, govern the moral conduct of those who adore him.

Hence arises the uncertainty or Christians, whether it be most conformable to the spirit of their religion to tolerate, or to persecute, those who differ from them in opinion. The two parties find themselves equally authorised in modes of conduct which are diametrically opposite. At one time, Jehovah declares his detestation of idolators, and makes it a duty to exterminate them; at another time Moses forbids his people to speak ill of the God of nations. The Son of God forbids persecution, after having said that men must be constrained to enter into his kingdom. Yet, as the idea of a severe and cruel God makes a much deeper impression than that of a bounteous one, true Christians have generally thought it their duty to exert their zeal against those whom they have supposed to be enemies to their God. They have imagined it impossible to offend him by espousing his cause with too much ardour. Toleration has seldom been practised, except by indolent and phlegmatic Christians, of a temperament little analogous to that of the God whom they serve.

Must not a true Christian, to whose imitation the examples of the saints and heroes of the Old Testament are proposed, become ferocious and sanguinary? Will he not find motives for cruelty in the conduct of Moses, who twice caused the blood of Israel to stream, and immolated to his God more than forty thousand victims? To justify his own, will he not appeal to the perfidious cruelty of Phineas, Jabel, and Judith? Will he not see David to be a monster of barbarity, adultery, and rebellion, which nevertheless does not prevent his being a man after God's own heart? In short, the whole Bible informs the Christian that his God is delighted with a furious zeal in his service; and this zeal is sufficient to close his eyes on every species of crime.

Let us not then, be surprised to see Christians incessantly persecuting each other. If they are at any time tolerant, it is only when they are themselves persecuted, or too weak to persecute others. Whenever they have power they become the terror and destruction of each other. Since Christianity first appeared on earth, its different sects have incessantly quarrelled. They have mutually exercised the most refined cruelty. Sovereigns, in imitation of David, have espoused the quarrels of discordant priests, and served God by fire and sword. Kings themselves have often perished the victims of religious fanaticism, which tramples on every moral duty in obedience to its God.

In a word, the religion, which boasts of having brought peace on earth, and good will towards men, has for eighteen centuries caused more ravages, and greater effusions of blood, than all the superstitions of heathenism. It has raised walls of separation between the citizens of the same state. It has abandoned concord and affection from families. It has made a duty of injustice and inhumanity. The followers of a God, who was unjustly offended at mankind, became as unjust as he. The servants of a jealous and vindictive God, conceived it their duty to enter into his quarrels and avenge his injuries. Under a God of cruelty, it was judged meritorious to cause the earth to echo with groans, and float in blood.

Such are the important services which the Christian religion has rendered to morality. Let it not be said, that it is through a shameful abuse of this religion, that these horrors have happened. A spirit of persecution and intolerance is the spirit of a religion ordained by a God, jealous of his power, a God who has formally commanded the commission of murder; a God, who, in the excess of his anger, has not spared even his own Son! The servant of such a God is much surer to please him by exterminating his enemies, than by permitting them to offend him in peace. Such a God must necessarily serve as a pretext to the most destructive excesses. A zeal for his glory is used as a veil to conceal the passions of all impostors and fanatics who pretend to be interpreters of the will of heaven; and the enthusiastic hopes to wash away the greatest crimes by bathing his bands in the blood of the enemies of his God.

By a natural consequence of the same principles, an intolerant religion can be only conditionally submissive to the authority of temporal sovereigns. Jews and Christians cannot be obedient to a temporal government, unless its laws be conformed to the arbitrary and often ridiculous commands of their God. But who shall decide whether the laws, most advantageous to society, are conformed to the will of this God? Without doubt, has ministers, the confidants of his secrets and interpreters of his oracles. Thus, in a Christian state, the citizens must be subject rather to spiritual than temporal government, to the priest rather than the magistrate. Hence must arise civil war, bloodshed, proscription, and all that inspires the human breast with horror.

Such is the support afforded to morality by a religion, the first principle of which is to admit the God of the Jews, that is, a tyrant, whose fantastic commands annihilate every rule necessary to the tranquil existence of society. This God creates justice and injustice, his supreme will changes good into bad, and vice into virtue. His caprice overturns the laws which he himself had given to nature. He destroys at his pleasure the moral relations among mankind. In his own conduct lie dispenses with all duties towards his creatures. He seems to authorise them to follow no certain laws, except those prescribed to them, in different circumstances, by the voice of his ministers and prophets. These, when in power, preach nothing but submission. If an attempt be made to abridge that power, they preach arms and rebellion. Are they weak? They preach toleration, patience, and meekness. Are they strong? They preach persecution, revenge, rapine, and cruelty. They always find in Holy Writ arguments to authorise these different modes of conduct. They find in the oracles of their just and immutable God, arguments amply sufficient to justify actions diametrically opposite in their nature and offence. To lay the foundation of morality on such a God, or open books which contain laws so contradictory, is to give it an unstable base; it is to found it on the caprice of those who speak in the name of God; it is to found it on the temperament of each one of his adorers.

Morality should be founded upon invariable rules. A God who destroys these rules destroys his own work. If God be the creator of man, if he intends their happiness and preservation, he would have them to be just, humane, and benevolent, and averse to injustice, fanaticism, and cruelty.

From what has been said, we may see what we ought to think of those divines who pretend that, without the Christian religion there could be neither morality nor virtue among mankind. The converse of this proposition would much nigher approach the truth; and it might be maintained, that every Christian who imitates his God, and practises all his commands, must necessarily be an immoral person. If it be said, that those commands are not always unjust, and that the scriptures often breathe benevolence, harmony, and equity, I answer, Christians must have an inconstant morality, sometimes good and sometimes bad, according to interest and individuals. It appears that Christians must either be wholly destitute of true morality, or vibrate continually from virtue to vice, and from vice to virtue.

The Christian religion is but a rotten prop to morality. It will not bear examination, and every man who discovers as defects will be ready to believe that the morality founded on such a basis can be only a chimera. Thus we often behold men, who have couched the neck beneath the yoke of religion, break loose at once and abandon themselves to debauchery, intemperance, and every kind of vice. Escaping from the slavery of superstition, they fly to complete anarchy, and disbelieve the existence of all moral duties, because they have found religion to be but a fable. Hence, among Christians, the words infidel and libertine have become synonymous. All these inconveniencies would be avoided, if mankind, instead of being taught a theological, were taught a natural morality. Instead of interdicting intemperance and vice, because they are offensive to God and religion, they should be prevented, by convincing man that they are destructive to his existence, and render him contemptible in society: that they are disapproved and forbidden by reason and nature, who aim at his preservation, and direct him to take the path that leads to permanent felicity. Whatever may be the will of God, and independently of the future reward, and punishments announced by religion, it is easy to prove to every man that it is, in this world, his interest to preserve his health, to respect virtue, acquire the esteem of his fellow-creatures, and, in fine, to be chaste, temperate, and virtuous. Those whose passions will not suffer them to attend to principles so clear and reasonable, will not be more docile to the voice of a religion, which they will cease to believe the moment it opposes their misguiding propensities.

Let, then, the pretended advantages which the Christian religion lends morality be no longer boasted. The principles drawn from revelation tend to its destruction. We have frequent examples of Christian nations, whose morals are far more corrupted than those of people whom they style infidels and heathens. The former are, at least, most subject to religious fanaticism, a passion calculated to banish justice and all the social virtue from society.

Christianity creates intolerants and persecutors, who are much more injurious to society than the most abandoned debauchees. It is, at least, certain, that the most Christian nations of Europe, are not those where true morality is most felt and practised. In Spain, Portugal, and Italy, where the most superstitious sect of Christians has fixed its residence, people live in the most shameful ignorance of their duties. Robbery, assassination, debauchery, and persecution, are there carried to their worst extreme; and yet all men are full of religion. Few virtuous men exist in those countries. Religion itself there becomes an accomplice to vice, furnishes criminals with an asylum, and procures to them easy means of reconciliation with God. Presents, prayers, and ceremonies, there furnish mankind with a dispensation from the practice of virtue. Amongst nations, who boast of possessing Christianity in all its purity, religion has so entirely absorbed the attention of its sectaries, that morality enters not into their thought; and they think they fulfil all their duties by a scrupulous observation of the minutiae of superstitious ceremonies, whilst they are strangers to all social affections, and labour for the destruction of human happiness.


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