1. Of religion in General. As admidst several degrees of darkness we may form a judgment of those which are the least thick, and among precipices which are the least deep, so we may search among false religions for those that are most comfortable to the welfare of society; for those which, though they have not the effect of leading men to the felicity of another life, may contribute most to their happiness in this.
. .I shall examine, therefore, the several religions of the world, in relation only to the good they produce in civil society, whether I speak of that which has its root in heaven, or of those which spring from the earth.
. .As in this work I am not a divine but a political writer, I may here advance things which are not otherwise true than as they correspond with a worldly manner of thinking, not as considered in their relation to truths of a more sublime nature.
. .With regard to the true religion, a person of the least degree of impartiality must see that I have never pretended to make its interests submit to those of a political nature, but rather to unite them; now, in order to unite, it is necessary that we should know them.
. .The Christian religion, which ordains that men should love each other, would, without doubt, have every nation blest with the best civil, the best political laws; because these, next to this religion, are the greatest good that men can give and receive.
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3. That a moderate Government is most agreeable to the Christian religion, and a despotic Government to the Mahometan. The Christian religion is a stranger to mere despotic power. The mildness so frequently recommended in the Gospel is incompatible with the despotic rage with which a prince punishes his subjects, and exercises himself in cruelty.
. .While the Mahometan princes incessantly give or receive death, the religion of Christians renders their princes less timid, and consequently less cruel. The prince confides in his subjects, and the subjects in the prince. How admirable the religion which, while it only seems to have in view the felicity of the other life, continues the happiness of this!
. .It is the Christian religion that, in spite of the extent of the empire and the influence of the climate, has hindered despotic power from being established in Ethiopia, and has carried into the heart of Africa the manners and laws of Europe.
. .The heir to the empire of Ethiopia¹ enjoys a principality and gives to other subjects an example of love and obedience. Not far thence may we see the Mahometan shutting up the children of the King of Sennar, at whose death the council sends to murder them, in favour of the prince who mounts the throne.
. .Let us set before our eyes, on the one hand, the continual massacres of the kings and generals of the Greeks and Romans, and, on the other, the destruction of people and cities by those famous conquerors Timur Beg and Jenghiz Khan, who ravaged Asia, and we shall see that we owe to Christianity, in government, a certain political law; and in war, a certain law of nations−benefits which human nature can never sufficiently acknowledge.
. .It is owing to this law of nations that among us victory leaves these great advantages to the conquered, life, liberty, laws, wealth, and always religion, when the conqueror is not blind to his own interest.
. .We may truly say that the people of Europe are not at present more disunited than the people and the armies, or even the armies among themselves were, under the Roman empire when it had become a despotic and military government. On the one hand, the armies engaged in war against each other, and, on the other, they pillaged the cities, and divided or confiscated the lands.
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4. Consequences from the Character of the Christian Religion, and that of the Mahometan. From the characters of the Christian and Mahometan religions, we ought, without any further examination, to embrace the one and reject the other: for it is much easier to prove that religion ought to humanise the manners of men than that any particular religion is true.
. .It is a misfortune to human nature when religion is given by a conqueror. The Mahometan religion, which speaks only by the sword, acts still upon men with that destructive spirit with which it was founded.
. .The history of Sabbaco,² one of the pastoral kings of Egypt, is very extraordinary. The tutelar god of Thebes, appearing to him in a dream, ordered him to put to death all the priests of Egypt. He judged that the gods were displeased at his being on the throne, since they commanded him to commit an action contrary to their ordinary pleasure; and therefore he retired into Ethiopia.
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5. That the Catholic Religion is most agreeable to a Monarchy, and the Protestant to a Republic. When a religion is introduced and fixed in a state, it is commonly such as is most suitable to the plan of government there extablished; for those who receive it, and those who are the cause of its being received, have scarcely any other idea of policy than that of the state in which they are born.
. .When the Christian religion, two centuries ago, became unhappily divided into Catholic and Protestant, the people of the north embraced the Protestant, and those of the south adhered still to the Catholic.
. .The reason is plain: the people of the north have, and will fore ever have, a spirit of liberty and independence, which the people of the south have not; and therefore a religion which has no visible head is more agreeable to the independence of the climate than that which has one.
. .In the countries themselves where the Protestant religion became established, the revolutions were made persuant to the several plans of political government. Luthor having great princes on his side would never have been able to make them relish an eccesiastical authority that had no exterior pre-eminence; while Calvin, having to do with people who lived under republican governments, or with obscure citizens in monarchies, might very well avoid establishing dignities and preferments.
. .Each of these two religions was believed to be perfect; the Calvinist judging his most comfortable to what Christ had said, and the Luthoran to what the Apostles had practised.
7. Of the Laws of Perfection in Religion. Human laws, made to direct the will, ought to have precepts, and not counsels; religion, made to influence the heart, should give many counsels, and few precepts.
. .When, for instance, 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, it is expedient that these should be counsels, and not laws: for perfection can have no relation to the universality of men and 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 in respect to a certain order of men, it became necessary to make new ones every day, in order to oblige those men to observe it.³ The legislator wearied himself, and he wearied society, to make men execute by precept what those who love perfection would have executed as counsel.
10. Of the Sect of Stoics. The several sects of philosophy among the ancients were a species of religion. Never were any priciples 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 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 Antoninuses; even Julian himself−Julian (a commendation thus wrested from me will not render me an accomplice of his apostasy)−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 pleasures 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, their rewards were all within themselves. Happy by their philosophy alone, it seemed as if only the happiness of others could increase theirs.
¹ Description of Ethiopia, by M. Ponce, Physician. Edifying Letters, coll. iv, p.290.
² See Diodorus, i. 18.
³ Dupin, Eccesiastical Library of the Sixth Century, v.
The Stoics are still around, you know....