The Ruins
C. F. [Constantin Francois de] Volney

Part 3 out of 6

liable to be deceived; but you are also men, and equally fallible.
Aid us then in this labyrinth, where the human race has wandered
for so many ages; help us to dissipate the illusion of so many
prejudices and vicious habits. Amid the shock of so many opinions
which dispute for our acceptance, assist us in discovering the
proper and distinctive character of truth. Let us this day
terminate the long combat with error. Let us establish between it
and truth a solemn contest, to which we will invite the opinions of
men of all nations. Let us convoke a general assembly of the
nations. Let them be judges in their own cause; and in the debate
of all systems, let no champion, no argument, be wanting, either on
the side of prejudice or of reason; and let the sentiment of a
general and common mass of evidence give birth to a universal
concord of opinions and of hearts.



Thus spoke the legislator; and the multitude, seized with those
emotions which a reasonable proposition always inspires, expressed
its applause; while the tyrants, left without support, were
overwhelmed with confusion.

A scene of a new and astonishing nature then opened to my view.
All that the earth contains of people and of nations; men of every
race and of every region, converging from their various climates,
seemed to assemble in one allotted place; where, forming an immense
congress, distinguished in groups by the vast variety of their
dresses, features, and complexion, the numberless multitude
presented a most unusual and affecting sight.

On one side I saw the European, with his short close coat, pointed
triangular hat, smooth chin, and powdered hair; on the other side
the Asiatic, with a flowing robe, long beard, shaved head, and
round turban. Here stood the nations of Africa, with their ebony
skins, their woolly hair, their body girt with white and blue
tissues of bark, adorned with bracelets and necklaces of coral,
shells, and glass; there the tribes of the north, enveloped in
their leathern bags; the Laplander, with his pointed bonnet and his
snow-shoes; the Samoyede, with his feverish body and strong odor;
the Tongouse, with his horned cap, and carrying his idols pendant
from his neck; the Yakoute, with his freckled face; the Kalmuc,
with his flat nose and little retorted eyes. Farther distant were
the Chinese, attired in silk, with their hair hanging in tresses;
the Japanese, of mingled race; the Malays, with wide-spreading
ears, rings in their noses, and palm-leaf hats of vast
circumference;* and the tattooed races of the isles of the southern
ocean and of the continent of the antipodes.** The view of so many
varieties of the same species, of so many extravagant inventions of
the same understanding, and of so many modifications of the same
organization, affected me with a thousand feelings and a thousand
thoughts.*** I contemplated with astonishment this gradation of
color, which, passing from a bright carnation to a light brown, a
deeper brown, dusky, bronze, olive, leaden, copper, ends in the
black of ebony and of jet. And finding the Cassimerian, with his
rosy cheek, next to the sun-burnt Hindoo, and the Georgian by the
side of the Tartar, I reflected on the effects of climate hot or
cold, of soil high or low, marshy or dry, open or shaded. I
compared the dwarf of the pole with the giant of the temperate
zones, the slender body of the Arab with the ample chest of the
Hollander; the squat figure of the Samoyede with the elegant form
of the Greek and the Sclavonian; the greasy black wool of the Negro
with the bright silken locks of the Dane; the broad face of the
Kalmuc, his little angular eyes and flattened nose, with the oval
prominent visage, large blue eyes, and aquiline nose of the
Circassian and Abazan. I contrasted the brilliant calicoes of the
Indian, the well-wrought stuffs of the European, the rich furs of
the Siberian, with the tissues of bark, of osiers, leaves and
feathers of savage nations; and the blue figures of serpents,
flowers, and stars, with which they painted their bodies.
Sometimes the variegated appearance of this multitude reminded me
of the enamelled meadows of the Nile and the Euphrates, when, after
rains or inundations, millions of flowers are rising on every side.
Sometimes their murmurs and their motions called to mind the
numberless swarms of locusts which, issuing from the desert, cover
in the spring the plains of Hauran.

* This species of the palm-tree is called Latanier. Its leaf,
similar to a fan-mount, grows upon a stalk issuing directly from
the earth. A specimen may be seen in the botanic garden.

** The country of the Papons of New Guinea.

*** A hall of costumes in one of the galleries of the Louvre would,
in every point of view, be an interesting establishment. It would
furnish an admirable treat to the curiosity of a great number of
persons, excellent models to the artist, and useful subjects of
meditation to the physician, the philosopher and the legislator.

Picture to yourself a collection of the various faces and figures
of every country and nation, exhibiting accurately, color, features
and form; what a field for investigation and enquiry as to the
influence of climate, customs, food, etc. It might truly be called
the science of man! Buffon has attempted a chapter of this nature,
but it only serves to exhibit more strikingly our actual ignorance.
Such a collection is said to have been begun at St. Petersburg, but
it is also said at the same time to be as imperfect as the
vocabulary of the three hundred languages. The enterprise would be
worthy of the French nation.

At the sight of so many rational beings, considering on the one
hand the immensity of thoughts and sensations assembled in this
place, and on the other hand, reflecting on the opposition of so
many opinions, and the shock of so many passions of men so
capricious, I struggled between astonishment, admiration, and
secret dread--when the legislator commanded silence, and attracted
all my attention.

Inhabitants of earth! a free and powerful nation addresses you with
words of justice and peace, and she offers you the sure pledges of
her intentions in her own conviction and experience. Long
afflicted with the same evils as yourselves, we sought for their
source, and found them all derived from violence and injustice,
erected into law by the inexperience of past ages, and maintained
by the prejudices of the present. Then abolishing our artificial
and arbitrary institutions, and recurring to the origin of all
right and reason, we have found that there existed in the very
order of nature and in the physical constitution of man, eternal
and immutable laws, which only waited his observance to render him

O men! cast your eyes on the heavens that give you light, and on
the earth that gives you bread! Since they offer the same bounties
to you all--since from the power that gives them motion you have
all received the same life, the same organs, have you not likewise
all received the same right to enjoy its benefits? Has it not
hereby declared you all equal and free? What mortal shall dare
refuse to his fellow that which nature gives him?

O nations! let us banish all tyranny and all discord; let us form
but one society, one great family; and, since human nature has but
one constitution, let there exist in future but one law, that of
nature--but one code, that of reason--but one throne, that of
justice--but one altar, that of union.

He ceased; and an immense acclamation resounded to the skies. Ten
thousand benedictions announced the transports of the multitude;
and they made the earth re-echo JUSTICE, EQUALITY and UNION.

But different emotions soon succeeded; soon the doctors and the
chiefs of nations exciting a spirit of dispute, there was heard a
sullen murmur, which growing louder, and spreading from group to
group, became a vast disorder; and each nation setting up exclusive
pretensions, claimed a preference for its own code and opinion.

You are in error, said the parties, pointing one to the other. We
alone are in possession of reason and truth. We alone have the
true law, the real rule of right and justice, the only means of
happiness and perfection. All other men are either blind or

And great agitation prevailed.

Then the legislator, after enforcing silence, loudly exclaimed:

What, O people! is this passionate emotion? Whither will this
quarrel conduct you? What can you expect from this dissension?
The earth has been for ages a field of disputation, and you have
shed torrents of blood in your controversies. What have you gained
by so many battles and tears? When the strong has subjected the
weak to his opinion, has he thereby aided the cause of truth?

O nations! take counsel of your own wisdom. When among yourselves
disputes arise between families and individuals, how do you
reconcile them? Do you not give them arbitrators?

Yes, cried the whole multitude.

Do so then to the authors of your present dissensions. Order those
who call themselves your instructors, and who force their creeds
upon you, to discuss before you their reasons. Since they appeal
to your interests, inform yourselves how they support them.

And you, chiefs and governors of the people! before dragging the
masses into the quarrels resulting from your diverse opinions, let
the reasons for and against your views be given. Let us establish
one solemn controversy, one public scrutiny of truth--not before
the tribunal of a corruptible individual, or of a prejudiced party,
but in the grand forum of mankind--guarded by all their information
and all their interests. Let the natural sense of the whole human
race be our arbiter and judge.



The people expressed their applause, and the legislator continued:
To proceed with order, and avoid all confusion, let a spacious
semicircle be left vacant in front of the altar of peace and union;
let each system of religion, and each particular sect, erect its
proper distinctive standard on the line of this semicircle; let its
chiefs and doctors place themselves around the standard, and their
followers form a column behind them.

The semicircle being traced, and the order published, there
instantly rose an innumerable multitude of standards, of all colors
and of every form, like what we see in a great commercial port,
when, on a day of rejoicing, a thousand different flags and
streamers are floating from a forest of masts.

At the sight of this prodigious diversity, I turned towards the
Genius and said:

I thought that the earth was divided only into eight or ten systems
of faith, and I then despaired of a reconciliation; I now behold
thousands of different sects, and how can I hope for concord?

But these, replied the Genius, are not all; and yet they will be

Then, as the groups advanced to take their stations, he pointed out
to me their distinctive marks, and thus began to explain their

That first group, said he, with a green banner bearing a crescent,
a bandage, and a sabre, are the followers of the Arabian prophet.
To say there is a God, without knowing what he is; to believe the
words of a man, without understanding his language; to go into the
desert to pray to God, who is everywhere; to wash the hands with
water, and not abstain from blood; to fast all day, and eat all
night; to give alms of their own goods, and to plunder those of
others; such are the means of perfection instituted by Mahomet--
such are the symbols of his followers; and whoever does not bear
them is a reprobate, stricken with anathema, and devoted to the

A God of clemency, the author of life, has instituted these laws of
oppression and murder: he made them for all the world, but has
revealed them only to one man; he established them from all
eternity, though he made them known but yesterday. These laws are
abundantly sufficient for all purposes, and yet a volume is added
to them. This volume was to diffuse light, to exhibit evidence, to
lead men to perfection and happiness; and yet every page was so
full of obscurities, ambiguities, and contradictions, that
commentaries and explanations became necessary, even in the life-
time of its apostle. Its interpreters, differing in opinion,
divided into opposite and hostile sects. One maintains that Ali is
the true successor; the other contends for Omar and Aboubekre.
This denies the eternity of the Koran; that the necessity of
ablutions and prayers. The Carmite forbids pilgrimages, and allows
the use of wine; the Hakemite preaches the transmigration of souls.
Thus they make up the number of seventy-two sects, whose banners
are before you.* In this contestation, every one attributing the
evidence of truth exclusively to himself, and taxing all others
with heresy and rebellion, turns against them its sanguinary zeal.
And their religion, which celebrates a mild and merciful God, the
common father of all men,--changed to a torch of discord, a signal
for war and murder, has not ceased for twelve hundred years to
deluge the earth in blood, and to ravage and desolate the ancient
hemisphere from centre to circumference.**

* The Mussulmen enumerate in common seventy-two sects, but I read,
while I resided among them, a work which gave an account of more
than eighty,--all equally wise and important.

** Read the history of Islamism by its own writers, and you will be
convinced that one of the principal causes of the wars which have
desolated Asia and Africa, since the days of Mahomet, has been the
apostolical fanaticism of its doctrine. Caesar has been supposed
to have destroyed three millions of men: it would be interesting to
make a similar calculation respecting every founder of a religious

Those men, distinguished by their enormous white turbans, their
broad sleeves, and their long rosaries, are the Imans, the Mollas,
and the Muftis; and near them are the Dervishes with pointed
bonnets, and the Santons with dishevelled hair. Behold with what
vehemence they recite their professions of faith! They are now
beginning a dispute about the greater and lesser impurities--about
the matter and the manner of ablutions,--about the attributes of
God and his perfections--about the Chaitan, and the good and wicked
angels,--about death, the resurrection, the interrogatory in the
tomb, the judgment, the passage of the narrow bridge not broader
than a hair, the balance of works, the pains of hell, and the joys
of paradise.

Next to these, that second more numerous group, with white banners
intersected with crosses, are the followers of Jesus.
Acknowledging the same God with the Mussulmans, founding their
belief on the same books, admitting, like them, a first man who
lost the human race by eating an apple, they hold them, however, in
a holy abhorrence; and, out of pure piety, they call each other
impious blasphemers.

The great point of their dissension consists in this, that after
admitting a God one and indivisible the Christian divides him into
three persons, each of which he believes to be a complete and
entire God, without ceasing to constitute an identical whole, by
the indivisibility of the three. And he adds, that this being, who
fills the universe, has reduced himself to the body of a man; and
has assumed material, perishable, and limited organs, without
ceasing to be immaterial, infinite, and eternal. The Mussulman who
does not comprehend these mysteries, rejects them as follies, and
the visions of a distempered brain; though he conceives perfectly
well the eternity of the Koran, and the mission of the prophet:
hence their implacable hatreds.

Again, the Christians, divided among themselves on many points,
have formed parties not less violent than the Mussulmans; and their
quarrels are so much the more obstinate, as the objects of them are
inaccessible to the senses and incapable of demonstration: their
opinions, therefore, have no other basis but the will and caprice
of the parties. Thus, while they agree that God is a being
incomprehensible and unknown, they dispute, nevertheless, about his
essence, his mode of acting, and his attributes. While they agree
that his pretended transformation into man is an enigma above the
human understanding, they dispute on the junction or distinction of
his two wills and his two natures, on his change of substance, on
the real or fictitious presence, on the mode of incarnation, etc.

Hence those innumerable sects, of which two or three hundred have
already perished, and three or four hundred others, which still
subsist, display those numberless banners which here distract your

The first in order, surrounded by a group in varied and fantastic
dress, that confused mixture of violet, red, white, black and
speckled garments--with heads shaved, or with tonsures, or with
short hair--with red hats, square bonnets, pointed mitres, or long
beards, is the standard of the Roman pontiff, who, uniting the
civil government to the priesthood, has erected the supremacy of
his city into a point of religion, and made of his pride an article
of faith.

On his right you see the Greek pontiff, who, proud of the rivalship
of his metropolis, sets up equal pretensions, and supports them
against the Western church by the priority of that of the East. On
the left are the standards of two recent chiefs,* who, shaking off
a yoke that had become tyrannical, have raised altar against altar
in their reform, and wrested half of Europe from the pope. Behind
these are the subaltern sects, subdivided from the principal
divisions, the Nestorians, the Eutycheans, the Jacobites, the
Iconoclasts, the Anabaptists, the Presbyterians, the Wicliffites,
the Osiandrians, the Manicheans, the Pietists, the Adamites, the
Contemplatives, the Quakers, the Weepers, and a hundred others,**
all of distinct parties, persecuting when strong, tolerant when
weak, hating each other in the name of a God of peace, forming each
an exclusive heaven in a religion of universal charity, dooming
each other to pains without end in a future state, and realizing in
this world the imaginary hell of the other.

* Luther and Calvin.

** Consult upon this subject Dictionnaire des Herseies par l'Abbe
Pluquet, in two volumes 8vo.: a work admirably calculated to
inspire the mind with philosophy, in the sense that the
Lacedemonians taught the children temperance by showing to them the
drunken Helots.

After this group, observing a lonely standard of the color of
hyacinth, round which were assembled men clad in all the different
dresses of Europe and Asia:

At least, said I, to the Genius, we shall find unanimity here.

Yes, said he, at first sight and by a momentary accident. Dost
thou not know that system of worship?

Then, perceiving in Hebrew letters the monogram of the name of God,
and the palms which the Rabbins held in their hands:

True, said I, these are the children of Moses, dispersed even to
this day, abhorring every nation, and abhorred and persecuted by

Yes, he replied, and for this reason, that, having neither the time
nor liberty to dispute, they have the appearance of unanimity. But
no sooner will they come together, compare their principles, and
reason on their opinions, than they will separate as formerly, at
least into two principal sects;* one of which, taking advantage of
the silence of their legislator, and adhering to the literal sense
of his books, will deny everything that is not clearly expressed
therein; and on this principle will reject as profane inventions,
the immortality of the soul, its transmigration to places of pain
or pleasure, its resurrection, the final judgment, the good and bad
angels, the revolt of the evil Genius, and all the poetical belief
of a world to come. And this highly-favored people, whose
perfection consists in a slight mutilation of their persons,--this
atom of a people, which forms but a small wave in the ocean of
mankind, and which insists that God has made nothing but for them,
will by its schism reduce to one-half, its present trifling weight
in the scale of the universe.

* The Sadducees and Pharisees.

He then showed me a neighboring group, composed of men dressed in
white robes, wearing a veil over their mouths, and ranged around a
banner of the color of the morning sky, on which was painted a
globe cleft in two hemispheres, black and white: The same thing
will happen, said he, to these children of Zoroaster,* the obscure
remnant of a people once so powerful. At present, persecuted like
the Jews, and dispersed among all nations, they receive without
discussion the precepts of the representative of their prophet.
But as soon as the Mobed and the Destours** shall assemble, they
will renew the controversy about the good and the bad principle; on
the combats of Ormuzd, God of light, and Ahrimanes, God of
darkness; on the direct and allegorical sense; on the good and evil
Genii; on the worship of fire and the elements; on impurities and
ablutions; on the resurrection of the soul and body, or only of the
soul;*** on the renovation of the present world, and on that which
is to take its place. And the Parses will divide into sects, so
much the more numerous, as their families will have contracted,
during their dispersion, the manners and opinions of different

* They are the Parses, better known by the opprobrious name of
Gaures or Guebres, another word for infidels. They are in Asia
what the Jews are in Europe. The name of their pope or high priest
is Mobed.

** That is to say, their priests. See, respecting the rites of
this religion, Henry Lord Hyde, and the Zendavesta. Their costume
is a robe with a belt of four knots, and a veil over their mouth
for fear of polluting the fire with their breath.

*** The Zoroastrians are divided between two opinions; one party
believing that both soul and body will rise, the other that it will
be the soul only. The Christians and Mahometans have embraced the
most solid of the two.

Next to these, remark those banners of an azure ground, painted
with monstrous figures of human bodies, double, triple, and
quadruple, with heads of lions, boars, and elephants, and tails of
fishes and tortoises; these are the ensigns of the sects of India,
who find their gods in various animals, and the souls of their
fathers in reptiles and insects. These men support hospitals for
hawks, serpents, and rats, and they abhor their fellow creatures!
They purify themselves with the dung and urine of cows, and think
themselves defiled by the touch of a man! They wear a net over the
mouth, lest, in a fly, they should swallow a soul in a state of
penance,* and they can see a Pariah** perish with hunger! They
acknowledge the same gods, but they separate into hostile bands.

* According to the system of the Metempsychosis, a soul, to undergo
purification, passes into the body of some insect or animal. It is
of importance not to disturb this penance, as the work must in that
case begin afresh.

** This is the name of a cast or tribe reputed unclean, because
they eat of what has enjoyed life.

The first standard, retired from the rest, bearing a figure with
four heads, is that of Brama, who, though the creator of the
universe, is without temples or followers; but, reduced to serve as
a pedestal to the Lingam,* he contents himself with a little water
which the Bramin throws every morning on his shoulder, reciting
meanwhile an idle canticle in his praise.

* See Sonnerat, Voyage aux Indes, vol. 1.

The second, bearing a kite with a scarlet body and a white head, is
that of Vichenou, who, though preserver of the world, has passed
part of his life in wicked actions. You sometimes see him under
the hideous form of a boar or a lion, tearing human entrails, or
under that of a horse,* shortly to come armed with a sword to
destroy the human race, blot out the stars, annihilate the planets,
shake the earth, and force the great serpent to vomit a fire which
shall consume the spheres.

* These are the incarnations of Vichenou, or metamorphoses of the
sun. He is to come at the end of the world, that is, at the
expiration of the great period, in the form of a horse, like the
four horses of the Apocalypse.

The third is that of Chiven, God of destruction and desolation, who
has, however, for his emblem the symbol of generation. He is the
most wicked of the three, and he has the most followers. These
men, proud of his character, express in their devotions to him
their contempt for the other gods,* his equals and brothers; and,
in imitation of his inconsistencies, while they profess great
modesty and chastity, they publicly crown with flowers, and
sprinkle with milk and honey, the obscene image of the Lingam.

* When a sectary of Chiven hears the name of Vichenou pronounced,
he stops his ears, runs, and purifies himself.

In the rear of these, approach the smaller standards of a multitude
of gods--male, female, and hermaphrodite. These are friends and
relations of the principal gods, who have passed their lives in
wars among themselves, and their followers imitate them. These
gods have need of nothing, and they are constantly receiving
presents; they are omnipotent and omnipresent, and a priest, by
muttering a few words, shuts them up in an idol or a pitcher, to
sell their favors for his own benefit.

Beyond these, that cloud of standards, which, on a yellow ground,
common to them all, bear various emblems, are those of the same
god, who reins under different names in the nations of the East.
The Chinese adores him in Fot,* the Japanese in Budso, the
Ceylonese in Bedhou, the people of Laos in Chekia, of Pegu in Phta,
of Siam in Sommona-Kodom, of Thibet in Budd and in La. Agreeing in
some points of his history, they all celebrate his life of
penitence, his mortifications, his fastings, his functions of
mediator and expiator, the enmity between him and another god, his
adversary, their battles, and his ascendency. But as they disagree
on the means of pleasing him, they dispute about rites and
ceremonies, and about the dogmas of interior doctrine and of public
doctrine. That Japanese Bonze, with a yellow robe and naked head,
preaches the eternity of souls, and their successive
transmigrations into various bodies; near him, the Sintoist denies
that souls can exist separate from the senses,** and maintains that
they are only the effect of the organs to which they belong, and
with which they must perish, as the sound of the flute perishes
with the flute. Near him, the Siamese, with his eyebrows shaved,
and a talipat screen*** in his hand, recommends alms, offerings,
and expiations, at the same time that he preaches blind necessity
and inexorable fate. The Chinese vo-chung sacrifices to the souls
of his ancestors; and next him, the follower of Confucius
interrogates his destiny in the cast of dice and the movement of
the stars.**** That child, surrounded by a swarm of priests in
yellow robes and hats, is the Grand Lama, in whom the god of Thibet
has just become incarnate.*5 But a rival has arisen who partakes
this benefit with him; and the Kalmouc on the banks of the Baikal,
has a God similar to the inhabitant of Lasa. And they agree, also,
in one important point--that god can inhabit only a human body.
They both laugh at the stupidity of the Indian who pays homage to
cow-dung, though they themselves consecrate the excrements of their

* The original name of this god is Baits, which in Hebrew signifies
an egg. The Arabs pronounce it Baidh, giving to the dh an emphatic
sound which makes it approach to dz. Kempfer, an acurate traveler,
writes it Budso, which must be pronounced Boudso, whence is derived
the name of Budsoist and of Bonze, applied to the priests. Clement
of Alexandria, in his Stromata, writes it Bedou, as it is
pronounced also by the Chingulais; and Saint Jerome, Boudda and
Boutta. At Thibet they call it Budd; and hence the name of the
country called Boud-tan and Ti-budd: it was in this province that
this system of religion was first inculcated in Upper Asia; La is a
corruption of Allah, the name of God in the Syriac language, from
which many of the eastern dialects appear to be derived. The
Chinese having neither b nor d, have supplied their place by f and
t, and have therefore said Fout.

** See in Kempfer the doctrine of the Sintoists, which is a mixture
of that of Epicurus and of the Stoics.

*** It is a leaf of the Latanier species of the palm-tree. Hence
the bonzes of Siam take the appellation of Talapoin. The use of
this screen is an exclusive privilege.

**** The sectaries of Confucius are no less addicted to astrology
than the bonzes. It is indeed the malady of every eastern nation.

*5 The Delai-La-Ma, or immense high priest of La, is the same
person whom we find mentioned in our old books of travels, by the
name of Prester John, from a corruption of the Persian word Djehan,
which signifies the world, to which has been prefixed the French
word prestre or pretre, priest. Thus the priest world, and the god
world are in the Persian idiom the same.

*6 In a recent expedition the English have found certain idols of
the Lamas filled in the inside with sacred pastils from the close
stool of the high priest. Mr. Hastings, and Colonel Pollier, who
is now at Lausanne, are living witnesses of this fact, and
undoubtedly worthy of credit. It will be very extraordinary to
observe, that this disgusting ceremony is connected with a profound
philosophical system, to wit, that of the metempsychosis, admitted
by the Lamas. When the Tartars swallow, the sacred relics, which
they are accustomed to do, they imitate the laws of the universe,
the parts of which are incessantly absorbed and pass into the
substance of each other. It is upon the model of the serpent who
devours his tail, and this serpent is Budd and the world.

After these, a crowd of other banners, which no man could number,
came forward into sight; and the genius exclaimed:

I should never finish the detail of all the systems of faith which
divide these nations. Here the hordes of Tartars adore, in the
forms of beasts, birds, and insects, the good and evil Genii; who,
under a principal, but indolent god, govern the universe. In their
idolatry they call to mind the ancient paganism of the West. You
observe the fantastical dress of the Chamans; who, under a robe of
leather, hung round with bells and rattles, idols of iron, claws of
birds, skins of snakes and heads of owls, invoke, with frantic
cries and factitious convulsions, the dead to deceive the living.
There, the black tribes of Africa exhibit the same opinions in the
worship of their fetiches. See the inhabitant of Juida worship god
in a great snake, which, unluckily, the swine delight to eat.* The
Teleutean attires his god in a coat of several colors, like a
Russian soldier.** The Kamchadale, observing that everything goes
wrong in his frozen country, considers god as an old ill-natured
man, smoking his pipe and hunting foxes and martins in his

* It frequently happens that the swine devour the very species of
serpents the negroes adore, which is a source of great desolation
in the country. President de Brosses has given us, in his History
of the Fetiche, a curious collection of absurdities of this nature.

** The Teleuteans, a Tartar nation, paint God as wearing a vesture
of all colors, particularly red and green; and as these constitute
the uniform of the Russian dragoons, they compare him to this
description of soldiers. The Egyptians also dress the God World in
a garment of every color. Eusebius Proep. Evang. p 115. The
Teleuteans call God Bou, which is only an alteration of Boudd, the
God Egg and World.

*** Consult upon this subject a work entitled, Description des
Peuples, soumis a la Russie, and it will be found that the picture
is not overcharged.

But you may still behold a hundred savage nations who have none of
the ideas of civilized people respecting God, the soul, another
world, and a future life; who have formed no system of worship; and
who nevertheless enjoy the rich gifts of nature in the irreligion
in which she has created them.



The various groups having taken their places, an unbounded silence
succeeded to the murmurs of the multitude; and the legislator said:

Chiefs and doctors of mankind! You remark how the nations, living
apart, have hitherto followed different paths, each believing its
own to be that of truth. If, however, truth is one, and opinions
are various, it is evident that some are in error. If, then, such
vast numbers of us are in the wrong, who shall dare to say, "I am
in the right?" Begin, therefore, by being indulgent in your
dissensions. Let us all seek truth as if no one possessed it. The
opinions which to this day have governed the world, originating
from chance, propagated in obscurity, admitted without discussion,
accredited by a love of novelty and imitation, have usurped their
empire in a clandestine manner. It is time, if they are well
founded, to give a solemn stamp to their certainty, and legitimize
their existence. Let us summon them this day to a general
scrutiny, let each propound his creed, let the whole assembly be
the judge, and let that alone be acknowledged as true which is so
for the whole human race.

Then, by order of position, the representative of the first
standard on the left was allowed to speak:

"You are not permitted to doubt," said their chief, "that our
doctrine is the only true and infallible one. FIRST, it is
revealed by God himself--"

"So is ours," cried all the other standards, "and you are not
permitted to doubt it."

"But at least," said the legislator, "you must prove it, for we
cannot believe what we do not know."

"Our doctrine is proved," replied the first standard, "by numerous
facts, by a multitude of miracles, by resurrections of the dead, by
rivers dried up, by mountains removed--"

"And we also have numberless miracles," cried all the others, and
each began to recount the most incredible things.

"THEIR miracles," said the first standard, "are imaginary, or the
fictions of the evil spirit, who has deluded them."

"They are yours," said the others, "that are imaginary;" and each
group, speaking of itself, cried out:

"None but ours are true, all the others are false."

The legislator then asked: "Have you living witnesses of the

"No," replied they all; "the facts are ancient, the witnesses are
dead, but their writings remain."

"Be it so," replied the legislator; "but if they contradict each
other, who shall reconcile them?"

"Just judge!" cried one of the standards, "the proof that our
witnesses have seen the truth is, that they died to confirm it; and
our faith is sealed by the blood of martyrs."

"And ours too," said the other standards; "we have thousands of
martyrs who have died in the most excruciating torments, without
ever denying the truth."

Then the Christians of every sect, the Mussulmans, the Indians, the
Japanese, recited endless legends of confessors, martyrs,
penitents, etc.

And one of these parties, having denied the martyrology of the
others: "Well," said they, "we will then die ourselves to prove the
truth of our belief."

And instantly a crowd of men, of every religion and of every sect,
presented themselves to suffer the torments of death. Many even
began to tear their arms, and to beat their heads and breasts,
without discovering any symptom of pain.

But the legislator, preventing them--"O men!" said he, "hear my
words with patience. If you die to prove that two and two make
four, will your death add any thing to this truth?"

"No!" answered all.

"And if you die to prove that they make five, will that make them

Again they all answered, "No."

"What, then, is your persuasion to prove, if it changes not the
existence of things? Truth is one--your persuasions are various;
many of you, therefore, are in error. Now, if man, as is evident,
can persuade himself of error, what is the persuasion of man to

"If error has its martyrs, what is the sure criterion of truth?

"If the evil spirit works miracles, what is the distinctive
character of God?

"Besides, why resort forever to incomplete and insufficient
miracles? Instead of changing the course of nature, why not rather
change opinions? Why murder and terrify men, instead of
instructing and correcting them?

"O credulous, but opinionated mortals! none of us know what was
done yesterday, what is doing to-day even under our eyes; and we
swear to what was done two thousand years ago!

"Oh, the weakness and yet the pride of men! The laws of nature are
unchangeable and profound--our minds are full of illusion and
frivolity--and yet we would comprehend every thing--determine every
thing! Forgetting that it is easier for the whole human race to be
in error, than to change the nature of the smallest atom."

"Well, then," said one of the doctors, "let us lay aside the
evidence of fact, since it is uncertain; let us come to argument--
to the proofs inherent in the doctrine."

Then came forward, with a look of confidence, an Iman of the law of
Mahomet; and, having advanced into the circle, turned towards
Mecca, and recited with great fervor his confession of faith.
"Praise be to God," said he, with a solemn and imposing voice, "the
light shines with full evidence, and the truth has no need of
examination." Then, showing the Koran, he exclaimed: "Here is the
light of truth in its proper essence. There is no doubt in this
book. It conducts with safety him who walks in darkness, and who
receives without discussion the divine word which descended on the
prophet, to save the simple and confound the wise. God has
established Mahomet his minister on earth; he has given him the
world, that he may subdue with the sword whoever shall refuse to
receive his law. Infidels dispute, and will not believe; their
obduracy comes from God, who has hardened their hearts to deliver
them to dreadful punishments."*

* This passage contains the sense and nearly the very words of the
first chapter of the Koran; and the reader will observe in general,
that, in the pictures that follow, the writer has endeavored to
give as accurately as possible the letter and spirit of the
opinions of each party.

At these words a violent murmur arose on all sides, and silenced
the speaker. "Who is this man," cried all the groups, "who thus
insults us without a cause? What right has he to impose his creed
on us as conqueror and tyrant? Has not God endowed us, as well as
him, with eyes, understanding, and reason? And have we not an
equal right to use them, in choosing what to believe and what to
reject? If he attacks us, shall we not defend ourselves? If he
likes to believe without examination, must we therefore not examine
before we believe?

"And what is this luminous doctrine that fears the light? What is
this apostle of a God of clemency, who preaches nothing but murder
and carnage? What is this God of justice, who punishes blindness
which he himself has made? If violence and persecution are the
arguments of truth, are gentleness and charity the signs of

A man then advancing from a neighboring group, said to the Iman:

"Admitting that Mahomet is the apostle of the best doctrine,--the
prophet of the true religion,--have the goodness at least to tell
us whether, in the practice of his doctrine, we are to follow his
son-in-law Ali, or his vicars Omar and Aboubekre?"*

* These are the two grand parties into which the Mussulmans are
divided. The Turks have embraced the second, the Persians the

At the sound of these names a terrible schism arose among the
Mussulmans themselves. The partisans of Ali and those of Omar,
calling out heretics and blasphemers, loaded each other with
execrations. The quarrel became so violent that neighboring groups
were obliged to interfere, to prevent their coming to blows. At
length, tranquillity being somewhat restored, the legislator said
to the Imans:

"See the consequences of your principles! If you yourselves were
to carry them into practice, you would destroy each other to the
last man. Is it not the first law of God that man should live?"

Then, addressing himself to the other groups, he continued:

"Doubtless this intolerant and exclusive spirit shocks every idea
of justice, and overturns the whole foundation of morals and
society; but before we totally reject this code of doctrine, is it
not proper to hear some of its dogmas? Let us not pronounce on the
forms, without having some knowledge of the substance."

The groups having consented, the Iman began to expound how God,
having sent to the nations lost in idolatry twenty-four thousand
prophets, had finally sent the last, the seal and perfection of
all, Mahomet; on whom be the salvation of peace: how, to prevent
the divine word from being any longer perverted by infidels, the
supreme goodness had itself written the pages of the Koran. Then,
explaining the particular dogmas of Islamism, the Iman unfolded how
the Koran, partaking of the divine nature, was uncreated and
eternal, like its author: how it had been sent leaf by leaf, in
twenty-four thousand nocturnal apparitions of the angel Gabriel:
how the angel announced himself by a gentle knocking, which threw
the prophet into a cold sweat: how in the vision of one night he
had travelled over ninety heavens, riding on the beast Borack, half
horse and half woman: how, endowed with the gift of miracles, he
walked in the sunshine without a shadow, turned dry trees to green,
filled wells and cisterns with water, and split in two the body of
the moon: how, by divine command, Mahomet had propagated, sword in
hand, the religion the most worthy of God by its sublimity, and the
most proper for men by the simplicity of its practice; since it
consisted in only eight or ten points:--To profess the unity of
God; to acknowledge Mahomet as his only prophet; to pray five times
a day; to fast one month in the year; to go to Mecca once in our
life; to pay the tenth of all we possess; to drink no wine; to eat
no pork; and to make war upon the infidels.* He taught that by
these means every Mussulman becoming himself an apostle and martyr,
should enjoy in this world many blessings; and at his death, his
soul, weighed in the balance of works, and absolved by the two
black angels, should pass the infernal pit on the bridge as narrow
as a hair and as sharp as the edge of a sword, and should finally
be received to a region of delight, which is watered with rivers of
milk and honey, and embalmed in all the perfumes of India and
Arabia; and where the celestial Houris--virgins always chaste--are
eternally crowning with repeated favors the elect of God, who
preserve an eternal youth.

* Whatever the advocates for the philosophy and civilization of the
Turks may assert, to make war upon infidels is considered by them
as an obligatory precept and an act of religion. See Reland de
Relig. Mahom.

At these words an involuntary smile was seen on all their lips; and
the various groups, reasoning on these articles of faith, exclaimed
with one voice:

"Is it possible that reasonable beings can admit such reveries?
Would you not think it a chapter from The Thousand and One Nights?"

A Samoyede advanced into the circle: "The paradise of Mahomet,"
said he, "appears to me very good; but one of the means of gaining
it is embarrassing: for if we must neither eat nor drink between
the rising and setting sun, as he has ordered, how are we to
practise that fast in my country, where the sun continues above the
horizon six months without setting?"

"That is impossible," cried all the Mussulman doctors, to support
the teaching of the prophet; but a hundred nations having attested
the fact, the infallibility of Mahomet could not but receive a
severe shock.

"It is singular," said an European, "that God should be constantly
revealing what takes place in heaven, without ever instructing us
what is doing on the earth."

"For my part," said an American," I find a great difficulty in the
pilgrimage. For suppose twenty-five years to a generation, and
only a hundred millions of males on the globe,--each being obliged
to go to Mecca once in his life,--there must be four millions a
year on the journey; and as it would be impracticable for them to
return the same year, the numbers would be doubled--that is, eight
millions: where would you find provisions, lodgings, water,
vessels, for this universal procession? Here must be miracles

"The proof," said a catholic doctor, "that the religion of Mahomet
is not revealed, is that the greater part of the ideas which serve
for its basis existed a long time before, and that it is only a
confused mixture of truths disfigured and taken from our holy
religion and from that of the Jews; which an ambitious man has made
to serve his projects of domination, and his worldly views. Look
through his book; you will see nothing there but the histories of
the Bible and the Gospel travestied into absurd fables--into a
tissue of vague and contradictory declamations, and ridiculous or
dangerous precepts.

"Analyze the spirit of these precepts, and the conduct of their
apostle; you will find there an artful and audacious character,
which, to obtain its end, works ably it is true, on the passions of
the people it had to govern. It is speaking to simple men, and it
entertains them with miracles; they are ignorant and jealous, and
it flatters their vanity by despising science; they are poor and
rapacious, and it excites their cupidity by the hope of pillage;
having nothing at first to give them on earth, it tells them of
treasures in heaven; it teaches them to desire death as a supreme
good; it threatens cowards with hell; it rewards the brave with
paradise; it sustains the weak with the opinion of fatality; in
short, it produces the attachment it wants by all the allurements
of sense, and all the power of the passions.

"How different is the character of our religion! and how completely
does its empire, founded on the counteraction of the natural
temper, and the mortification of all our passions, prove its divine
origin! How forcibly does its mild and compassionate morality, its
affections altogether spiritual, attest its emanation from God!
Many of its doctrines, it is true, soar above the reach of the
understanding, and impose on reason a respectful silence; but this
more fully demonstrates its revelation, since the human mind could
never have imagined such mysteries."

Then, holding the Bible in one hand and the four Gospels in the
other, the doctor began to relate that, in the beginning, God,
after passing an eternity in idleness, took the resolution, without
any known cause, of making the world out of nothing; that having
created the whole universe in six days, he found himself fatigued
on the seventh; that having placed the first human pair in a garden
of delights, to make them completely happy, he forbade their
tasting a particular fruit which he placed within their reach; that
these first parents, having yielded to the temptation, all their
race (which were not yet born) had been condemned to bear the
penalty of a fault which they had not committed; that, after having
left the human race to damn themselves for four or five thousand
years, this God of mercy ordered a well beloved son, whom he had
engendered without a mother, and who was as old as himself, to go
and be put to death on the earth; and this for the salvation of
mankind; of whom much the greater portion, nevertheless, have ever
since continued in the way of perdition; that to remedy this new
difficulty, this same God, born of a virgin, having died and risen
from the dead, assumes a new existence every day, and in the form
of a piece of bread, multiplies himself by millions at the voice of
one of the basest of men. Then, passing on to the doctrine of the
sacraments, he was going to treat at large on the power of
absolution and reprobation, of the means of purging all sins by a
little water and a few words, when, uttering the words indulgence,
power of the pope, sufficient grace, and efficacious grace, he was
interrupted by a thousand cries.

"It is a horrible abuse," cried the Lutherans, "to pretend to remit
sins for money."

"The notion of the real presence," cried the Calvinists, "is
contrary to the text of the Gospel."

"The pope has no right to decide anything of himself," cried the
Jansenists; and thirty other sects rising up, and accusing each
other of heresies and errors, it was no longer possible to hear
anything distinctly.

Silence being at last restored, the Mussulmans observed to the

"Since you have rejected our doctrine as containing things
incredible, can you admit that of the Christians? Is not theirs
still more contrary to common sense and justice? A God, immaterial
and infinite, to become a man! to have a son as old as himself!
This god-man to become bread, to be eaten and digested! Have we
any thing equal to that? Have the Christians an exclusive right of
setting up a blind faith? And will you grant them privileges of
belief to our detriment?"

Some savage tribes then advanced: "What!" said they, "because a man
and woman ate an apple six thousand years ago, all the human race
are damned? And you call God just? What tyrant ever rendered
children responsible for the faults of their fathers? What man can
answer for the actions of another? Does not this overturn every
idea of justice and of reason?"

Others exclaimed: "Where are the proofs, the witnesses of these
pretended facts? Can we receive them without examining the
evidence? The least action in a court of justice requires two
witnesses; and we are ordered to believe all this on mere tradition
and hearsay!"

A Jewish Rabbin then addressing the assembly, said: "As to the
fundamental facts, we are sureties; but with regard to their form
and their application, the case is different, and the Christians
are here condemned by their own arguments. For they cannot deny
that we are the original source from which they are derived--the
primitive stock on which they are grafted; and hence the reasoning
is very short: Either our law is from God, and then theirs is a
heresy, since it differs from ours, or our law is not from God, and
then theirs falls at the same time."

"But you must make this distinction," replied the Christian: "Your
law is from God as typical and preparative, but not as final and
absolute: you are the image of which we are the substance."

"We know," replied the Rabbin, "that such are your pretensions; but
they are absolutely gratuitous and false. Your system turns
altogether on mystical meanings, visionary and allegorical
interpretations.* With violent distortions on the letter of our
books, you substitute the most chimerical ideas for the true ones,
and find in them whatever pleases you; as a roving imagination will
find figures in the clouds. Thus you have made a spiritual Messiah
of that which, in the spirit of our prophets, is only a temporal
king. You have made a redemption of the human race out of the
simple re-establishment of our nation. Your conception of the
Virgin is founded on a single phrase, of which you have changed the
meaning. Thus you make from our Scriptures whatever your fancy
dictates; you even find there your trinity; though there is not a
word that has the most distant allusion to such a thing; and it is
an invention of profane writers, admitted into your system with a
host of other opinions, of every religion and of every sect, during
the anarchy of the first three centuries of your era."

* When we read the Fathers of the church, and see upon what
arguments they have built the edifice of religion, we are
inexpressibly astonished with their credulity or their knavery: but
allegory was the rage of that period; the Pagans employed it to
explain the actions of their gods, and the Christians acted in the
same spirit when they employed it after their fashion.

At these words, the Christian doctors, crying sacrilege and
blasphemy, sprang forward in a transport of fury to fall upon the
Jew; and a troop of monks, in motley dresses of black and white,
advanced with a standard on which were painted pincers, gridirons,
lighted fagots, and the words Justice, Charity, Mercy.* "It is
necessary," said they, "to make an example of these impious
wretches, and burn them for the glory of God." They began even to
prepare the pile, when a Mussulman answered in a strain of irony:

"This, then, is that religion of peace, that meek and beneficent
system which you so much extol! This is that evangelical charity
which combats infidelity with persuasive mildness, and repays
injuries with patience! Ye hypocrites! It is thus that you
deceive mankind--thus that you propagate your accursed errors!
When you were weak, you preached liberty, toleration, peace; when
you are strong, you practise persecution and violence--"

* This description answers exactly to the banner of the Inquisition
of Spanish Jacobins.

And he was going to begin the history of the wars and slaughters of
Christianity, when the legislator, demanding silence, suspended
this scene of discord.

The monks, affecting a tone of meekness and humility, exclaimed:
"It is not ourselves that we would avenge; it is the cause of God;
it is the glory of God that we defend."

"And what right have you, more than we," said the Imans, "to
constitute yourselves the representatives of God? Have you
privileges that we have not? Are you not men like us?"

"To defend God," said another group, "to pretend to avenge him, is
to insult his wisdom and his power. Does he not know, better than
men, what befits his dignity?"

"Yes," replied the monks, "but his ways are secret."

"And it remains for you to prove," said the Rabbins, "that you have
the exclusive privilege of understanding them."

Then, proud of finding supporters to their cause, the Jews thought
that the books of Moses were going to be triumphant, when the Mobed
(high priest) of the Parses obtained leave to speak.

"We have heard," said he, "the account of the Jews and Christians
of the origin of the world; and, though greatly mutilated, we find
in it some facts which we admit. But we deny that they are to be
attributed to the legislator of the Hebrews. It was not he who
made known to men these sublime truths, these celestial events. It
was not to him that God revealed them, but to our holy prophet
Zoroaster: and the proof of this is in the very books that they
refer to. Examine with attention the laws, the ceremonies, the
precepts established by Moses in those books; you will not find the
slightest indication, either expressed or understood, of what
constitutes the basis of the Jewish and Christian theology. You
nowhere find the least trace of the immortality of the soul, or of
a future life, or of heaven, or of hell, or of the revolt of the
principal angel, author of the evils of the human race. These
ideas were not known to Moses, and the reason is very obvious: it
was not till four centuries afterwards that Zoroaster first
evangelized them in Asia.*

* See the Chronology of the Twelve Ages, in which I conceive myself
to have clearly proved that Moses lived about 1,400 years before
Jesus Christ, and Zoroaster about a thousand.

"Thus," continued the Mobed, turning to the Rabbins, "it was not
till after that epoch, that is to say, in the time of your first
kings, that these ideas began to appear in your writers; and then
their appearance was obscure and gradual, according to the progress
of the political relations between your ancestors and ours. It was
especially when, having been conquered by the kings of Nineveh and
Babylon and transported to the banks of the Tygris and the
Euphrates, where they resided for three successive generations,
that they imbibed manners and opinions which had been rejected as
contrary to their law. When our king Cyrus had delivered them from
slavery, their heart was won to us by gratitude; they became our
disciples and imitators; and they admitted our dogmas in the
revision of their books;* for your Genesis, in particular, was
never the work of Moses, but a compilation drawn up after the
return from the Babylonian captivity, in which are inserted the
Chaldean opinions of the origin of the world.

* In the first periods of the Christian church, not only the most
learned of those who have since been denominated heretics, but many
of the orthodox conceived Moses to have written neither the law nor
the Pentateuch, but that the work was a compilation made by the
elders of the people and the Seventy, who, after the death of
Moses, collected his scattered ordinances, and mixed with them
things that were extraneous; similar to what happened as to the
Koran of Mahomet. See Les Clementines, Homel. 2. sect. 51. and
Homel. 3. sect. 42.

Modern critics, more enlightened or more attentive than the
ancients, have found in Genesis in particular, marks of its having
been composed on the return from the captivity; but the principal
proofs have escaped them. These I mean to exhibit in an analysis
of the book of Genesis, in which I shall demonstrate that the tenth
chapter, among others, which treats of the pretended generations of
the man called Noah, is a real geographical picture of the world,
as it was known to the Hebrews at the epoch of the captivity, which
was bounded by Greece or Hellas at the West, mount Caucasus at the
North, Persia at the East, and Arabia and Upper Egypt at the South.
All the pretended personages from Adam to Abraham, or his father
Terah, are mythological beings, stars, constellations, countries.
Adam is Bootes: Noah is Osiris: Xisuthrus Janus, Saturn; that is to
say Capricorn, or the celestial Genius that opened the year. The
Alexandrian Chronicle says expressly, page 85, that Nimrod was
supposed by the Persians to be their first king, as having invented
the art of hunting, and that he was translated into heaven, where
he appears under the name of Orion.

"At first the pure followers of the law, opposing to the emigrants
the letter of the text and the absolute silence of the prophet,
endeavored to repel these innovations; but they ultimately
prevailed, and our doctrine, modified by your ideas, gave rise to a
new sect.

"You expected a king to restore your political independence; we
announced a God to regenerate and save mankind. From this
combination of ideas, your Essenians laid the foundation of
Christianity: and whatever your pretensions may be, Jews,
Christians, Mussulmans, you are, in your system of spiritual
beings, only the blundering followers of Zoroaster."

The Mobed, then passing on to the details of his religion, quoting
from the Zadder and the Zendavesta, recounted, in the same order as
they are found in the book of Genesis, the creation of the world in
six gahans,* the formation of a first man and a first woman, in a
divine place, under the reign of perfect good; the introduction of
evil into the world by the great snake, emblem of Ahrimanes; the
revolt and battles of the Genius of evil and darkness against
Ormuzd, God of good and of light; the division of the angels into
white and black, or good and bad; their hierarchal orders,
cherubim, seraphim, thrones, dominions, etc.; the end of the world
at the close of six thousand years; the coming of the lamb, the
regenerator of nature; the new world; the future life, and the
regions of happiness and misery; the passage of souls over the
bridge of the bottomless pit; the celebration of the mysteries of
Mithras; the unleavened bread which the initiated eat; the baptism
of new-born children; the unction of the dead; the confession of
sins; and, in a word, he recited so many things analagous to those
of the three preceding religions, that his discourse seemed like a
commentary or a continuation of the Koran or the Apocalypse.**

* Or periods, or in six gahan-bars, that is six periods of time.
These periods are what Zoroaster calls the thousands of God or of
light, meaning the six summer months. In the first, say the
Persians, God created (arranged in order) the heavens; in the
second the waters; in the third the earth; in the fourth trees; in
the fifth animals; and in the sixth man; corresponding with the
account in Genesis. For particulars see Hyde, ch. 9, and Henry
Lord, ch. 2, on the religion of the ancient Persians. It is
remarkable that the same tradition is found in the sacred books of
the Etrurians, which relate that the fabricator of all things had
comprised the duration of his work in a period of twelve thousand
years, which period was distributed to the twelve houses of the
sun. In the first thousand, God made heaven and earth; in the
second the firmament; in the third the sea and the waters; in the
fourth the sun, moon and stars; in the fifth the souls of animals,
birds, and reptiles; in the sixth man. See Suidas, at the word
Tyrrhena; which shows first the identity of their theological and
astrological opinions; and, secondly, the identity, or rather
confusion of ideas, between absolute and systematical creation;
that is, the periods assigned for renewing the face of nature,
which were at first the period of the year, and afterwards periods
of 60, of 600, of 25,000, of 36,000 and of 432,000 years.

** The modern Parses and the ancient Mithriacs, who are the same
sect, observe all the Christian sacraments, even the laying on of
hands in confirmation. The priest of Mithra, says Tertullian, (de
Proescriptione, ch. 40) promises absolution from sin on confession
and baptism; and, if I rightly remember, Mithra marks his soldiers
in the forehead, with the chrism called in the Egyptian Kouphi; he
celebrates the sacrifice of bread, which is the resurrection, and
presents the crown to his followers, menacing them at the same time
with the sword, etc.

In these mysteries they tried the courage of the initiated with a
thousand terrors, presenting fire to his face, a sword to his
breast, etc.; they also offered him a crown, which he refused,
saying, God is my crown: and this crown is to be seen in the
celestial sphere by the side of Bootes. The personages in these
mysteries were distinguished by the names of the animal
constellations. The ceremony of mass is nothing more than an
imitation of these mysteries and those of Eleusis. The
benediction, the Lord be with you, is a literal translation of the
formula of admission chou-k, am, p-ka. See Beausob. Hist. Du
Manicheisme, vol. ii.

But the Jewish, Christian, and Mahometan doctors, crying out
against this recital, and treating the Parses as idolaters and
worshippers of fire, charged them with falsehood, interpolations,
falsification of facts; and there arose a violent dispute as to the
dates of the events, their order and succession, the origin of the
doctrines, their transmission from nation to nation, the
authenticity of the books on which they are founded, the epoch of
their composition, the character of their compilers, and the
validity of their testimony. And the various parties, pointing out
reciprocally to each other, the contradictions, improbabilities,
and forgeries, accused one another of having established their
belief on popular rumors, vague traditions, and absurd fables,
invented without discernment, and admitted without examination by
unknown, partial, or ignorant writers, at uncertain or unknown

A great murmur now arose from under the standards of the various
Indian sects; and the Bramins, protesting against the pretensions
of the Jews and the Parses, said:

"What are these new and almost unheard of nations, who arrogantly
set themselves up as the sources of the human race, and the
depositaries of its archives? To hear their calculations of five
or six thousand years, it would seem that the world was of
yesterday; whereas our monuments prove a duration of many thousands
of centuries. And for what reason are their books to be preferred
to ours? Are then the Vedes, the Chastres, and the Pourans
inferior to the Bibles, the Zendavestas, and the Zadders?* And is
not the testimony of our fathers and our gods as valid as that of
the fathers and the gods of the West? Ah! if it were permitted to
reveal our mysteries to profane men! if a sacred veil did not
justly conceal them from every eye!"

These are the sacred volumes of the Hindoos; they are sometimes
written Vedams, Pouranams, Chastrans, because the Hindoos, like the
Persians, are accustomed to give a nasal sound to the terminations
of their words, which we represent by the affixes on and an, and
the Portuguese by the affixes om and am. Many of these books have
been translated, thanks to the liberal spirit of Mr. Hastings, who
has founded at Calcutta a literary society, and a printing press.
At the same time, however, that we express our gratitude to this
society, we must be permitted to complain of its exclusive spirit;
the number of copies printed of each book being such as it is
impossible to purchase them even in England; they are wholly in the
hands of the East India proprietors. Scarcely even is the Asiatic
Miscellany known in Europe; and a man must be very learned in
oriental antiquity before he so much as hears of the Jones's, the
Wilkins's, and the Halhed's, etc. As to the sacred books of the
Hindoos, all that are yet in our hands are the Bhagvat Geeta, the
Ezour-Vedam, the Bagavadam, and certain fragments of the Chastres
printed at the end of the Bhagvat Geeta. These books are in
Indostan what the Old and New Testament are in Christendom, the
Koran in Turkey, the Zadder and the Zendavesta among the Parses,
etc. When I have taken an extensive survey of their contents, I
have sometimes asked myself, what would be the loss to the human
race if a new Omar condemned them to the flames; and, unable to
discover any mischief that would ensue, I call the imaginary chest
that contains them, the box of Pandora.

The Bramins stopping short at these words: "How can we admit your
doctrine," said the legislator, "if you will not make it known?
And how did its first authors propagate it, when, being alone
possessed of it, their own people were to them profane? Did heaven
reveal it to be kept a secret?"*

* The Vedas or Vedams are the sacred volumes of the Hindoos, as the
Bibles with us. They are three in number; the Rick Veda, the
Yadjour Veda, and the Sama Veda; they are so scarce in India, that
the English could with great difficulty find an original one, of
which a copy is deposited in the British Museum; they who reckon
four Vedas, include among them the Attar Veda, concerning
ceremonies, but which is lost. There are besides commentaries
named Upanishada, one of which was published by Anquetil du Peron,
and entitled Oupnekhat, a curious work. The date of these books is
more than twenty-five centuries prior to our era; their contents
prove that all the reveries of the Greek metaphysicians come from
India and Egypt. Since the year 1788, the learned men of England
are working in India a mine of literature totally unknown in
Europe, and which proves that the civilization of India ascends to
a very remote antiquity. After the Vedas come the Chastras
amounting to six. They treat of theology and the Sciences.
Afterwards eighteen Pouranas, treating of Mythology and History.
See the Bahgouet-guita, the Baga Vadam, and the Ezour-Vedam, etc.

But the Bramins persisting in their silence: "Let them have the
honor of the secret," said a European: "Their doctrine is now
divulged; we have their books, and I can give you the substance of

Then beginning with an abstract of the four Vedes, the eighteen
Pourans, and the five or six Chastres, he recounted how a being,
infinite, eternal, immaterial and round, after having passed an
eternity in self-contemplation, and determining at last to manifest
himself, separated the male and female faculties which were in him,
and performed an act of generation, of which the Lingam remains an
emblem; how that first act gave birth to three divine powers,
Brama, Bichen or Vichenou, and Chib or Chiven;* whose functions
were--the first to create, the second to preserve, and the third to
destroy, or change the form of the universe. Then, detailing the
history of their operations and adventures, he explained how Brama,
proud of having created the world and the eight bobouns, or spheres
of probation, thought himself superior to Chib, his equal; how his
pride brought on a battle between them, in which these celestial
globes were crushed like a basket of eggs; how Brama, vanquished in
this conflict, was reduced to serve as a pedestal to Chib,
metamorphosed into a Lingam; how Vichenou, the god mediator, has
taken at different times to preserve the world, nine mortal forms
of animals; how first, in shape of a fish, he saved from the
universal deluge a family who repeopled the earth; how afterwards,
in the form of a tortoise,** he drew from the sea of milk the
mountain Mandreguiri (the pole); then, becoming a boar, he tore the
belly of the giant Ereuniachessen, who was drowning the earth in
the abyss of Djole, from whence he drew it out with his tusks; how,
becoming incarnate in a black shepherd, and under the name of
Christ-en, he delivered the world of the enormous serpent Calengem,
and then crushed his head, after having been wounded by him in the

* These names are differently pronounced according to the different
dialects; thus they say Birmah, Bremma, Brouma. Bichen has been
turned into Vichen by the easy exchange of a B for a V, and into
Vichenou by means of a grammatical affix. In the same manner Chib,
which is synonymous with Satan, and signifies adversary, is
frequently written Chiba and Chiv-en; he is called also Rouder and
Routr-en, that is, the destroyer.

** This is the constellation testudo, or the lyre, which was at
first a tortoise, on account of its slow motion round the Pole;
then a lyre, because it is the shell of this reptile on which the
strings of the lyre are mounted. See an excellent memoir of M.
Dupuis sur l'Origine des Constellations.

Then, passing on to the history of the secondary Genii, he related
how the Eternal, to display his own glory, created various orders
of angels, whose business it was to sing his praises and to direct
the universe; how a part of these angels revolted under the
guidance of an ambitious chief, who strove to usurp the power of
God, and to govern all; how God plunged them into a world of
darkness, there to undergo the punishment for their crimes; how at
last, touched with compassion, he consented to release them, to
receive them into favor, after they should undergo a long series of
probations; how, after creating for this purpose fifteen orbits or
regions of planets, and peopling them with bodies, he ordered these
rebel angels to undergo in them eighty-seven transmigrations; he
then explained how souls, thus purified, returned to the first
source, to the ocean of life and animation from which they had
proceeded; and since all living creatures contain portions of this
universal soul, he taught how criminal it was to deprive them of
it. He was finally proceeding to explain the rites and ceremonies,
when, speaking of offerings and libations of milk and butter made
to gods of copper and wood, and then of purifications by the dung
and urine of cows, there arose a universal murmur, mixed with peals
of laughter, which interrupted the orator.

Each of the different groups began to reason on that religion:
"They are idolators," said the Mussulmans; "and should be
exterminated." "They are deranged in their intellect," said the
followers of Confucius; "we must try to cure them." "What
ridiculous gods," said others, "are these puppets, besmeared with
grease and smoke! Are gods to be washed like dirty children, from
whom you must brush away the flies, which, attracted by honey, are
fouling them with their excrements!"

But a Bramin exclaimed with indignation: "These are profound
mysteries,--emblems of truth, which you are not worthy to hear."

"And in what respect are you more worthy than we?" exclaimed a Lama
of Tibet. "Is it because you pretend to have issued from the head
of Brama, and the rest of the human race from the less noble parts
of his body? But to support the pride of your distinctions of
origin and castes, prove to us in the first place that you are
different from other men; establish, in the next place, as
historical facts, the allegories which you relate; show us, indeed,
that you are the authors of all this doctrine; for we will
demonstrate, if necessary, that you have only stolen and disfigured
it; that you are only the imitators of the ancient paganism of the
West; to which, by an ill assorted mixture, you have allied the
pure and spiritual doctrine of our gods--a doctrine totally
detached from the senses, and entirely unknown on earth till Beddou
taught it to the nations."*

* All the ancient opinions of the Egyptian and Grecian theologians
are to be found in India, and they appear to have been introduced,
by means of the commerce of Arabia and the vicinity of Persia, time

A number of groups having asked what was this doctrine, and who was
this god, of whom the greater part had never heard the name, the
Lama resumed and said:

"In the beginning, a sole-existent and self-existent God, having
passed an eternity in the contemplation of his own being, resolved
to manifest his perfections out of himself, and created the matter
of the world. The four elements being produced, but still in a
state of confusion, he breathed on the face of the waters, which
swelled like an immense bubble in form of an egg, which unfolding,
became the vault or orb of heaven, enclosing the world.* Having
made the earth, and the bodies of animals, this God, essence of
motion, imparted to them a part of his own being to animate them;
for this reason, the soul of everything that breathes being a
portion of the universal soul, no one of them can perish; they only
change their form and mould in passing successively into different
bodies. Of all these forms, the one most pleasing to God is that
of man, as most resembling his own perfections. When a man, by an
absolute disengagement from his senses, is wholly absorbed in self-
contemplation, he then discovers the divinity, and becomes himself
God. Of all the incarnations of this kind that God has hitherto
taken, the greatest and most solemn was that in which he appeared
thirty centuries ago in Kachemire, under the name of Fot or Beddou,
to preach the doctrines of self-denial and self-annihilation."

* This cosmogony of the Lamas, the Bonzes, and even the Bramins, as
Henry Lord asserts, is literally that of the ancient Egyptians.
The Egyptians, says Porphyry, call Kneph, intelligence, or
efficient cause of the universe. They relate that this God vomited
an egg, from which was produced another God named Phtha or Vulcan,
(igneous principle or the sun) and they add, that this egg is the
world. Euseb. Proep. Evang. p. 115.

They represent, says the same author in another place, the God
Kneph, or efficient cause, under the form of a man in deep blue
(the color of the sky) having in his hand a sceptre, a belt round
his body, and a small bonnet royal of light feathers on his head,
to denote how very subtile and fugacious the idea of that being is.
Upon which I shall observe that Kneph in Hebrew signifies a wing, a
feather, and that this color of sky-blue is to be found in the
majority of the Indian Gods, and is, under the name of Narayan, one
of their most distinguishing epithets.

Then, pursuing the history of Fot, the Lama continued:

"He was born from the right flank of a virgin of royal blood, who
did not cease to be a virgin for having become a mother; that the
king of the country, uneasy at his birth, wished to destroy him,
and for this purpose ordered a massacre of all the males born at
that period, that being saved by shepherds, Beddou lived in the
desert till the age of thirty years, at which time he began his
mission to enlighten men and cast out devils; that he performed a
multitude of the most astonishing miracles; that he spent his life
in fasting and severe penitence, and at his death, bequeathed to
his disciples a book containing his doctrines."

And the Lama began to read:

"He that leaveth his father and mother to follow me," says Fot,
"becomes a perfect Samanean (a heavenly man).

"He that practices my precepts to the fourth degree of perfection,
acquires the faculty of flying in the air, of moving heaven and
earth, of prolonging or shortening his life (rising from the dead).

"The Samanean despises riches, and uses only what is strictly
necessary; he mortifies his body, silences his passions, desires
nothing, forms no attachments, meditates my doctrines without
ceasing, endures injuries with patience, and bears no malice to his

"Heaven and earth shall perish," says Fot: "despise therefore your
bodies, which are composed of the four perishable elements, and
think only of your immortal soul.

"Listen not to the flesh: fear and sorrow spring from the passions:
stifle the passions and you destroy fear and sorrow.

"Whoever dies without having embraced my religion," says Fot,
"returns among men, until he embraces it."

The Lama was going on with his reading, when the Christians
interrupted him, crying out that this was their own religion
adulterated--that Fot was no other than Jesus himself disfigured,
and that the Lamas were the Nestorians and the Manicheans disguised
and bastardized.*

* This is asserted by our missionaries, and among others by Georgi
in his unfinished work of the Thibetan alphabet: but if it can be
proved that the Manicheans were but plagiarists, and the ignorant
echo of a doctrine that existed fifteen hundred years before them,
what becomes of the declarations of Georgi? See upon this subject,
Beausob. Hist. du Manicheisme.

But the Lama, supported by the Chamans, Bonzes, Gonnis, Talapoins
of Siam, of Ceylon, of Japan, and of China, proved to the
Christians, even from their own authors, that the doctrine of the
Samaneans was known through the East more than a thousand years
before the Christian era; that their name was cited before the time
of Alexander, and that Boutta, or Beddou, was known before Jesus.*

* The eastern writers in general agree in placing the birth of
Beddou 1027 years before Jesus Christ, which makes him the
contemporary of Zoroaster, with whom, in my opinion, they confound
him. It is certain that his doctrine notoriously existed at that
epoch; it is found entire in that of Orpheus, Pythagoras, and the
Indian gymnosophists. But the gymnosophists are cited at the time
of Alexander as an ancient sect already divided into Brachmans and
Samaneans. See Bardesanes en Saint Jerome, Epitre a Jovien.
Pythagoras lived in the ninth century before Jesus Christ; See
chronology of the twelve ages; and Orpheus is of still greater
antiquity. If, as is the case, the doctrine of Pythagoras and that
of Orpheus are of Egyptian origin, that of Beddou goes back to the
common source; and in reality the Egyptian priests recite, that
Hermes as he was dying said: "I have hitherto lived an exile from
my country, to which I now return. Weep not for me, I ascend to
the celestial abode where each of you will follow in his turn:
there God is: this life is only death."--Chalcidius in Thinaeum.

Such was the profession of faith of the Samaneans, the sectaries of
Orpheus, and the Pythagoreans. Farther, Hermes is no other than
Beddou himself; for among the Indians, Chinese, Lamas, etc., the
planet Mercury and the corresponding day of the week (Wednesday)
bear the name of Beddou, and this accounts for his being placed in
the rank of mythological beings, and discovers the illusion of his
pretended existence as a man; since it is evident that Mercury was
not a human being, but the Genius or Decan, who, placed at the
summer solstice, opened the Egyptian year; hence his attributes
taken from the constellation Syrius, and his name of Anubis, as
well as that of Esculapius, having the figure of a man and the head
of a dog: hence his serpent, which is the Hydra, emblem of the Nile
(Hydor, humidity); and from this serpent he seems to have derived
his name of Hermes, as Remes (with a schin) in the oriental
languages, signifies serpent. Now Beddou and Hermes being the same
names, it is manifest of what antiquity is the system ascribed to
the former. As to the name of Samanean, it is precisely that of
Chaman, still preserved in Tartary, China, and India. The
interpretation given to it is, man of the woods, a hermit
mortifying the flesh, such being the characteristic of this sect;
but its literal meaning is, celestial (Samaoui) and explains the
system of those who are called by it.--The system is the same as
that of the sectaries of Orpheus, of the Essenians, of the ancient
Anchorets of Persia, and the whole eastern country. See Porphyry,
de Abstin. Animal.

These celestial and penitent men carried in India their insanity to
such an extreme as to wish not to touch the earth, and they
accordingly lived in cages suspended from the trees, where the
people, whose admiration was not less absurd, brought them
provisions. During the night there were frequent robberies, rapes
and murders, and it was at length discovered that they were
committed by those men, who, descending from their cages, thus
indemnified themselves for their restraint during the day. The
Bramins, their rivals, embraced the opportunity of exterminating
them; and from that time their name in India has been synonymous
with hypocrite. See Hist. de la Chine, in 5 vols. quarto, at the
note page 30; Hist. de Huns, 2 vols. and preface to the Ezour-

Then, retorting the pretensions of the Christians against
themselves: "Prove to us," said the Lama, "that you are not
Samaneans degenerated, and that the man you make the author of your
sect is not Fot himself disguised. Prove to us by historical facts
that he even existed at the epoch you pretend; for, it being
destitute of authentic testimony,* we absolutely deny it; and we
maintain that your very gospels are only the books of some
Mithriacs of Persia, and the Essenians of Syria, who were a branch
of reformed Samaneans."**

* There are absolutely no other monuments of the existence of Jesus
Christ as a human being, than a passage in Josephus (Antiq. Jud.
lib. 18, c.3,) a single phrase in Tacitus (Annal. lib. 15, c. 44),
and the Gospels. But the passage in Josephus is unanimously
acknowledged to be apocryphal, and to have been interpolated
towards the close of the third century, (See Trad. de joseph, par
M. Gillet); and that of Tacitus in so vague and so evidently taken
from the deposition of the Christians before the tribunals, that it
may be ranked in the class of evangelical records. It remains to
enquire of what authority are these records. "All the world
knows," says Faustus, who, though a Manichean, was one of the most
learned men of the third century, "All the world knows that the
gospels were neither written by Jesus Christ, nor his apostles, but
by certain unknown persons, who rightly judging that they should
not obtain belief respecting things which they had not seen, placed
at the head of their recitals the names of contemporary apostles."
See Beausob. vol. i. and Hist. des Apologistes de la Relig. Chret.
par Burigni, a sagacious writer, who has demonstrated the absolute
uncertainty of those foundations of the Christian religion; so that
the existence of Jesus is no better proved than that of Osiris and
Hercules, or that of Fot or Beddou, with whom, says M. de Guignes,
the Chinese continually confound him, for they never call Jesus by
any other name than Fot. Hist. de Huns.

** That is to say, from the pious romances formed out of the sacred
legends of the mysteries of Mithra, Ceres, Isis, etc., from whence
are equally derived the books of the Hindoos and the Bonzes. Our
missionaries have long remarked a striking resemblance between
those books and the gospels. M. Wilkins expressly mentions it in a
note in the Bhagvat Geeta. All agree that Krisna, Fot, and Jesus
have the same characteristic features: but religious prejudice has
stood in the way of drawing from this circumstance the proper and
natural inference. To time and reason must it be left to display
the truth.

At these words, the Christians set up a general cry, and a new
dispute was about to begin; when a number of Chinese Chamans, and
Talapoins of Siam, came forward and said that they would settle the
whole controversy. And one of them speaking for the whole
exclaimed: "It is time to put an end to these frivolous contests by
drawing aside the veil from the interior doctrine that Fot himself
revealed to his disciples on his death bed.*

* The Budsoists have two doctrines, the one public and ostensible,
the other interior and secret, precisely like the Egyptian priests.
It may be asked, why this distinction? It is, that as the public
doctrine recommends offerings, expiations, endowments, etc., the
priests find their profit in preaching it to the people; whereas
the other, teaching the vanity of worldly things, and attended with
no lucre, it is thought proper to make it known only to adepts.
Can the teachers and followers of this religion be better classed
than under the heads of knavery and credulity?

"All these theological opinions," continued he, "are but chimeras.
All the stories of the nature of the gods, of their actions and
their lives, are but allegories and mythological emblems, under
which are enveloped ingenious ideas of morals, and the knowledge of
the operations of nature in the action of the elements and the
movement of the planets.

"The truth is, that all is reduced to nothing--that all is
illusion, appearance, dream; that the moral metempsychosis is only
the figurative sense of the physical metempsychosis, or the
successive movement of the elements of bodies which perish not, but
which, having composed one body, pass when that is dissolved, into
other mediums and form other combinations. The soul is but the
vital principle which results from the properties of matter, and
from the action of the elements in those bodies where they create a
spontaneous movement. To suppose that this product of the play of
the organs, born with them, matured with them, and which sleeps
with them, can subsist when they cease, is the romance of a
wandering imagination, perhaps agreeable enough, but really

God itself is nothing more than the moving principle, the occult
force inherent in all beings--the sum of their laws and properties--
the animating principle; in a word, the soul of the universe;
which on account of the infinite variety of its connections and its
operations, sometimes simple, sometimes multiple, sometimes active,
sometimes passive, has always presented to the human mind an
unsolvable enigma. All that man can comprehend with certainty is,
that matter does not perish; that it possesses essentially those
properties by which the world is held together like a living and
organized being; that the knowledge of these laws with respect to
man is what constitutes wisdom; that virtue and merit consist in
their observance; and evil, sin, and vice, in the ignorance and
violation of them; that happiness and misery result from these by
the same necessity which makes heavy bodies descend and light ones
rise, and by a fatality of causes and effects, whose chain extends
from the smallest atom to the greatest of the heavenly bodies."*

* These are the very expressions of La Loubre, in his description
of the kingdom of Siam and the theology of the Bronzes. Their
dogmas, compared with those of the ancient philosophers of Greece
and Italy, give a complete representation of the whole system of
the Stoics and Epicureans, mixed with astrological superstitious,
and some traits of Pythagorism.

At these words, a crowd of theologians of every sect cried out that
this doctrine was materialism, and that those who profess it were
impious atheists, enemies to God and man, who must be exterminated.
"Very well," replied the Chamans, "suppose we are in error, which
is not impossible, since the first attribute of the human mind is
to be subject to illusion; but what right have you to take away
from men like yourselves, the life which Heaven has given them? If
Heaven holds us guilty and in abhorrence, why does it impart to us
the same blessings as to you? And if it treats us with
forbearance, what authority have you to be less indulgent? Pious
men! who speak of God with so much certainty and confidence, be so
good as to tell us what it is; give us to comprehend what those
abstract and metaphysical beings are, which you call God and soul,
substance without matter, existence without body, life without
organs or sensation. If you know those beings by your senses or
their reflections, render them in like manner perceptible to us; or
if you speak of them on testimony and tradition, show us a uniform
account, and give a determinate basis to our creed."

There now arose among the theologians a great controversy
respecting God and his nature, his manner of acting, and of
manifesting himself; on the nature of the soul and its union with
the body; whether it exists before the organs, or only after they
are formed; on the future life, and the other world. And every
sect, every school, every individual, differing on all these
points, and each assigning plausible reasons, and respectable
though opposite authorities for his opinion, they fell into an
inextricable labyrinth of contradictions.

Then the legislator, having commanded silence and recalled the
dispute to its true object, said: "Chiefs and instructors of
nations; you came together in search of truth. At first, every one
of you, thinking he possessed it, demanded of the others an
implicit faith; but perceiving the contrariety of your opinions,
you found it necessary to submit them to a common rule of evidence,
and to bring them to one general term of comparison; and you agreed
that each should exhibit the proofs of his doctrine. You began by
alleging facts; but each religion and every sect, being equally
furnished with miracles and martyrs, each producing an equal number
of witnesses, and offering to support them by a voluntary death,
the balance on this first point, by right of parity, remained

"You then passed to the trial of reasoning; but the same arguments
applying equally to contrary positions--the same assertions,
equally gratuitous, being advanced and repelled with equal force,
and all having an equal right to refuse his assent, nothing was
demonstrated. What is more, the confrontation of your systems has
brought up more and extraordinary difficulties; for amid the
apparent or adventitious diversities, you have discovered a
fundamental resemblance, a common groundwork; and each of you
pretending to be the inventor, and first depositary, have taxed
each other with adulterations and plagiarisms; and thence arises a
difficult question concerning the transmission of religious ideas
from people to people.

"Finally, to complete your embarrassment: when you endeavored to
explain your doctrines to each other, they appeared confused and
foreign, even to their adherents; they were founded on ideas
inaccessible to your senses; you consequently had no means of
judging of them, and you confessed yourselves in this respect to be
only the echoes of your fathers. Hence follows this other
question: how came they to the knowledge of your fathers, who
themselves had no other means than you to conceive them? So that,
on the one hand, the succession of these ideas being unknown, and
on the other, their origin and existence being a mystery, all the
edifice of your religious opinions becomes a complicated problem of
metaphysics and history.

"Since, however, these opinions, extraordinary as they may be, must
have had some origin; since even the most abstract and fantastical
ideas have some physical model, it may be useful to recur to this
origin, and discover this model--in a word, to find out from what
source the human understanding has drawn these ideas, at present so
obscure, of God, of the soul, of all immaterial beings, which make
the basis of so many systems; to unfold the filiation which they
have followed, and the alterations which they have undergone in
their transmissions and ramifications. If, then, there are any
persons present who have made a study of these objects, let them
come forward, and endeavor, in the face of nations, to dissipate
the obscurity in which their opinions have so long remained."



At these words, a new group, formed in an instant by men from
various standards, but not distinguished by any, came forward into
the circle; and one of them spoke in the name of the whole:

"Delegates, friends of evidence and virtue! It is not surprising
that the subject in question should be enveloped in so many clouds,
since, besides its inherent difficulties, thought itself has always
been encumbered with superadded obstacles peculiar to this study,
where all free enquiry and discussion have been interdicted by the
intolerance of every system. But now that our views are permitted
to expand, we will expose to open day, and submit to the judgment
of nations, that which unprejudiced minds, after long researches,
have found to be the most reasonable; and we do this, not with the
pretension of imposing a new creed, but with the hope of provoking
new lights, and obtaining better information.

"Doctors and instructors of nations! You know what thick darkness
covers the nature, the origin, the history of the dogmas which you
teach. Imposed by authority, inculcated by education, and
maintained by example, they pass from age to age, and strengthen
their empire from habit and inattention. But if man, enlightened
by reflection and experience, brings to mature examination the
prejudices of his childhood, he soon discovers a multitude of
incongruities and contradictions which awaken his sagacity and
excite his reasoning powers.

"At first, remarking the diversity and opposition of the creeds
which divide the nations, he takes courage to question the
infallibility which each of them claims, and arming himself with
their reciprocal pretensions, he conceives that his senses and his
reason, derived immediately from God, are a law not less holy, a
guide not less sure, than the mediate and contradictory codes of
the prophets.

"If he then examines the texture of these codes themselves, he
observes that their laws, pretended to be divine, that is,
immutable and eternal, have arisen from circumstances of times,
places, and persons; that they have issued one from the other, in a
kind of genealogical order, borrowing from each other reciprocally
a common and similar fund of ideas, which every lawgiver modifies
according to his fancy.

If he ascends to the source of these ideas, he finds it involved in
the night of time, in the infancy of nations, even to the origin of
the world, to which they claim alliance; and there, placed in the
darkness of chaos, in the empire of fables and traditions, they
present themselves, accompanied with a state of things so full of
prodigies, that it seems to forbid all access to the judgment: but
this state itself excites a first effort of reason, which resolves
the difficulty; for if the prodigies, found in the theological
systems, have really existed--if, for instance, the metamorphoses,
the apparitions, the conversations with one or many gods, recorded
in the books of the Indians, the Hebrews, the Parses, are
historical events, he must agree that nature in those times was
totally different from what it is at present; that the present race
of men are quite another species from those who then existed; and,
therefore, he ought not to trouble his head about them.

"If, on the contrary, these miraculous events have really not
existed in the physical order of things, then he readily conceives
that they are creatures of the human intellect; and this faculty
being still capable of the most fantastical combinations, explains
at once the phenomenon of these monsters in history. It only
remains, then, to find how and wherefore they have been formed in
the imagination. Now, if we examine with care the subjects of
these intellectual creations, analyze the ideas which they combine
and associate, and carefully weigh all the circumstances which they
allege, we shall find that this first obscure and incredible state
of things is explained by the laws of nature. We find that these
stories of a fabulous kind have a figurative sense different from
the apparent one; that these events, pretended to be marvellous,
are simple and physical facts, which, being misconceived or
misrepresented, have been disfigured by accidental causes dependent
on the human mind, by the confusion of signs employed to represent
the ideas, the want of precision in words, permanence in language,
and perfection in writing; we find that these gods, for instance,
who display such singular characters in every system, are only the
physical agents of nature, the elements, the winds, the stars, and
the meteors, which have been personified by the necessary mechanism
of language and of the human understanding; that their lives, their
manners, their actions, are only their mechanical operations and
connections; and that all their pretended history is only the
description of these phenomena, formed by the first naturalists who
observed them, and misconceived by the vulgar who did not
understand them, or by succeeding generations who forgot them. In
a word, all the theological dogmas on the origin of the world, the
nature of God, the revelation of his laws, the manifestation of his
person, are known to be only the recital of astronomical facts,
only figurative and emblematical accounts of the motion of the
heavenly bodies. We are convinced that the very idea of a God,
that idea at present so obscure, is, in its first origin, nothing
but that of the physical powers of the universe, considered
sometimes as a plurality by reason of their agencies and phenomena,
sometimes as one simple and only being by reason of the
universality of the machine and the connection of its parts; so
that the being called God has been sometimes the wind, the fire,
the water, all the elements; sometimes the sun, the stars, the
planets, and their influence; sometimes the matter of the visible
world, the totality of the universe; sometimes abstract and
metaphysical qualities, such as space, duration, motion,
intelligence; and we everywhere see this conclusion, that the idea
of God has not been a miraculous revelation of invisible beings,
but a natural offspring of the human intellect--an operation of the
mind, whose progress it has followed and whose revolutions it has
undergone, in all the progress that has been made in the knowledge
of the physical world and its agents.

"It is then in vain that nations attribute their religion to
heavenly inspirations; it is in vain that their dogmas pretend to a
primeval state of supernatural events: the original barbarity of
the human race, attested by their own monuments,* belies these
assertions at once. But there is one constant and indubitable fact
which refutes beyond contradiction all these doubtful accounts of
past ages. From this position, that man acquires and receives no
ideas but through the medium of his senses,** it follows with
certainty that every notion which claims to itself any other origin
than that of sensation and experience, is the erroneous supposition
of a posterior reasoning: now, it is sufficient to cast an eye upon
the sacred systems of the origin of the world, and of the actions
of the gods, to discover in every idea, in every word, the
anticipation of an order of things which could not exist till a
long time after. Reason, strengthened by these contradictions,
rejecting everything that is not in the order of nature, and
admitting no historical facts but those founded on probabilities,
lays open its own system, and pronounces itself with assurance.

* It is the unanimous testimony of history, and even of legends,
that the first human beings were every where savages, and that it
was to civilize them, and teach them to make bread, that the Gods
manifested themselves.

** The rock on which all the ancients have split, and which has
occasioned all their errors, has been their supposing the idea of
God to be innate and co-eternal with the soul; and hence all the
reveries developed in Plato and Jamblicus. See the Timoeus, the
Phedon, and De Mysteriis Egyptiorum, sect. I, c. 3.

"Before one nation had received from another nation dogmas already
invented; before one generation had inherited ideas acquired by a
preceding generation, none of these complicated systems could have
existed in the world. The first men, being children of nature,
anterior to all events, ignorant of all science, were born without
any idea of the dogmas arising from scholastic disputes; of rites
founded on the practice of arts not then known; of precepts framed
after the development of passions; or of laws which suppose a
language, a state of society not then in being; or of God, whose
attributes all refer to physical objects, and his actions to a
despotic state of government; or of the soul, or of any of those
metaphysical beings, which we are told are not the objects of
sense, and for which, however, there can be no other means of
access to the understanding. To arrive at so many results, the
necessary circle of preceding facts must have been observed; slow
experience and repeated trials must have taught the rude man the
use of his organs; the accumulated knowledge of successive
generations must have invented and improved the means of living;
and the mind, freed from the cares of the first wants of nature,
must have raised itself to the complicated art of comparing ideas,
of digesting arguments, and seizing abstract similitudes.

I. Origin of the idea of God: Worship of the elements and of the
physical powers of nature.

"It was not till after having overcome these obstacles, and gone
through a long career in the night of history, that man, reflecting
on his condition, began to perceive that he was subjected to forces
superior to his own, and independent of his will. The sun
enlightened and warmed him, the fire burned him, the thunder
terrified him, the wind beat upon him, the water overwhelmed him.
All beings acted upon him powerfully and irresistibly. He
sustained this action for a long time, like a machine, without
enquiring the cause; but the moment he began his enquiries, he fell
into astonishment; and, passing from the surprise of his first
reflections to the reverie of curiosity, he began a chain of

"First, considering the action of the elements on him, he conceived
an idea of weakness and subjection on his part, and of power and
domination on theirs; and this idea of power was the primitive and
fundamental type of every idea of God.

"Secondly, the action of these natural existences excited in him
sensations of pleasure or pain, of good or evil; and by a natural


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