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Reason, not theology.

Famed philosopher Paul Henri Thiry; baron d'Holbach (1723-1789), was a philosophical materialist who advocated atheism. The following selection is from his Common Sense. or Natural Ideas Opposed to Supernatural, published in 1772.

When we coolly examine the opinions of men, we are surprised to find that in those, which they regard as the most essential, nothing is more uncommon than the use of common sense; or, in other words, a degree of judgment sufficient to discover the most simple truths, to reject the most striking absurdities, and to be shocked with palpable contradictions. We have an example of it in theology, a science revered in all times and countries, by the greatest number of men; an object they regard as the most important, the most useful, and the most indispensable to the happiness of societies. Indeed, with little examination of the principles, upon which this pretended science is founded, we are forced to acknowledge that these principles, judged incontestable, are only hazardous suppositions, imagined by ignorance, propagated by enthusiasm or knavery, adopted by timid credulity, preserved by custom, which never reasons, and revered solely because not understood. Some, says Monta[i]gne, make the world think, that they believe what they do not; others, in greater number make themselves think, that they believe what they do not, not knowing what belief is.

In a word, whoever will deign to consult common sense upon religious opinions, and bestow in this inquiry the attention that is commonly given to objects, we presume interesting, will easily perceive, that these opinions have no foundation; that all religion is an edifice in the air, that theology is only the ignorance of natural causes reduced to system; that is a long tissue of chimeras and contradictions. That it represents, in every country, to the different nations of the earth, only romances voice of probability, the hero of which is himself composed of qualities impossible to combine; that his name, exciting in all hearts respect and fear, is only a vague word, which men have continually in their mouths, without being able to affix to it ideas or qualities, which are not contradicted by facts, or evidently inconsistent with one another.

The idea of this being, of whom we have no idea, or rather, the world by which he is designated, would be an indifferent thing, did it not cause innumerable ravages in the world. Prepossessed with the opinion, that this phantom is an interesting reality, men, instead of concluding wisely from its incomprehensibility, that they are not bound to regard it; on the contrary infer, that they cannot sufficiently meditate upon it, that they must contemplate it without ceasing, reason upon it without end, and never lose sight of it. Their invincible ignorance, in this respect, far from discouraging them, irritates their curiosity; instead of putting them upon guard against their imagination, this ignorance renders them decisive, dogmatical, imperious, and even exasperates them against all, who oppose doubts to the reveries, which their brains have begotten.

What perplexity arises, when it is required to solve an insolvable problem! Restless meditations upon an object, impossible to understand, in which, however, he thinks himself much concerned, cannot put man in a very ill humor, and produce in his head dangerous transports. Let interest, vanity and ambition, co-operate ever so little with these dispositions, and society must necessarily be disturbed. This is the reason that so many nations have often been the theaters of the extravagances of senseless dreamers, who, believing, or publishing their empty speculations as eternal truths, have kindled the enthusiasm of princes and people, and armed them for opinions, which they represented as essential to the glory of the Deity, and the happiness of empires. In all parts of our globe, intoxicated fanatics have been seen cutting each other's throats, lighting funeral piles, committing, without scruple and even a duty, the greatest crimes, and shedding torments of blood. For what? To strengthen, support, or propagate the impertinent conjectures of some enthusiasts, or to give validity to the cheats of some impostors, in the name and behalf of a being, who exists only in their imagination, and who has made himself known only by the ravages, disputes, and follies, he has caused upon the earth.

Fierce and uncultivated nations, perpetually at war, have in their origin, under divers names, and adored some God, conformable to their ideas; that is to say, cruel, carnivorous, selfish, blood-thirsty. We find in all religions of the earth, a God of armies, a jealous God, an avenging God, a destroying God, a God, who is pleased with carnage, and whom his worshippers, as a duty, serve to his taste. Lambs, bulls, children, men, heretics, infidels, kings, whole nations are sacrificed to him. Do not the zealous servants of this so barbarous God, even think it a duty to offer up themselves as a sacrifice to him? We every where see madmen, who after dismal meditations upon their terrible God, imagine, that to please him, they must do themselves all possible injury, and inflict on themselves, for his honor, invented torments. In short, the gloomy ideas of the divinity, far from consoling men under the evils of life, have every where disquieted and confused their minds, and produced follies destructive to their happiness.

Infested with frightful phantoms, and guided by men, interested in perpetuating its ignorance and fears, how could the human mind have made any considerable progress? Man has been forced to vegetate in his primitive stupidity; nothing has been offered to his mind, but stories of invisible powers, upon whom his happiness was supposed to depend. Occupied solely by his fears, and unintelligible reveries, he has always been at the mercy of his priests, who have reserved to themselves the right of thinking for him, and directing his actions.

Thus man has been, and ever will remain, a child without experience, a slave without courage, a stupid animal, who has feared to reason, and who has never known how to extricate himself from the labyrinth, where his ancestors had strayed. He has believed himself forced to groan under the yoke of his gods, who he has known only by the fabulous accounts of his ministers, who, after having bound him with the chords of opinion, have remained his masters; or rather have abandoned him, defenseless, to the absolute power of tyrants, no less terrible than the gods, whose representatives they have been upon earth....

In vain should we attempt to cure men of their vices, unless we begin by curing them of their prejudices. It is only by shewing them the truth, that they will know their dearest interests, and the motives that ought to incline them to do good. Instructors have long enough fixed men's eyes upon heaven, let them now turn them upon earth. Fatigued with an inconceivable theology, ridiculous fables, impenetrable mysteries, puerile ceremonies, let the human mind apply itself to the study of nature, to intelligible objects, sensible troths, and useful knowledge. Let the vain chimeras of men be removed, and reasonable opinions will soon come of themselves, into those heads, which were thought to be forever destined to error.

Does it not suffice to annihilate or shake religious prejudices, to shew, that what is inconceivable to man, cannot be made for him? Does it then require any thing, but plain, common sense, to perceive, that a being incompatible with the most evident notions; that a cause continually opposed to the effects, which we attribute to it; that a being, of whom we can say nothing, without falling into contradiction; that a being, who, far from explaining the enigmas of the universe, only makes then more inexplicable; that a being, whom for so many ages men have so vainly addressed to obtain their happiness, and the end of their sufferings; does it require, I say, any thing but plain, common sense, to perceive, that the idea of such a being is an idea without model, and that it is evidently only a being of imagination? Is any thing necessary but common sense to perceive, at least, that it is madness and folly to hate and torment one another for unintelligible opinions upon a being of this kind? In short, does not every every thing prove, that morality and virtue are totally incompatible with the notions of a God, whom his ministers and interpreters have described in every country, as the most capricious, unjust, and cruel of tyrants, whose pretended will, however, must serve as law and rule to the inhabitants of the earth?

To learn the true principles of morality, men have no need of theology, of revelations, or gods: They have need only of reason. They have only to enter into themselves, to reflect upon their own nature, consult their sensible interests, consider the object of society, and of the individuals, who compose it; and they will easily perceive, that virtue is the interest, and vice the unhappiness of beings of their kind. Let us persuade men to be just, beneficent, moderate, sociable; not because the gods demand it, but because they must please men. Let us advise them to abstain from vice and crimes; not because they will be punished in the other world, but because they will suffer for it in this. - There are, says a great man, means to prevent crimes - these are punishments; there are those to reform manners these are good examples.

Truth is simple; error is complex, uncertain in its progress, and full of windings. The voice of nature is intelligible; that of falsehood is ambiguous, enigmatical, mysterious; the way of truth is straight; that of imposture is crooked and dark. Truth, forever necessary to man, must necessarily be felt by all upright minds; the lessons of reason are formed to be followed by all honest men. Men are unhappy only because they are ignorant; they are ignorant only because every thing conspires to prevent their being enlightened; they are so wicked only because their reason is not yet sufficiently unfolded.
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Title Annotation:religious views of philosopher Paul Henri Thiry
Author:d'Holbach, Baron
Publication:Free Inquiry
Date:Mar 22, 1999
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