Superphysics Superphysics
Chapter 1-4

Religion in General

by Montesquieu Icon
6 minutes  • 1274 words
Table of contents

Amidst several degrees of darkness, we can judge those which are the least thick.

Among precipices, we can judge those which are which are the least deep.

Likewise, we may search among false religions for those that are most conformable to the welfare of society; for those which, though they have not the effect of leading men to the felicity of another life, may contribute most to their happiness in this.

I shall examine therefore the several religions of the world, in relation only to the good they produce in civil society; whether I speak of that which has its root in heaven, or of those which spring from the earth.

As in this work I am not a divine, but a political writer, I may here advance things which are no otherwise true, than as they correspond with a worldly manner of thinking, not as considered in their relation to truths of a more sublime nature.

With regard to the true religion, a person of the least degree of impartiality must see, that I have never pretended to make its interests submit to those of a political nature, but rather to unite them; now, in order to unite, it is necessary that we should know them.

The Christian religion, which ordains that men should love each other, would, without doubt, have [159] every nation blest with the best civil, the best political laws; because these, next to this religion, are the greatest good that men can give and receive.

Chapter 2: A Paradox of Mr. Bayle’s

Mr. Bayle has pretended to prove that:

  • it is better to be an atheist than an idolater
  • it is less dangerous to have no religion at all, than a bad one.

He says:

I prefer to have had no existence than to be a villain.

This is only a sophism, founded on this, that it is of no importance to the human race to believe that a certain man exists; whereas it is extremely useful for them to believe the existence of a God.

From the idea of his non-existence, immediately follows that of our independence; or, if we cannot conceive this idea, that of disobedience. To say that religion is not a restraining motive, because it does not always restrain, is equally absurd, as to say, that the civil laws are not a restraining motive.

It is a false way of reasoning against religion, to collect, in a large work, a long detail of the evils it has produced, if we do not give, at the same time, an enumeration of the advantages which have flowed from it. Were I to relate all the evils that have arisen in the world from civil laws, from monarchy, and from republican government, I might tell of frightful things. Were it of no advantage for subjects to have religion, it would still be of some if princes had it, and if they whitened with foam the [160] only rein which can restrain those who fear not human laws.

A prince who loves and fears religion is a lion, who stoops to the hand that strokes, or to the voice that appeases him. He who fears and hates religion, is like the savage beast that growls and bites the chain which prevents his flying on the passenger. He who has no religion at all, is that terrible animal, who perceives his liberty only when he tears in pieces, and when he devours.

The question is not to know, whether it would be better that a certain man, or a certain people, had no religion, than to abuse what they have; but to know what is the least evil, that religion be sometimes abused, or that there be no such restraint as religion on mankind.

To diminish the horror of atheism, they lay too much to the charge of idolatry. It is far from being true, that when the ancients raised altars to a particular vice, they intended to shew that they loved the vice; this signified, on the contrary, that they hated it. When the Lacedæmonians erected a temple to Fear, it was not to shew that this warlike nation desired, that he would in the midst of battle possess the hearts of the Lacedæmonians. They had deities to whom they prayed not to inspire them with guilt; and others whom they besought to shield them from it.

Chapter 3: A Moderate Government is Best for Christianity; A Despotic One is Best for Islam

THE Christian religion is a stranger to mere despotic power. The mildness so frequently recommended [161] in the gospel, is incompatible with the despotic rage with which a prince punishes his subjects, and exercises himself in cruelty.

As this religion forbids the plurality of wives, its princes are less confined, less concealed from their subjects, and consequently have more humanity: they are more disposed to be directed by laws, and more capable of perceiving, that they cannot do whatever they please.

The Muslim princes incessantly give or receive death. The Christians render their princes less timid, and consequently less cruel. The prince confides in his subjects, and the subjects in the prince.

How admirable the religion, which, while it only seems to have in view the felicity of the other life, continues the happiness of this!

Christianity has

  • hindered despotic power from being established in Ethiopia
  • carried into the heart of Africa the manners and laws of Europe, despite its size and climate

The heir to the empire of Æthiopia enjoys a principality, and gives to other subjects an example of love and obedience. Not far from thence may be seen the Mahometan shutting up the children of the King* of Sennar, at whose death, the council sends to murder them, in favour of the prince who mounts the throne.

Let us set before our eyes, on the one hand, the continual massacres of the kings and generals of the Greeks and Romans; and, on the other, the destruction of people and cities by those famous conquerors Timur Beg and Genghiz Khan, who ravaged Asia

We owe to Christianity, in government, a certain political law; and in war, a certain law of nations; benefits which human nature can never sufficiently acknowledge.

It is owing to this law of nations, that amongst us, victory leaves these great advantages to the conquered, life, liberty, laws, wealth, and always religion, when the conqueror is not blind to his own interest.

Europeans are not at present more disunited than the people and the armies, or even the armies amongst themselves, were under the Roman empire, when it was become a despotic and military government. On the one hand, the armies engaged in war against each other; and, on the other, they pillaged the cities, and divided or confiscated the lands.

Chapter 4: Consequences from the Character of Christianity and Islam

It is difficult to prove which religion is true. But it is easier to prove that religion should humanize the manners of men. Therefore, we should embrace Christianity and reject Islam.

It is a misfortune to human nature, when religion is given by a conqueror. Islam speaks only by the sword and instills that destructive spirit with which it was founded.

Sabbaco was one of the pastoral kings of Egypt. His story is very extraordinary. The tutelar god of Thebes appeared to him in a dream and ordered him to put to death all the priests of Egypt. He judged, that the gods were displeased at his being on the throne, since they commanded him to commit an action contrary to their ordinary pleasure; and therefore he retired into Ethiopia.

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