16. Of Freethinkers
From Characters by Jean De La Bruyère (1688)

1. Are freethinkers [esprits forts] aware that they are called 'strong minds'ironically? What greater weakness can there be than not to know what is the source of one's being, of one's life, of one's senses, of one's knowledge, and what is to be their end? What can be more deeply disheartening than to wonder whether one's soul is, perhaps, a material thing, like a stone or a reptile, corruptible like these base creatures? Is there not more strength and greatness of mind in admitting the idea of a being superior to all other beings, who has made them all and to whom all owe their existence; of a being supremely perfect, who is pure, who had no beginning and can have no ending, of whom our soul is the image and, so to speak, a portion, being a spiritual and immortal thing?

2. The docile mind and the weak mind are both subject to influences: the one to good, the other to bad ones; so that the former is a convinced and faithful believer, the second a stubborn and corrupt unbeliever. Thus the docile mind accepts true religion; and the weak mind either accepts none or accepts a false one. Now the freethinker either has no religion or makes his own religion; so that his strongmindedness is weakness of mind.

3. I call worldly or earthly those whose minds and hearts are fixed on a tiny portion of this world they live in, which is our earth; who respect and love nothing beyond it: people as limited as what they call their property or their estate, which can be measured, whose acres can be counted, whose boundaries can be shown. I am not surprised that men who put their trust in an atom should fail in their slightest attempts to plumb truth, that with such limited vision they cannot see beyond the sky and the stars to God I Himself; that since they cannot discern the superiority of what is spiritual or the dignity of man's soul, they are even more Unaware how hard it is to satisfy, how the whole earth is unworthy of it, how urgently it needs a supremely perfect being, who is GOD, and how indispensable to it is a religion which will lead it towards God and provide a sure pledge of Him. Rather, I can easily understand how such minds naturally lapse into incredulity or indifference, and use God and religion for political ends, in the interests of the order and adornment of this world, the only thing, in their opinion, that is worth considering.

4. Some men complete their corruption by long voyages, and lose what little religion they still retained. They see a new form of worship every day, other customs, various ceremonies; they are like those who go into shops, undecided as to what stuffs they intend to buy: the great variety they are shown increases their uncertainty; each is attractive and suitable in its way: they cannot settle, and they leave without buying anything.

5. There are some men who will not become pious and religious until all the rest are avowed freethinkers; they'll know how to shed their unbelief when the vulgar herd adopts it. They delight in their singularity, where so profound and serious a question is concerned; they follow fashion and the accepted way of behaviour only in matters of no weight or consequence. Who knows, indeed, whether they have not already displayed a sort of courage and daring in risking their future life? Besides, people of a certain rank, with a certain breadth of mind and certain ideas, cannot be expected to believe as scholars and the common people do.

6. A man may doubt of God's existence when he is in good health, just as he may doubt whether his relation with a harlot is sinful. When he falls ill, when dropsy develops, he leaves his concubine, and he believes in God.

7. One should probe and examine oneself very seriously before declaring oneself a freethinker, so as to be sure at least of following one's principles and ending one's life as one has lived it; or if one does not feel strong enough to go as far as that, one should resolve to live as one hopes to die.

8. Any joke made by a dying man is out of place: if it turns on certain subjects it is dreadful. It is a wretched thing indeed to give the pleasure of a witticism to those one leaves behind, at such cost to oneself!

Whatever one's preconception of what is to follow after death, dying is a very serious matter: jesting is not what becomes one then, but rather resolution.

9. There have been, in all ages, certain witty and pleasantly cultured people, who are slaves to the great; they have embraced their masters'irreligion and borne their yoke all their lives, against their own better wisdom and against their conscience. Such men have lived only for other men, and they seem to have considered these as their ultimate end. They have been ashamed to seek their own salvation overtly, to appear what in their hearts, perhaps, they really were, and they ruined themselves out of deference or out of weakness. Are there really, on this earth, great men who are great enough, powerful men who are powerful enough to deserve that we should believe and live as they choose, according to their taste and their whims, and that we should even carry subservience so far as to die not in the way that ensures our salvation, but in that which they prefer?

10. I should require of those who reject the common way of life and its principal rules that they should know more than other people, that they should be able to put forward clear reasons and such arguments as carry conviction.

11. I should like to meet a sober, temperate, chaste and equitable man who asserts that there is no God: he would at least be speaking disinterestedly; but such a man is not to be found.

12. I should be extremely curious to see a man who was convinced that God does not exist: he could at any rate tell me the irrefutable argument that was able to convince him.

13. The impossibility of proving that God does not exist reveals His existence to me.

14. God condemns and punishes those who offend Him, being sole judge in His own cause: which would be shocking, if He were not Himself justice and truth, that's to say if He were not God.

15. I feel that there is a God, and I do not feel that there is no God; that's enough for me, all the arguments in the world are unnecessary: I conclude that God exists. This conclusion is something in my nature; I absorbed its principles too easily in childhood, and I have retained them too naturally to a later age, to suspect them of falseness. - But there are some minds that discard these principles. - It's an open question whether such men exist; and if it should be so, that proves only that monsters exist.

16. There is no such thing as atheism. Great nobles, who are most frequently suspected of it, are too idle to decide in their own minds that there is no God; their indolence is such that they remain unmoved and indifferent about this vital matter, as about the nature of their souls and the consequences of true religion; they neither deny these things nor acknowledge them: they don't think about them.

17. We need all our health, all our strength and all our intelligence when dealing with men, or with the least thing that concerns our own interest: it would seem, on the contrary, that custom and convention require of us not to think about God until we are in a state where only so much reason remains in us that we cannot be said to have lost it all.

18. A great noble thinks he is fainting, and he dies; another perishes imperceptibly, losing a little of himself every day before he passes away: these are terrible lessons, but useless ones! Such striking and strongly contrasted circumstances are unnoticed, and taken to heart by nobody; men pay no more attention to them than to the fading of a flower, the falling of a leaf; they look enviously at the places left vacant, or find out whether these have been filled, and by whom.

19. Are men good enough, loyal enough, equitable enough to deserve all our trust, and not make us long, at least, for the existence of a God to whom we might appeal against their judgements and have recourse when we are persecuted or betrayed?

20. If it is the grandeur and sublimity of religion that blinds or bewilders freethinkers, they are no longer free thinkers, but men of weak intelligence and petty mind; and if on the contrary it is its lowly and simple character that offends them, they are indeed strongminded men, stronger than many great men as enlightened, lofty and yet devout as St Leo, St Basil, St Jerome and St Augustine.

21. 'A Father of the Church, a Doctor of the Church, what titles! how depressing their writings must be! what aridity, what dreary piety, what scholasticism maybe!'say those who have never read them. Rather, what would be the astonishment of those who have formed such a false idea of these Fathers, if they should discover in their writings more elegance and delicacy, more refinement and wit, a greater wealth of expression and more forceful arguments, livelier sallies and more natural grace than are to be found in most of those modern books which are read with pleasure, and which bring fame and vanity to their authors! How delightful to love religion and to see it believed, upheld, explained by men of such fine natural genius and such sound intelligence, particularly when one comes to realize that for breadth of learning, for profundity and penetration, for a knowledge of the principles of philosophy, their application and development, for the truth of his conclusions and the dignity of his speech, for the beauty of his ethical teaching and of his feelings, St Augustine, for example, can be compared only to Plato and to Cicero.

22. Man is born a liar: truth is simple and ingenuous, and he wants glitter and ornament. Truth is not his, it comes from Heaven readymade, in all its perfection; and man cares only for his own creation, fiction and fable. See how the common people distort and exaggerate truth, caricature it from rudeness or from stupidity; ask even the most perfect gentleman whether he always speaks the truth, and if he does not occasionally find himself disguising it, as an inevitable consequence of vanity arid frivolity; if, to make a better story, he does not often add some missing detail to the facts he is relating. An incident takes place today, almost in front of our eyes; a hundred people who have seen it will describe it in a hundred different ways; and this man, if you listen to him, will tell it you in yet another way. What credence can I give, then, to facts which are long past, and remote from us by several centuries? what reliance can I place on the most trustworthy historians? What becomes of history? Was Caesar murdered in the midst of the Senate? was there such a man as Caesar? 'What an argument!'you say, 'what doubts! what a question!'You laugh, you don't think me worth answering; and I really believe you are right. I will assume, nevertheless, that the book where Caesar is mentioned is not a profane book, written by men, who are liars, and found by chance in some library among other manuscripts containing stories which may be true or apocryphal; that on the contrary it is a holy book, divinely inspired; that it bears all the marks of such inspiration; that it has been cherished for almost two thousand years by a numerous society, which has not allowed the slightest alteration to be made in it during that time, and which has scrupulously preserved it in its integrity, that it is indeed our bounden duty to believe all the facts contained in this book where mention is made of Caesar and his dictatorship: admit it, Lucillus, you may doubt, now, whether there was ever such a man as Caesar!

23. 3. Not every sort of music is fit to praise God with, or to be heard in His sanctuary; not every sort of philosophy speaks worthily of God, of His power, of the principles of His works and mysteries: the subtler and more transcendental that philosophy, the vainer and more useless it is for explaining things which can be understood up to a certain point by intuition, and which beyond that point are inexplicable. To seek to account for God, His perfections and, if I may use the word, His actions, means venturing further than the ancient philosophers, the Apostles or the Fathers of the Church, but without discovering as much as they did; it means probing deeply and for a long time without discovering the springs of truth. As soon as we depart front the terms goodness, mercy, justice and almighty power, which inspire such reverence and such love for God, the greatest efforts of our imagination can only produce expressions that are arid, sterile arid meaningless, thoughts that are empty, remote from common understanding, or at best subtle and ingenious; and while we gain access to a new system of metaphysics, we gradually lose our religion.

24. To what excesses will men not go in the interests of religion, in which they believe so little and which they practise so ill!

25. Men defend their religion with passion and zeal against those who profess a different creed, but meanwhile they debase it in their own minds by their individual opinions: they add to it or they subtract countless things that are often essential, according to what suits them, arid they adhere to it with unshakeable loyalty under the form they have given it themselves. Thus in common parlance one may say that a certain nation has a single form of worship, practises the same religion; but the strict truth is that it has many religions and that almost every individual has his own.

26. Two sorts of men flourish in courts and prevail thereat different times: libertines and hypocrites; the former openly, lightheartedly, without art or dissimulation; the latter subtly, by means of artifice and intrigue. A hundred times more enamoured of social success than are the former, they guard it with excessive jealousy; they seek to control arid possess it exclusively, to divide it among themselves and to keep out all others; dignities, functions, posts, benefices, pensions and honours, all are their due, and only theirs; no one else deserves such rewards; they cannot understand how anyone has the impudence to hope for these without their leave. A party of masked dancers appears at a ball: they are invited to lead the dance, and they dance exclusively among themselves, they go on dancing, they keep on dancing, allowing no one else, however distinguished, to take the lead; all the other guests grow weary of watching them dance, and of not dancing; some grumble; the wisest accept the situation and go away.

27. There are two sorts of libertines: those who are, or think themselves, libertines, and religious hypocrites, who don't want to be thought libertines: the least successful of these are the least harmful.

The religious hypocrite either does not believe in God, or mocks God; let us give him the benefit of the doubt, he does not believe in God.

28. If all religion is respectful awe of the Deity, what are we to think of those who dare offend Him in His living image, the Prince?

29. If we were told that the secret motive of the Siamese Embassy had been to incite the Most Christian King to renounce Christianity, and throw his kingdom open to Siamese priests, who would enter our homes to teach their creed to our wives, our children and ourselves, through books and arguments, would build pagodas in the midst of our cities, setting up metal images there to be worshipped, with what laughter and what violent scorn should we listen to such fantastic stories! And yet we travel six thousand leagues by sea to convert the Indies, the kingdoms of Siam, China and Japan, in other words to make to these nations, in all seriousness, proposals that must seem to them quite mad and quite ridiculous. But they put up with our monks and priests; they occasionally listen to them, they allow them to build their churches and perform their missions. What can cause this, in them and in ourselves? may it not be the power of truth?

30. It does not befit everyone to set up as alms-giver and have all the poor of a city gathered before his door to get their share. On the other hand, surely each of us knows of more secret miseries which he can undertake to relieve, either directly by bringing help to the sufferers, or at least by acting as intermediary? In the same way it is not given to everyone to go up into the pulpit and there, as missionary or catechist, to deliver God's holy word; but who has not, from time to time, some libertine close at hand whom he may bring, by gentle and insinuating words, to a teachable frame of mind? If during the course of one's life one could act as apostle to a single man, one would not have lived in vain, nor been an unnecessary burden on this earth.

31. There are two worlds: one in which we sojourn briefly, and which we must leave never to return; the other which we must soon enter, never to leave it. Favour, authority, friends, reputation, great possessions help us in the first world; contempt for all these things helps us towards the second. We have to choose.

32. Whoever has lived a single day has lived a century: the same sun, the same earth, the same world, the same sensations; nothing is more like today than tomorrow. It would be a strange experience to die, that's to say to be no longer a body, but only a spirit: and yet man, so eager for novelty, has no curiosity over this one issue; born restless, and soon tired of everything, he is never tired of living; he would perhaps consent to live for ever. What he sees of death impresses him more violently than what he knows of it; the sight of sickness, pain, dead bodies deters him from seeking knowledge of another world. It needs all the earnest reaching of religion to persuade hint to it.

33. If God had given us the choice between dying or living for ever after reflecting deeply on what it would mean to see no end to one's poverty, dependence, boredom and sickness, or to taste w wealth grandeur, pleasure and health only to see them change invariably, through the course of time, into their opposite, and thus to be the plaything of good and evil fortune, we should not know what to decide. Nature settles for us, and spares us the difficulty of choosing; and death, which she makes inevitable, becomes easier with the help of religion.

34. If my religion were false, I admit, this would be the most cunningly set snare imaginable; I must inevitably have fallen into it, and been caught. What awful and dazzling mysteries! what consistcncy, what a logical sequence in the whole doctrine! what lofty reasoning! what purity and innocence of morals! what invincible and overwhelming evidence borne over three successive centuries by millions of the wisest and sanest people then living, whose conviction of that truth upheld them in exile, in chains, in the face of execution and death! Open the book of history, go back to the beginning of the world, to the eve of Christ's birth; has there ever been anything like it in any age? Could God Himself have found a surer way to win me? How can I escape? where can I go, not indeed to find anything better, but anything remotely akin to this? If I must be damned, let it happen thus: I would rather deny God than associate Him with so specious and convincing a fraud. But I have probed deeply, I cannot be an atheist; I am thus restored to my religion, carried away by it; there's no choice.

35. Religion is true, or it is false: if it is only a vain fiction, then the righteous man, the Carthusian, the hermit have wasted sixty years: they run no other risk. But if it is founded on truth itself, the vicious man is in appalling danger: the very thought of the sufferings he is laying up for himself confounds my imagination; thought is too weak to conceive of them, words are powerless to express them. Indeed, if the truth of religion were less certain than in fact it is, man could choose no wiser course than religion.

36. I doubt whether those who dare deny God's existence are worthy that one should try to prove it to them, or that one should treat them more seriously than has been done in this chapter: ignorance, which is their characteristic, makes them incapable of understanding the most obvious principles and the most logical arguments. I am willing, none the less, that they should read those I am about to set forth, provided they realize how much more might be said about so dazzling a truth.

Forty years ago I did not exist, and had not in me the power to exist, just as it does not depend on me, who exist now, to cease existing; I thus owe my beginning and my continued existence to something which is outside me, which will endure after me, which is better and more powerful than myself, and if that something is not God, tell me what it is.

Perhaps I, who exist, do so only through the power of a universal substance, which has always been as we now see it, going back into the infinity of time. But either this substance is pure spirit, and then it is God, or it is matter, and consequently cannot have created my spirit; or it is a compound of matter and spirit, and then the spiritual part of that substance is what I call God.

Perhaps also what I call my spirit is only a portion of matter existing through the power of a universal substance which is also matter, which has always been and always will be as we now see it, and which is not God. But at least you must grant me that what I call my spirit, whatever it may be, is something that thinks, and that if it is matter it must be thinking matter; for you will not convince me that there is not something in me that thinks while I reason thus. Now if that something which is in me and which thinks owes its being and its preservation to a universal substance which has always been and always will be, which it recognizes as its cause, this universal substance must necessarily be endowed with thought, or else nobler and more perfect than that in me which thinks; and if such a substance is matter, we must further conclude that such universal matter thinks, or is nobler and more perfect than that which thinks.

I say next: This matter, such as we have supposed it to be, if it is no illusion but real, cannot be imperceptible to our senses; and if it does not reveal itself of its own accord, yet we know it through the various arrangements of its parts which constitute bodies, and form the difference between them: it must therefore be itself all these different bodies; and since according to our hypothesis it is matter endowed with thought, or superior to that which thinks, it follows that it is such in some of these bodies, and by a necessary consequence in all of them, that is to say it is endowed with thought in stones, in metals, in the sea, in the earth, in myself who am merely a body, as in all the other parts of which it is composed. It is therefore to the aggregate of these coarse, earthly, material parts, which all together form universal matter, or this visible world, that I owe that something within me that thinks, and that I call my spirit: which is absurd.

If on the contrary this universal substance, whatever it may be, cannot be all these bodies, nor any of these bodies, it follows that it is not material, nor perceptible to any of our senses; if however it thinks, or if it is more perfect than that which thinks, I conclude further that it is spirit, or a being better and more perfect than what is spirit. If moreover that in me which thinks and which I call my spirit has to seek for its first cause and its sole origin in this universal substance, because it cannot find its principle within itself, and even less in matter, as has been shown, then I'll not quarrel about names; but this original source of all spirit, which is itself spirit and which is more excellent than any spirit, I call God.

In a word, I think, therefore God exists; I am not responsible for that in me which thinks, since it no more depended on me to give it to myself in the first place than it still depends on me to preserve it for a single instant. I do not owe it to a being greater than myself who is matter, since it is impossible that matter should be greater than that which thinks: I owe it therefore to a being greater than myself who is not matter; and that is God.

37. Since a universal substance endowed with thought completely excludes anything material, it follows necessarily that a particular being endowed with thought cannot include anything material; for although the concept of a universal thinking being implies far more grandeur, power, independence and capacity than that of a particular thinking being, it does not imply a greater exclusion of matter, since in both these beings such exclusion is as great as possible, indeed infinite, and since it is just as impossible that the something in me which thinks should be matter as it is inconceivable that God should be matter: thus, since God is spirit, my soul is spirit too.

38. I do not know if a dog can choose, can remember, call feel affection or fear, can imagine, can think; so when I am told that these reactions are in his case neither passions nor sentiments but the natural and necessary effect of the arrangement of his machine, prepared by the different combinations of particles of matter, I can at least acquiesce in this doctrine. But I think, however, and I am certain that I think: now what relation is there between such and such a combination of particles of matter, that's to say of something which has extent in every dimension, length and breadth and depth, and is divisible in all these directions, with something that thinks?

39. If everything is matter, and if thought in me or in other men is only an effect of the arrangement of particles of matter, who introduced into the world other ideas than that of material things? Can matter contain an idea as pure, simple and immaterial as that of spirit? How can it be the principle of that which denies it and excludes it from its own being? How can it be that in man which thinks, the very thing that convinces him that he is not material?

40. There are some beings that last only a short while because they are composed of very different things which are mutually harmful. There are others which last longer because they are simpler; but they perish because they are still liable to division through some of their parts. That in me which thinks must last a long time because it is a pure being exempt from any admixture or compound; and there is no reason why it should perish, for who can corrupt or separate a simple thing which has no parts?

41. The soul sees colour through an organ, the eye, and hears sound through an organ, the ear; but it can cease to see or hear when these senses or these objects are lacking, without thereby ceasing to be, for the soul is not precisely that which sees the colour or hears the sound: it is that which thinks. And how could it cease to be that? Not through the lack of an organ, since it has been shown to be immaterial; nor through the lack of an object, so long as God and the eternal verities exist; it is therefore incorruptible.

42. I cannot conceive that a soul which God has chosen to fill with the idea of His infinite and supremely perfect being can be annihilated.

43. Look, Lucillus, at this piece of land, neater and more finely adorned than those that are its neighbours: here you find flowerbeds interspersed with sheets of water and fountains; there, unending alleys of low-branched trees that shelter you from the north wind; on one side you have a dense wood that gives constant shade, on the other a splendid vista. Lower down a stream, the Yvette or the Lignon, which had flowed obscurely between willows and poplars, has become a walled canal; elsewhere long cool avenues stretch out into the countryside, leading to the house, which is surrounded with water. Will you exclaim:

'What a coincidence! how many lovely things are unexpectedly found here together!'

No, of course; on the contrary, you'll say:

'This is finely imagined and well ordered; good taste and great intelligence reign here.'

I shall say the same, and I'll add that this must be the home of one of these people for whom Le Nôtre comes to make out and measure the ground the very day they settle in. But what are we to think of this plot of land, so carefully laid out, embellished by all the Cunning of a skilled artist, if the whole earth itself is merely an atom suspended in the air, and if you listen to what I am about to tell you?

You, Lucillus, are placed somewhere on this atom: you must be very small indeed, for you take up little room on it; yet you have eyes, which are two minute points; look up at the sky: what do you see there sometimes? The full moon? It is lovely then, and very bright, although its light is only the reflection of the sun's; it looks as big as the sun, bigger than the other planets and any of the stars; but don't be deceived by appearances. Nothing else in the sky is as small as the moon; its area is thirteen times smaller than that of the earth, its volume forty-eight times as small, and its diameter, seven hundred and fifty leagues, is only a quarter of the earth's; the truth is that only its closeness makes it seem so large, for it is no more than a hundred thousand leagues distant, which is only thirty times the diameter of the earth. It has only a small journey to make in comparison with the vast circle that the sun describes in space; for it is certain that it does not travel more than five hundred and forty thousand leagues a day, which is twenty-two thousand five hundred leagues an hour, or three hundred and seventy-five a minute. Nevertheless, to perform this journey, the moon must go five thousand six hundred times faster than a post-horse travelling at four leagues an hour, eighty times more swiftly than sound, than the noise of gunfire or thunder for instance, which travels at two hundred and seventy-seven leagues an hour.

But what comparison can be made between the moon and the sun for size, distance and swiftness? You will see that there is none. Just remember the diameter of the earth, which is three hundred leagues; that of the sun is a hundred times greater, three hundred thousand leagues. If that is its breadth in all directions, what must be its area, what its volume! Can you realize this vastness, and that a million earths like ours, all together, would not be larger than the sun?

'At what a vast distance must it be,' you say, 'to judge from its appearance!'

You are right, it is prodigious; it has been proved that the earth must be not less than thirty million leagues from the sun, which is ten thousand times the earth's diameter: perhaps four times, six times, ten times further, we have no means of estimating this distance.

But to help your imagination to picture it, let us suppose a millstone falling from the sun on to the earth; let us allow it the greatest speed conceivable, greater than that of bodies falling from a height; let us suppose that it keeps up the same speed, never gaining or losing; that it travels at fifteen fathoms a second, that's to say half the height of the tallest towers, and thus nine hundred fathoms a minute; or for ease of reckoning, let's say a thousand fathoms a minute; which makes half a league; thus, in two minutes the millstone will travel one league, in an hour thirty, in a day seven hundred leagues; now it has thirty million leagues to travel before reaching the earth; it will thus take forty-one thousand, six hundred and sixty-six days, which is over a hundred and fourteen years, to complete the journey. Don't take fright, Lucillus, listen to me: the distance from earth to Saturn is at least ten times that from the earth to the sun; which means that it cannot be less than three hundred million leagues, and that the stone would take more than one thousand, one hundred and forty years to fall from Saturn to the earth.

And now, picturing Saturn's height, stretch your imagination if you can to conceive the immensity of the journey that planet performs daily above our heads; the circle described by Saturn has a diameter of over six hundred million leagues, and consequently a circumference of over eighteen hundred million leagues; an English racehorse galloping ten leagues an hour would only have to gallop for twenty thousand, five hundred and forty-eight years to complete this circle.

I have not said everything, Lucillus, about the miracle of this visible world, or, as you sometimes put it, the wonders of chance, which you hold sole First Cause of everything. Its artistry is even more admirable than you suspect: learn to know Chance, discover all the power of your God. Did you know that this distance of thirty million leagues from the earth to the sun, and that of three hundred million from the earth to Saturn, are so small compared with the distance between earth and the stars that one cannot properly use the word comparison when discussing them? What relation, in truth, is there between that which can be measured, however great it may be, and that which cannot be measured? We do not know the height of a star; it is immeasurable, if I may use the word; no angles, sines or parallaxes can assist us here. If a man in Paris was looking at a fixed star, and another looking at it from Japan, the two lines that one might imagine drawn from their eyes to the heavenly body would not form an angle but would join in a single line, since the whole earth takes up no space in relation to such distance. But the stars have this in common with Saturn and with the sun; there is something more to be said. If two observers, one on the earth, and the other in the sun, looked at a star at the same moment, the two lines of vision of these two observers would form no noticeable angle. To imagine the thing differently, if a man were placed on a star, or sun, our earth and the thirty million leagues between them would look like a single point to him: this has been demonstrated.

We do not know, moreover, the distance between one star and another, however close together they may seem to us. The Pleiades almost touch one another, to our eyes; there seems to be a star on top of one of those that form the tail of the Great Bear; our eyes can hardly make out the portion of sky between them, they look like a double star. If however all the art of astronomers has failed to decide how far apart these are, what are we to think of the distance separating two stars which actually look remote from one another, and still more of the two polar stars? What can be the immensity of the distance between one Pole star and the other? and what can be the circle of which this line is the diameter? But even harder than seeking to plumb the abyss is to try and imagine the volume of the globe of which this circle is only a section. Should we be surprised that these same stars, of such immense size, appear to us as mere sparks? Should we not wonder, rather, that at so prodigious a height they should be visible at all, and that we should not lose sight of them all? In fact, it is inconceivable how many escape our observation. The number of the stars has been established: yes, of those that can be seen; but how can we count those that cannot be perceived, those for instance that make up the Milky Way, that luminous trace that can be observed across the heavens on a clear night, from North to South, and which by reason of their amazing height cannot reach our eyes to be discerned as separate stars but merely whiten the heavenly path in which they are placed?

Here I am then on earth, as on a grain of sand which is fastened to nothing but suspended in the middle of the air; an almost infinite number of fiery globes, of a size so huge as to confound the imagination, at a height that surpasses anything we can conceive, revolve and roll round this grain of sand; and travel every day, as they have done for six thousand years and more, through the vast and immense spaces of the heavens. Would you like to hear of another system, which in no way lessens our wonder? The earth itself is carried with an inconceivable rapidity around the sun, the centre of the universe. I Picture all the globes, these terrifying bodies in movement; they never get in one another's way, they never collide or deviate: if the smallest of them all were to change its course and come up against the earth, what would become of earth? All on the contrary keep in their right place, retain the order prescribed to them, follow the course laid out for them, and so quietly, as far as we are concerned, that nobody has ears keen enough to hear them moving, and that the common people are unaware of their existence. O marvellous economy, due to chance! could intelligence itself manage better? One single thing, Lucillus, distresses me: these great bodies are so precise and so constant in their progress, in their revolutions, and in all their relations, that a tiny creature relegated to a small corner of this immense space called the world, after having observed them, has worked out an infallible method of foretelling at what point in their path all these stars will be in two, four, or twenty thousand years. This is what worries me, Lucillus; if it is by chance that they obey such unchanging rules, what do we mean by order, by rule?

I shall ask you, further, what is chance? is it a body or a spirit? is it a being distinct from other beings, with an individual existence, and in some place? or is it not rather a way of being? When a ball hits a stone we say: 'that was chance'; but was it not merely the fortuitous meeting between two bodies? If as a result of this chance the ball no longer runs straight, but obliquely; if its movement is not direct, but devious; if it no longer rolls on its axis but twists and turns about, am I to conclude that the general movement of the ball is due to this same chance? And because the wheels of a clock are so arranged in relation to one another as to turn at a particular speed, shall I examine the less curiously what can be the cause of its movements, whether they are made spontaneously or through the propulsive force of a weight that sets them going? But neither these wheels nor that ball could set themselves in motion, nor is motion natural to them, since they can cease moving without changing their nature; it seems then that they must derive their motion from elsewhere, and from some force outside themselves. And if the heavenly bodies were to cease moving, would their nature be changed? would they cease to be such bodies? I conceive of things otherwise; they do move, however, and it is not of their own accord or by their nature. We must try to discover, Lucillus, whether there is not outside them some principle which sets them in motion; and whatever you find I shall call God.

If we should imagine these great bodies to be devoid of movement, we should no longer ask, it's true, who sets them in motion, but we should still be justified in asking who made these bodies, as we might ask who made those wheels or that ball; and if each of these great bodies should be supposed to be a fortuitous mass of atoms linked and joined together by the shape and conformation of their parts, I should take one of these atoms and ask:

'Who created this atom? Is it matter? is it mind? Had it any idea of itself before making itself? Then it must have existed a moment before it existed; it was and it was not, both at once; and if it is the author of its own being and its way of being, why did it make itself body rather than mind? Furthermore, did this atom not have a beginning? is it eternal? is it infinite? Will you make a God of this atom?'

44. The mite has eyes, it turns away when it meets objects that might be harmful to it; when it is placed on ebony, the better to be seen, if while it is moving in one direction the tiniest straw is laid before it, it changes its direction: are its crystalline lens, its retina and its optic nerve mere effects of chance?

In a drop of water which has been altered by steeping pepper in it, we can see a prodigious number of tiny creatures, whose form can be distinguished through the microscope, which move with incredible speed like so many monsters in a huge sea; each of these creatures is a thousand times smaller than a mite, and yet it is a living body, which feeds itself, grows, must have muscles and vessels comparable to veins, nerves and arteries, and a brain to distribute the animal spirits.

A patch of mould the size of a grain of sand appears, seen through the microscope, as a collection of quite distinct plants, some of which have flowers, others fruit; some only have half-open buds; some are withered; how amazingly small must be the roots of these tin} plants, and the filters through which their nourishment is strained! And if we come to consider that these plants have their Seeds, just like oak trees and pines, and that the tiny animals of which I have spoken reproduce themselves sexually, like elephants and whales, where will this not lead us? Who has had the skill to work at objects so delicate, so minute, which man cannot see and which partake of infinity, like the heavens, although at the other extreme? Surely it must be He who made the heavens, the stars, those huge masses, terrifying by reason of their greatness, their remoteness, the speed and extent of their orbit, and whose pastime it is to set them in motion?

45. It is a fact that man enjoys the sun, the stars, the heavens and their influenccs as he enjoys the air he breathes and the earth on which he walks and which sustains him; and moreover this is entirely as it should be, since the heavens and all that they contain cannot be compared for nobility and dignity with the meanest man on earth, since the contrast between them is that between insentient matter, which has merely three-dimensional extension, and something which is spirit, reason or intelligence. Should anyone comment that man could have been satisfied with less for his preservation, I reply that God could do no less to display His power, His goodness and His splendour, since, whatever we see He has done, He could have done infinitely more.

The whole world, if it is made for man, is literally the least thing God has done for man; the proof of that is basic to our religion. It is therefore neither vanity nor presumption on the part of man, being thus favoured, to surrender to the power of truth; it would be foolish and blind in him to refuse to be convinced by the sequence of proofs by which religion discloses to him his privileges, his resources, his hopes, and teaches him what he is and what he may become.

'But the moon is inhabited: at least it's not impossible that it may be.'
'What's that you're saying about the moon, Lucillus? where God is concerned, what can be impossible? Are you wondering perhaps whether we are the only beings in the universe to whom God has been so good? whether there are not on the moon other men, or other creatures, equally favoured by Him? Vain curiosity! frivolous request! The earth is inhabited, Lucillus; we inhabit it, and we know we inhabit it; we have our proofs, our evidence, our convictions as to what we must think about God and about ourselves: let those who dwell on the heavenly globes, whatever they may be, seek their own answers; they have their cares and we have ours. You have looked at the moon, Lucillus; you have recognized its markings, its hollows, its irregularities, its height, its area, its orbit, its eclipses: no astronomer has found out more. Imagine fresh instruments, observe it even more closely: suppose you find it is inhabited, with what creatures? are they like men? are they men? Let me look, after you; and if we are both convinced that there are men dwelling on the moon, let us then investigate whether they are Christians, and whether God has divided His favours equally between them and ourselves.'

46. All is great and admirable in nature; there's nothing to be seen there but bears the stamp of its maker; the occasional irregularity and imperfection merely imply the existence of perfection and rule. Vain and presumptuous man! can you make that worm which you crush contemptuously under foot? can you make that toad, which you reject with loathing? What a past master is he who makes things, not that men admire but that they fear! II l not ask you to set to work to produce a witty man, a handsome man, a pretty woman; that's a considerable undertaking, and beyond your powers; but just try to make a hunchback, a madman or a monster, and I'll be satisfied.

Kings, Monarchs, Potentates, revered Majesties! have I named you by all your superb titles? Great ones of the earth, high and mighty, and perhaps soon almighty Lords! we, being mere men, need a little rain for our crops, or even less than that, a little dew; make some dew, bring down one drop of water on to the earth.

The order, the beauty, the effects of nature are accessible to everyone; the causes and principles are not. A woman cannot tell you how her fine eyes have only to be opened to see; nor can a learned man.

47. Millions of years, hundreds of millions of years, in a word the whole of time is but an instant compared to the duration of God, which is eternal; all the space that makes up the entire world is but a dot, a slight atom, compared with His immensity, If it is so, as I suggest, what proportion can there be between the finite and the infinite? I ask: What is the course of a man's life? what is this speck of dust we call the earth? what is that tiny portion of this earth that man possesses and inhabits? — 'The wicked prosper in their lives.' — Some of them, I admit. — 'Virtue is oppressed and crime goes unpunished on the earth.' — Sometimes, I agree. 'This is an injustice.' — Not at all; such a conclusion could only be drawn if one could prove that, absolutely, the wicked are happy, the virtuous are not, and crime remains unpunished; if at least this brief space of time during which the good suffer and the wicked prosper were of some duration, and if what we call prosperity and fortune were something other than a mere illusion and a fleeting shadow; if this earth, this atom, where it seems that virtue and crime so seldom meet with their due reward, were the only place where punishment and recompense are meted out.

The fact that I think does not more clearly tell me that I am a spiritual being than the fact that I act or do not act, as I please, tells me that I am free: now freedom means choice, otherwise a deliberate option for good or bad, and thus a good or a bad action, what we call virtue or crime. That crime should, in an absolute sense, remain unpunished would, it is true, be an injustice; that it remains so on earth is a mystery. Let us nevertheless assume with the atheist that it is an injustice: all injustice is a negation, or deprivation, of justice; therefore all injustice presupposes justice. All justice means conformity to supreme reason: I may indeed ask, when can it not have been reasonable for crime to be punished, unless perhaps when triangles had less than three angles; now whatever conforms to reason is a truth; such conformity, as we have said, has always existed; it is therefore one of the eternal truths. This truth, moreover, either does not and cannot exist, or it is the object of knowledge; such knowledge is therefore eternal, and it is God.

The ways in which the most secret crimes are laid bare, even when the criminal has taken the greatest care to conceal them from men's eyes, seem so simple and easy that one can only assume God Himself to have brought them about; and there have been such a great number of cases where this has happened that if some people choose to attribute them to pure chance, they must then admit that chance has invariably grown into habit.

48. If you choose to imagine all men dwelling on this earth, without exception, enjoying abundance and lacking for nothing, I conclude therefrom that none of them would enjoy abundance, and that they would lack everything. There are only two sorts of wealth, which subsume all the rest: money and land; if everyone is rich, who will cultivate the soil and who will dig the mines? Those who are far away from the mines will not dig them, and those who live on uncultivated land that is rich in minerals will be unable to extract the wealth from it. Men will presumably turn to commerce; but if everyone has an abundance of wealth and nobody is obliged to earn his living, who will transport bullion or things bartered from one region to another? who will put ships to sea? who will sail them? who will undertake the convoys? We should then find ourselves short of necessary and useful things. If there were no more needs, there would be no more arts and sciences, no more inventions, no more machinery. Moreover this equality of possessions and wealth would introduce equality of condition, would do away with all subordination, reducing all men to serving themselves and being unable to help one another, would make laws frivolous and useless, would involve universal anarchy and call forth violence, injuries, massacres, which would go unpunished.

If, on the contrary, you suppose all men to be poor, in vain would the sun rise for them on the horizon, in vain would it warm the earth and make it fruitful, in vain would the sky shed its influence, the rivers water the earth and spread fertility and abundance in every land; uselessly, too, would we search the hidden depths of the ocean, or probe the bosom of rocks and mountains to extract the treasures they contain. But if you allow that of all the men scattered throughout the world some must be rich and others poor, you then enable them to be brought together by mutual need; some to serve, obey, invent, toil, cultivate, and improve their work; the others to enjoy, to provide food and succour, to protect and govern; all order is re-established, and God's work is made plain.

49. On one side we find authority, pleasure and idleness, on the other dependence, care and poverty: either these things have been ill arranged by the wickedness of men, or God is not God.

A certain inequality in the conditions of men, which ensures order and subordination, is the work of God, and presupposes a divine law: too great a disproportion, such as we see among men, is their own work, and the law laid down by the stronger.

Extremes are vicious, and are due to man: all equilibrium is just, and comes from God.

50. If these Characters are not appreciated, I shall be surprised; and if they are, I shall be equally surprised.

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