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The Ruins

Part I, Chapter 24
The legislator then resumed his discourse: "O nations!" said he, "we have heard the
discussion of your opinions. The different sentiments which divide you have given rise to
many reflections, and furnished several questions which we shall propose to you to solve.
"First, considering the diversity and opposition of the creeds to which you are attached,
we ask on what motives you found your persuasion? Is it from a deliberate choice that
you follow the standard of one prophet rather than another? Before adopting this doctrine,
rather than that, did you first compare? did you carefully examine them? Or have you
received them only from the chance of birth, from the empire of education and habit? Are
you not born Christians on the borders of the Tiber, Mussulmans on those of the
Euphrates, Idolaters on the Indus, just as you are born fair in cold climates, and sable
under the scorching sun of Africa? And if your opinions are the effect of your fortuitous
position on the earth, of consanguinity, of imitation, how is it that such a hazard should
be a ground of conviction, an argument of truth?
"Secondly, when we reflect on the mutual proscriptions and arbitrary intolerance of your
pretensions, we are frightened at the consequences that flow from your own principles.
Nations! who reciprocally devote each other to the bolts of heavenly wrath, suppose that
the universal Being, whom you revere, should this moment descend from heaven on this
multitude; and, clothed with all his power, should sit on this throne to judge you; suppose
that he should say to you: Mortals! it is your own justice that I am going to exercise upon
you. Yes, of all the religious systems that divide you, one alone shall this day be
preferred; all the others, all this multitude of standards, of nations, of prophets, shall be
condemned to eternal destruction. This is not enough: among the particular sects of the
chosen system, one only can be favored; all the others must be condemned: neither is this
enough;--from this little remnant of a group I must exclude all those who have not
fulfilled the conditions enjoined by its precepts. O men! to what a small number of elect
have you limited your race! to what a penury of beneficence do you reduce the immensity
of my goodness! to what a solitude of beholders do you condemn my greatness and my
"But," said the legislator rising, no matter you have willed it so. Nations! here is an urn in
which all your names are placed: one only is a prize: approach, and draw this tremendous
lottery!" And the nations, seized with terror cried: "No, no; we are all brothers, all equal;
we cannot condemn each other."
"Then," said the legislator, resuming his seat: "O men! who dispute on so many subjects,
lend an attentive ear to one problem which you exhibit, and which you ought to decide