The Ruins HTML version

Part I, Chapter 22
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