The Ruins HTML version

Part I, Chapter 23
Thus spoke the orator in the name of those men who had studied the origin and
succession of religious ideas.
The theologians of various systems, reasoning on this discourse: "It is an impious
representation," said some, whose tendency is nothing less than to overturn all belief, to
destroy subordination in the minds of men, and annihilate our ministry and power." "It is
a romance," said others, "a tissue of conjectures, composed with art, but without
foundation." The moderate and prudent men added: "Supposing all this to be true, why
reveal these mysteries? Doubtless our opinions are full of errors; but these errors are a
necessary restraint on the multitude. The world has gone thus for two thousand years;
why change it now?"
A murmur of disapprobation, which never fails to rise at every innovation, now began to
increase; when a numerous group of the common classes of people, and of untaught men
of all countries and of every nation, without prophets, without doctors, and without
doctrine, advancing in the circle, drew the attention of the whole assembly; and one of
them, in the name of all, thus addressed the multitude:
"Mediators and arbiters of nations! the strange relations which have occupied the present
debate were unknown to us until this day. Our understanding, confounded and amazed at
so many statements, some of them learned, others absurd and all incomprehensible,
remains in uncertainty and doubt. One only reflection has struck us: on reviewing so
many prodigious facts, so many contradictory assertions, we ask ourselves: What are all
these discussions to us? What need have we of knowing what passed five or six thousand
years ago, in countries we never heard of, and among men who will ever be unknown to
us? True or false, what interest have we in knowing whether the world has existed six
thousand, or twenty-five thousand years? Whether it was made of nothing, or of
something; by itself, or by a maker, who in his turn would require another maker? What!
we are not sure of what happens near us, and shall we answer for what happens in the
sun, in the moon, or in imaginary regions of space? We have forgotten our own infancy,
and shall we know the infancy of the world? And who will attest what no one has seen?
who will certify what no man comprehends?
"Besides, what addition or diminution will it make to our existence, to answer yes or no
to all these chimeras? Hitherto neither our fathers nor ourselves have had the least
knowledge or notion of them, and we do not perceive that we have had on this account
either more or less of the sun, more or less of subsistence, more or less of good or of evil.
"If the knowledge of these things is so necessary, why have we lived as well without it as
those who have taken so much trouble concerning it? If this knowledge is superfluous,
why should we burden ourselves with it to-day?"