The Ruins by C. F. Volney - HTML preview
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Part I, Chapter 15THE NEW AGE
Scarcely had he finished these words, when a great tumult arose in the west; and turning to that quarter, I perceived, at the extremity of the Mediterranean, in one of the nations of Europe, a prodigious movement--such as when a violent sedition arises in a vast city--a numberless people, rushing in all directions, pour through the streets and fluctuate like waves in the public places. My ear, struck with the cries which resounded to the heavens, distinguished these words:
What is this new prodigy? What cruel and mysterious scourge is this? We are a numerous people and we want hands! We have an excellent soil, and we are in want of subsistence? We are active and laborious, and we live in indigence! We pay enormous tributes, and we are told they are not sufficient! We are at peace without, and our persons and property are not safe within. Who, then, is the secret enemy that devours us?Some voices from the midst of the multitude replied: Raise a discriminating standard; and let all those who maintain and nourish mankind by useful labors gather round it; and you will discover the enemy that preys upon you.
The standard being raised, this nation divided itself at once into two bodies of unequal magnitude and contrasted appearance. The one, innumerable, and almost total, exhibited in the poverty of its clothing, in its emaciated appearance and sun-burnt faces, the marks of misery and labor; the other, a little group, an insignificant faction, presented in its rich attire embroidered with gold and silver, and in its sleek and ruddy faces, the signs of leisure and abundance.
Considering these men more attentively, I found that the great body was composed of farmers, artificers, merchants, all professions useful to society; and that the little group was made up of priests of every order, of financiers, of nobles, of men in livery, of commanders of armies; in a word, of the civil, military, and religious agents of government.
These two bodies being assembled face to face, and regarding each other with astonishment, I saw indignation and rage arising in one side, and a sort of panic in the other. And the large body said to the little one: Why are you separated from us? Are you not of our number?No, replied the group; you are the people; we are a privileged class, who have our laws, customs, and rights, peculiar to ourselves. PEOPLE.--And what labor do you perform in our society? PRIVILEGED CLASS.--None; we are not made to work. PEOPLE.--How, then, have you acquired these riches? PRIVILEGED CLASS.--By taking the pains to govern you.
PEOPLE.--What! is this what you call governing? We toil and you enjoy! we produce and you dissipate! Wealth proceeds from us, and you absorb it. Privileged men! class who are not the people; form a nation apart, and govern yourselves.*
* This dialogue between the people and the indolent classes, is applicable to every society; it contains the seeds of all the political vices and disorders that prevail, and which may thus be defined: Men who do nothing, and who devour the substance of others; and men who arrogate to themselves particular rights and exclusive privileges of wealth and indolence. Compare the Mamlouks of Egypt, the nobility of Europe, the Nairs of India, the Emirs of Arabia, the patricians of Rome, the Christian clergy, the Imans, the Bramins, the Bonzes, the Lamas, etc., etc., and you will find in all the same characteristic feature:--Men living in idleness at the expense of those who labor.
Then the little group, deliberating on this new state of things, some of the most honorable among them said: We must join the people and partake of their labors and burdens, for they are men like us, and our riches come from them; but others arrogantly exclaimed: It would be a shame, an infamy, for us to mingle with the crowd; they are born to serve us. Are we not men of another race--the noble and pure descendants of the conquerors of this empire? This multitude must be reminded of our rights and its own origin.
THE NOBLES.--People! know you not that our ancestors conquered this land, and that your race was spared only on condition of serving us? This is our social compact! this the government constituted by custom and prescribed by time.PEOPLE.--O conquerors, pure of blood! show us your genealogies! we shall then see if what in an individual is robbery and plunder, can be virtuous in a nation.
And forthwith, voices were heard in every quarter calling out the nobles by their names; and relating their origin and parentage, they told how the grandfather, great-grandfather, or even father, born traders and mechanics, after acquiring wealth in every way, had purchased their nobility for money: so that but very few families were really of the original stock. See, said these voices, see these purse-proud commoners who deny their parents! see these plebian recruits who look upon themselves as illustrious veterans! and peals of laughter were heard.
And the civil governors said: these people are mild, and naturally servile; speak to them of the king and of the law, and they will return to their duty. People! the king wills, the sovereign ordains!
PEOPLE.--The king can will nothing but the good of the people; the sovereign can only ordain according to law.
And the people answered: You are safe; since we are enlightened we will commit no violence; we only claim our rights. We feel resentments, but we will forget them. We were slaves, we might command; but we only wish to be free, and liberty is but justice.A FREE AND LEGISLATIVE PEOPLE
Considering that all public power was now suspended, and that the habitual restraint of the people had suddenly ceased, I shuddered with the apprehension that they would fall into the dissolution of anarchy. But, taking their affairs into immediate deliberation, they said:
It is not enough that we have freed ourselves from tyrants and parasites; we must prevent their return. We are men, and experience has abundantly taught us that every man is fond of power, and wishes to enjoy it at the expense of others. It is necessary, then, to guard against a propensity which is the source of discord; we must establish certain rules of duty and of right. But the knowledge of our rights, and the estimation of our duties, are so abstract and difficult as to require all the time and all the faculties of a man. Occupied in our own affairs, we have not leisure for these studies; nor can we exercise these functions in our own persons. Let us choose, then, among ourselves, such persons as are capable of this employment. To them we will delegate our powers to institute our government and laws. They shall be the representatives of our wills and of our interests. And in order to attain the fairest representation possible of our wills and our interests, let it be numerous, and composed of men resembling ourselves.Having made the election of a numerous body of delegates, the people thus addressed them:
We have hitherto lived in a society formed by chance, without fixed agreements, without free conventions, without a stipulation of rights, without reciprocal engagements,--and a multitude of disorders and evils have arisen from this precarious state. We are now determined on forming a regular compact; and we have chosen you to adjust the articles. Examine, then, with care what ought to be its basis and its conditions; consider what is the end and the principles of every association; recognize the rights which every member brings, the powers which he delegates, and those which be reserves to himself. Point out to us the rules of conduct--the basis of just and equitable laws. Prepare for us a new system of government; for we realize that the one which has hitherto guided us is corrupt. Our fathers have wandered in the paths of ignorance, and habit has taught us to follow in their footsteps. Everything has been done by fraud, violence, and delusion; and the true laws of morality and reason are still obscure. Clear up, then, their chaos; trace out their connection; publish their code, and we will adopt it.And the people raised a large throne, in the form of a pyramid, and seating on it the men they had chosen, said to them:
We raise you to-day above us, that you may better discover the whole of our relations, and be above the reach of our passions. But remember that you are our fellow-citizens; that the power we confer on you is our own; that we deposit it with you, but not as a property or a heritage; that you must be the first to obey the laws you make; that tomorrow you redescend among us, and that you will have acquired no other right but that of our esteem and gratitude. And consider what a tribute of glory the world, which reveres so many apostles of error, will bestow on the first assembly of rational men, who shall have declared the unchangeable principles of justice, and consecrated, in the face of tyrants, the rights of nations.UNIVERSAL BASIS OF ALL RIGHT AND ALL LAW
The men chosen by the people to investigate the true principles of morals and of reason then proceeded in the sacred object of their mission; and, after a long examination, having discovered a fundamental and universal principle, a legislator arose and said to the people:Here is the primordial basis, the physical origin of all justice and of all right.
Whatever be the active power, the moving cause, that governs the universe, since it has given to all men the same organs, the same sensations, and the same wants, it has thereby declared that it has given to all the same right to the use of its treasures, and that all men are equal in the order of nature.
And, since this power has given to each man the necessary means of preserving his own existence, it is evident that it has constituted them all independent one of another; that it has created them free; that no one is subject to another; that each one is absolute proprietor of his own person.Equality and liberty are, therefore, two essential attributes of man, two laws of the Divinity, constitutional and unchangeable, like the physical properties of matter. Now, every individual being absolute master of his own person, it follows that a full and free consent is a condition indispensable to all contracts and all engagements.
Again, since each individual is equal to another, it follows that the balance of what is received and of what is given, should be strictly in equilibrium; so that the idea of justice, of equity, necessarily imports that of equality.*
* The etymology of the words themselves trace out to us this connection: equilibrium, equalitas, equitas, are all of one family, and the physical idea of equality, in the scales of a balance, is the source and type of all the rest.
Equality and liberty are therefore the physical and unalterable basis of every union of men in society, and of course the necessary and generating principle of every law and of every system of regular government.*
* In the Declaration of Rights, there is an inversion of ideas in the first article, liberty being placed before equality, from which it in reality springs. This defect is not to be wondered at; the science of the rights of man is a new science: it was invented yesterday by the Americans, to-day the French are perfecting it, but there yet remains a great deal to be done. In the ideas that constitute it there is a genealogical order which, from us basis, physical equality, to the minutest and most remote branches of government, ought to proceed in an uninterrupted series of inferences.
A disregard of this basis has introduced in your nation, and in every other, those disorders which have finally roused you. It is by returning to this rule that you may reform them, and reorganize a happy order of society.
But observe, this reorganization will occasion a violent shock in your habits, your fortunes, and your prejudices. Vicious contracts and abusive claims must be dissolved, unjust distinctions and ill founded property renounced; you must indeed recur for a moment to a state of nature. Consider whether you can consent to so many sacrifices.Then, reflecting on the cupidity inherent in the heart of man, I thought that this people would renounce all ideas of amelioration. But, in a moment, a great number of men, advancing toward the pyramid, made a solemn abjuration of all their distinctions and all their riches. Establish for us, said they, the laws of equality and liberty; we will possess nothing in future but on the title of justice. Equality, liberty, justice,--these shall be our code, and shall be written on our standards.
And the people immediately raised a great standard, inscribed with these three words, in three different colors. They displayed it over the pyramid of the legislators, and for the first time the flag of universal justice floated on the face of the earth.And the people raised before the pyramid a new altar, on which they placed a golden balance, a sword, and a book with this inscription: TO EQUAL LAW, WHICH JUDGES AND PROTECTS.
And having surrounded the pyramid and the altar with a vast amphitheatre, all the people took their seats to hear the publication of the law. And millions of men, raising at once their hands to heaven, took the solemn oath to live equal, free, and just; to respect their reciprocal properties and rights; to obey the law and its regularly chosen representatives.
A spectacle so impressive and sublime, so replete with generous emotions, moved me to tears; and addressing myself to the Genius, I exclaimed: Let me now live, for in future I have everything to hope.CONSTERNATION AND CONSPIRACY OF TYRANTS
But scarcely had the solemn voice of liberty and equality resounded through the earth, when a movement of confusion, of astonishment, arose in different nations. On the one hand, the people, warmed with desire, but wavering between hope and fear, between the sentiment of right and the habit of obedience, began to be in motion. The kings, on the other hand, suddenly awakened from the sleep of indolence and despotism, were alarmed for the safety of their thrones; while, on all sides, those clans of civil and religious tyrants, who deceive kings and oppress the people, were seized with rage and consternation; and, concerting their perfidious plans, they said: Woe to us, if this fatal cry of liberty comes to the ears of the multitude! Woe to us, if this pernicious spirit of justice be propagated!And, pointing to the floating banner, they continued:
Consider what a swarm of evils are included in these three words! If all men are equal, where is our exclusive right to honors and to power? If all men are to be free, what becomes of our slaves, our vassals, our property? If all are equal in the civil state, where is our prerogative of birth, of inheritance? and what becomes of nobility? If they are all equal in the sight of God, what need of mediators?--where is the priesthood? Let us hasten, then, to destroy a germ so prolific, and so contagious. We must employ all our cunning against this innovation. We must frighten the kings, that they may join us in the cause. We must divide the people by national jealousies, and occupy them with commotions, wars, and conquests. They must be alarmed at the power of this free nation. Let us form a league against the common enemy, demolish that sacrilegious standard, overturn that throne of rebellion, and stifle in its birth the flame of revolution.
And, indeed, the civil and religious tyrants of nations formed a general combination; and, multiplying their followers by force and seduction, they marched in hostile array against the free nation; and, surrounding the altar and the pyramid of natural law, they demanded with loud cries:
What is this new and heretical doctrine? what this impious altar, this sacrilegious worship? True believers and loyal subjects! can you suppose that truth has been first discovered to-day, and that hitherto you have been walking in error? that those men, more fortunate than you, have the sole privilege of wisdom? And you, rebel and misguided nation, perceive you not that your new leaders are misleading you? that they destroy the principles of your faith, and overturn the religion of your ancestors? Ah, tremble! lest the wrath of heaven should kindle against you; and hasten by speedy repentance to retrieve your error.But, inaccessible to seduction as well as to fear, the free nation kept silence, and rising universally in arms, assumed an imposing attitude. And the legislator said to the chiefs of nations:
If while we walked with a bandage on our eyes the light guided our steps, why, since we are no longer blindfold, should it fly from our search? If guides, who teach mankind to see for themselves, mislead and deceive them, what can be expected from those who profess to keep them in darkness?
But hark, ye leaders of nations! If you possess the truth, show it to us, and we will receive it with gratitude, for we seek it with ardor, and have a great interest in finding it. We are men, and liable to be deceived; but you are also men, and equally fallible. Aid us then in this labyrinth, where the human race has wandered for so many ages; help us to dissipate the illusion of so many prejudices and vicious habits. Amid the shock of so many opinions which dispute for our acceptance, assist us in discovering the proper and distinctive character of truth. Let us this day terminate the long combat with error. Let us establish between it and truth a solemn contest, to which we will invite the opinions of men of all nations. Let us convoke a general assembly of the nations. Let them be judges in their own cause; and in the debate of all systems, let no champion, no argument, be wanting, either on the side of prejudice or of reason; and let the sentiment of a general and common mass of evidence give birth to a universal concord of opinions and of hearts.GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE NATIONS
Thus spoke the legislator; and the multitude, seized with those emotions which a reasonable proposition always inspires, expressed its applause; while the tyrants, left without support, were overwhelmed with confusion.
A scene of a new and astonishing nature then opened to my view. All that the earth contains of people and of nations; men of every race and of every region, converging from their various climates, seemed to assemble in one allotted place; where, forming an immense congress, distinguished in groups by the vast variety of their dresses, features, and complexion, the numberless multitude presented a most unusual and affecting sight.
On one side I saw the European, with his short close coat, pointed triangular hat, smooth chin, and powdered hair; on the other side the Asiatic, with a flowing robe, long beard, shaved head, and round turban. Here stood the nations of Africa, with their ebony skins, their woolly hair, their body girt with white and blue tissues of bark, adorned with bracelets and necklaces of coral, shells, and glass; there the tribes of the north, enveloped in their leathern bags; the Laplander, with his pointed bonnet and his snow-shoes; the Samoyede, with his feverish body and strong odor; the Tongouse, with his horned cap, and carrying his idols pendant from his neck; the Yakoute, with his freckled face; the Kalmuc, with his flat nose and little retorted eyes. Farther distant were the Chinese, attired in silk, with their hair hanging in tresses; the Japanese, of mingled race; the Malays, with wide-spreading ears, rings in their noses, and palm-leaf hats of vast circumference;* and the tattooed races of the isles of the southern ocean and of the continent of the antipodes.** The view of so many varieties of the same species, of so many extravagant inventions of the same understanding, and of so many modifications of the same organization, affected me with a thousand feelings and a thousand thoughts.*** I contemplated with astonishment this gradation of color, which, passing from a bright carnation to a light brown, a deeper brown, dusky, bronze, olive, leaden, copper, ends in the black of ebony and of jet. And finding the Cassimerian, with his rosy cheek, next to the sun-burnt Hindoo, and the Georgian by the side of the Tartar, I reflected on the effects of climate hot or cold, of soil high or low, marshy or dry, open or shaded. I compared the dwarf of the pole with the giant of the temperate zones, the slender body of the Arab with the ample chest of the Hollander; the squat figure of the Samoyede with the elegant form of the Greek and the Sclavonian; the greasy black wool of the Negro with the bright silken locks of the Dane; the broad face of the Kalmuc, his little angular eyes and flattened nose, with the oval prominent visage, large blue eyes, and aquiline nose of the Circassian and Abazan. I contrasted the brilliant calicoes of the Indian, the well-wrought stuffs of the European, the rich furs of the Siberian, with the tissues of bark, of osiers, leaves and feathers of savage nations; and the blue figures of serpents, flowers, and stars, with which they painted their bodies. Sometimes the variegated appearance of this multitude reminded me of the enamelled meadows of the Nile and the Euphrates, when, after rains or inundations, millions of flowers are rising on every side. Sometimes their murmurs and their motions called to mind the numberless swarms of locusts which, issuing from the desert, cover in the spring the plains of Hauran.
* This species of the palm-tree is called Latanier. Its leaf, similar to a fan-mount, grows upon a stalk issuing directly from the earth. A specimen may be seen in the botanic garden.** The country of the Papons of New Guinea.
*** A hall of costumes in one of the galleries of the Louvre would, in every point of view, be an interesting establishment. It would furnish an admirable treat to the curiosity of a great number of persons, excellent models to the artist, and useful subjects of meditation to the physician, the philosopher and the legislator.
Picture to yourself a collection of the various faces and figures of every country and nation, exhibiting accurately, color, features and form; what a field for investigation and enquiry as to the influence of climate, customs, food, etc. It might truly be called the science of man! Buffon has attempted a chapter of this nature, but it only serves to exhibit more strikingly our actual ignorance. Such a collection is said to have been begun at St. Petersburg, but it is also said at the same time to be as imperfect as the vocabulary of the three hundred languages. The enterprise would be worthy of the French nation.
At the sight of so many rational beings, considering on the one hand the immensity of thoughts and sensations assembled in this place, and on the other hand, reflecting on the opposition of so many opinions, and the shock of so many passions of men so capricious, I struggled between astonishment, admiration, and secret dread--when the legislator commanded silence, and attracted all my attention.
Inhabitants of earth! a free and powerful nation addresses you with words of justice and peace, and she offers you the sure pledges of her intentions in her own conviction and experience. Long afflicted with the same evils as yourselves, we sought for their source, and found them all derived from violence and injustice, erected into law by the inexperience of past ages, and maintained by the prejudices of the present. Then abolishing our artificial and arbitrary institutions, and recurring to the origin of all right and reason, we have found that there existed in the very order of nature and in the physical constitution of man, eternal and immutable laws, which only waited his observance to render him happy.
O men! cast your eyes on the heavens that give you light, and on the earth that gives you bread! Since they offer the same bounties to you all--since from the power that gives them motion you have all received the same life, the same organs, have you not likewise all received the same right to enjoy its benefits? Has it not hereby declared you all equal and free? What mortal shall dare refuse to his fellow that which nature gives him?
O nations! let us banish all tyranny and all discord; let us form but one society, one great family; and, since human nature has but one constitution, let there exist in future but one law, that of nature--but one code, that of reason--but one throne, that of justice--but one altar, that of union.
He ceased; and an immense acclamation resounded to the skies. Ten thousand benedictions announced the transports of the multitude; and they made the earth re-echo JUSTICE, EQUALITY and UNION.
But different emotions soon succeeded; soon the doctors and the chiefs of nations exciting a spirit of dispute, there was heard a sullen murmur, which growing louder, and spreading from group to group, became a vast disorder; and each nation setting up exclusive pretensions, claimed a preference for its own code and opinion.
You are in error, said the parties, pointing one to the other. We alone are in possession of reason and truth. We alone have the true law, the real rule of right and justice, the only means of happiness and perfection. All other men are either blind or rebellious.And great agitation prevailed. Then the legislator, after enforcing silence, loudly exclaimed:
What, O people! is this passionate emotion? Whither will this quarrel conduct you? What can you expect from this dissension? The earth has been for ages a field of disputation, and you have shed torrents of blood in your controversies. What have you gained by so many battles and tears? When the strong has subjected the weak to his opinion, has he thereby aided the cause of truth?
O nations! take counsel of your own wisdom. When among yourselves disputes arise between families and individuals, how do you reconcile them? Do you not give them arbitrators?Yes, cried the whole multitude.
Do so then to the authors of your present dissensions. Order those who call themselves your instructors, and who force their creeds upon you, to discuss before you their reasons. Since they appeal to your interests, inform yourselves how they support them.
And you, chiefs and governors of the people! before dragging the masses into the quarrels resulting from your diverse opinions, let the reasons for and against your views be given. Let us establish one solemn controversy, one public scrutiny of truth--not before the tribunal of a corruptible individual, or of a prejudiced party, but in the grand forum of mankind--guarded by all their information and all their interests. Let the natural sense of the whole human race be our arbiter and judge.
Part I, Chapter 20THE SEARCH OF TRUTH
The people expressed their applause, and the legislator continued: To proceed with order, and avoid all confusion, let a spacious semicircle be left vacant in front of the altar of peace and union; let each system of religion, and each particular sect, erect its proper distinctive standard on the line of this semicircle; let its chiefs and doctors place themselves around the standard, and their followers form a column behind them.
The semicircle being traced, and the order published, there instantly rose an innumerable multitude of standards, of all colors and of every form, like what we see in a great commercial port, when, on a day of rejoicing, a thousand different flags and streamers are floating from a forest of masts.At the sight of this prodigious diversity, I turned towards the Genius and said:
I thought that the earth was divided only into eight or ten systems of faith, and I then despaired of a reconciliation; I now behold thousands of different sects, and how can I hope for concord?But these, replied the Genius, are not all; and yet they will be intolerant! Then, as the groups advanced to take their stations, he pointed out to me their distinctive marks, and thus began to explain their characters:
That first group, said he, with a green banner bearing a crescent, a bandage, and a sabre, are the followers of the Arabian prophet. To say there is a God, without knowing what he is; to believe the words of a man, without understanding his language; to go into the desert to pray to God, who is everywhere; to wash the hands with water, and not abstain from blood; to fast all day, and eat all night; to give alms of their own goods, and to plunder those of others; such are the means of perfection instituted by Mahomet-- such are the symbols of his followers; and whoever does not bear them is a reprobate, stricken with anathema, and devoted to the sword.
A God of clemency, the author of life, has instituted these laws of oppression and murder: he made them for all the world, but has revealed them only to one man; he established them from all eternity, though he made them known but yesterday. These laws are abundantly sufficient for all purposes, and yet a volume is added to them. This volume was to diffuse light, to exhibit evidence, to lead men to perfection and happiness; and yet every page was so full of obscurities, ambiguities, and contradictions, that commentaries and explanations became necessary, even in the life- time of its apostle. Its interpreters, differing in opinion, divided into opposite and hostile sects. One maintains that Ali is the true successor; the other contends for Omar and Aboubekre. This denies the eternity of the Koran; that the necessity of ablutions and prayers. The Carmite forbids pilgrimages, and allows the use of wine; the Hakemite preaches the transmigration of souls. Thus they make up the number of seventy-two sects, whose banners are before you.* In this contestation, every one attributing the evidence of truth exclusively to himself, and taxing all others with heresy and rebellion, turns against them its sanguinary zeal. And their religion, which celebrates a mild and merciful God, the common father of all men,--changed to a torch of discord, a signal for war and murder, has not ceased for twelve hundred years to deluge the earth in blood, and to ravage and desolate the ancient hemisphere from centre to circumference.**
* The Mussulmen enumerate in common seventy-two sects, but I read, while I resided among them, a work which gave an account of more than eighty,--all equally wise and important.
** Read the history of Islamism by its own writers, and you will be convinced that one of the principal causes of the wars which have desolated Asia and Africa, since the days of Mahomet, has been the apostolical fanaticism of its doctrine. Caesar has been supposed to have destroyed three millions of men: it would be interesting to make a similar calculation respecting every founder of a religious system.
Those men, distinguished by their enormous white turbans, their broad sleeves, and their long rosaries, are the Imans, the Mollas, and the Muftis; and near them are the Dervishes with pointed bonnets, and the Santons with dishevelled hair. Behold with what vehemence they recite their professions of faith! They are now beginning a dispute about the greater and lesser impurities--about the matter and the manner of ablutions,--about the attributes of God and his perfections--about the Chaitan, and the good and wicked angels,--about death, the resurrection, the interrogatory in the tomb, the judgment, the passage of the narrow bridge not broader than a hair, the balance of works, the pains of hell, and the joys of paradise.
Next to these, that second more numerous group, with white banners intersected with crosses, are the followers of Jesus. Acknowledging the same God with the Mussulmans, founding their belief on the same books, admitting, like them, a first man who lost the human race by eating an apple, they hold them, however, in a holy abhorrence; and, out of pure piety, they call each other impious blasphemers.
The great point of their dissension consists in this, that after admitting a God one and indivisible the Christian divides him into three persons, each of which he believes to be a complete and entire God, without ceasing to constitute an identical whole, by the indivisibility of the three. And he adds, that this being, who fills the universe, has reduced himself to the body of a man; and has assumed material, perishable, and limited organs, without ceasing to be immaterial, infinite, and eternal. The Mussulman who does not comprehend these mysteries, rejects them as follies, and the visions of a distempered brain; though he conceives perfectly well the eternity of the Koran, and the mission of the prophet: hence their implacable hatreds.
Again, the Christians, divided among themselves on many points, have formed parties not less violent than the Mussulmans; and their quarrels are so much the more obstinate, as the objects of them are inaccessible to the senses and incapable of demonstration: their opinions, therefore, have no other basis but the will and caprice of the parties. Thus, while they agree that God is a being incomprehensible and unknown, they dispute, nevertheless, about his essence, his mode of acting, and his attributes. While they agree that his pretended transformation into man is an enigma above the human understanding, they dispute on the junction or distinction of his two wills and his two natures, on his change of substance, on the real or fictitious presence, on the mode of incarnation, etc.
Hence those innumerable sects, of which two or three hundred have already perished, and three or four hundred others, which still subsist, display those numberless banners which here distract your sight.
The first in order, surrounded by a group in varied and fantastic dress, that confused mixture of violet, red, white, black and speckled garments--with heads shaved, or with tonsures, or with short hair--with red hats, square bonnets, pointed mitres, or long beards, is the standard of the Roman pontiff, who, uniting the civil government to the priesthood, has erected the supremacy of his city into a point of religion, and made of his pride an article of faith.
On his right you see the Greek pontiff, who, proud of the rivalship of his metropolis, sets up equal pretensions, and supports them against the Western church by the priority of that of the East. On the left are the standards of two recent chiefs,* who, shaking off a yoke that had become tyrannical, have raised altar against altar in their reform, and wrested half of Europe from the pope. Behind these are the subaltern sects, subdivided from the principal divisions, the Nestorians, the Eutycheans, the Jacobites, the Iconoclasts, the Anabaptists, the Presbyterians, the Wicliffites, the Osiandrians, the Manicheans, the Pietists, the Adamites, the Contemplatives, the Quakers, the Weepers, and a hundred others,** all of distinct parties, persecuting when strong, tolerant when weak, hating each other in the name of a God of peace, forming each an exclusive heaven in a religion of universal charity, dooming each other to pains without end in a future state, and realizing in this world the imaginary hell of the other.* Luther and Calvin.
** Consult upon this subject Dictionnaire des Herseies par l'Abbe Pluquet, in two volumes 8vo.: a work admirably calculated to inspire the mind with philosophy, in the sense that the Lacedemonians taught the children temperance by showing to them the drunken Helots.After this group, observing a lonely standard of the color of hyacinth, round which were assembled men clad in all the different dresses of Europe and Asia:
At least, said I, to the Genius, we shall find unanimity here. Yes, said he, at first sight and by a momentary accident. Dost thou not know that system of worship?Then, perceiving in Hebrew letters the monogram of the name of God, and the palms which the Rabbins held in their hands: True, said I, these are the children of Moses, dispersed even to this day, abhorring every nation, and abhorred and persecuted by all.
Yes, he replied, and for this reason, that, having neither the time nor liberty to dispute, they have the appearance of unanimity. But no sooner will they come together, compare their principles, and reason on their opinions, than they will separate as formerly, at least into two principal sects;* one of which, taking advantage of the silence of their legislator, and adhering to the literal sense of his books, will deny everything that is not clearly expressed therein; and on this principle will reject as profane inventions, the immortality of the soul, its transmigration to places of pain or pleasure, its resurrection, the final judgment, the good and bad angels, the revolt of the evil Genius, and all the poetical belief of a world to come. And this highly-favored people, whose perfection consists in a slight mutilation of their persons,--this atom of a people, which forms but a small wave in the ocean of mankind, and which insists that God has made nothing but for them, will by its schism reduce to one-half, its present trifling weight in the scale of the universe.* The Sadducees and Pharisees.
He then showed me a neighboring group, composed of men dressed in white robes, wearing a veil over their mouths, and ranged around a banner of the color of the morning sky, on which was painted a globe cleft in two hemispheres, black and white: The same thing will happen, said he, to these children of Zoroaster,* the obscure remnant of a people once so powerful. At present, persecuted like the Jews, and dispersed among all nations, they receive without discussion the precepts of the representative of their prophet. But as soon as the Mobed and the Destours** shall assemble, they will renew the controversy about the good and the bad principle; on the combats of Ormuzd, God of light, and Ahrimanes, God of darkness; on the direct and allegorical sense; on the good and evil Genii; on the worship of fire and the elements; on impurities and ablutions; on the resurrection of the soul and body, or only of the soul;*** on the renovation of the present world, and on that which is to take its place. And the Parses will divide into sects, so much the more numerous, as their families will have contracted, during their dispersion, the manners and opinions of different nations.
* They are the Parses, better known by the opprobrious name of Gaures or Guebres, another word for infidels. They are in Asia what the Jews are in Europe. The name of their pope or high priest is Mobed.
** That is to say, their priests. See, respecting the rites of this religion, Henry Lord Hyde, and the Zendavesta. Their costume is a robe with a belt of four knots, and a veil over their mouth for fear of polluting the fire with their breath.
*** The Zoroastrians are divided between two opinions; one party believing that both soul and body will rise, the other that it will be the soul only. The Christians and Mahometans have embraced the most solid of the two.
Next to these, remark those banners of an azure ground, painted with monstrous figures of human bodies, double, triple, and quadruple, with heads of lions, boars, and elephants, and tails of fishes and tortoises; these are the ensigns of the sects of India, who find their gods in various animals, and the souls of their fathers in reptiles and insects. These men support hospitals for hawks, serpents, and rats, and they abhor their fellow creatures! They purify themselves with the dung and urine of cows, and think themselves defiled by the touch of a man! They wear a net over the mouth, lest, in a fly, they should swallow a soul in a state of penance,* and they can see a Pariah** perish with hunger! They acknowledge the same gods, but they separate into hostile bands.
* According to the system of the Metempsychosis, a soul, to undergo purification, passes into the body of some insect or animal. It is of importance not to disturb this penance, as the work must in that case begin afresh.** This is the name of a cast or tribe reputed unclean, because they eat of what has enjoyed life.
The first standard, retired from the rest, bearing a figure with four heads, is that of Brama, who, though the creator of the universe, is without temples or followers; but, reduced to serve as a pedestal to the Lingam,* he contents himself with a little water which the Bramin throws every morning on his shoulder, reciting meanwhile an idle canticle in his praise.* See Sonnerat, Voyage aux Indes, vol. 1.
The second, bearing a kite with a scarlet body and a white head, is that of Vichenou, who, though preserver of the world, has passed part of his life in wicked actions. You sometimes see him under the hideous form of a boar or a lion, tearing human entrails, or under that of a horse,* shortly to come armed with a sword to destroy the human race, blot out the stars, annihilate the planets, shake the earth, and force the great serpent to vomit a fire which shall consume the spheres.
* These are the incarnations of Vichenou, or metamorphoses of the sun. He is to come at the end of the world, that is, at the expiration of the great period, in the form of a horse, like the four horses of the Apocalypse.
The third is that of Chiven, God of destruction and desolation, who has, however, for his emblem the symbol of generation. He is the most wicked of the three, and he has the most followers. These men, proud of his character, express in their devotions to him their contempt for the other gods,* his equals and brothers; and, in imitation of his inconsistencies, while they profess great modesty and chastity, they publicly crown with flowers, and sprinkle with milk and honey, the obscene image of the Lingam. * When a sectary of Chiven hears the name of Vichenou pronounced, he stops his ears, runs, and purifies himself.
In the rear of these, approach the smaller standards of a multitude of gods--male, female, and hermaphrodite. These are friends and relations of the principal gods, who have passed their lives in wars among themselves, and their followers imitate them. These gods have need of nothing, and they are constantly receiving presents; they are omnipotent and omnipresent, and a priest, by muttering a few words, shuts them up in an idol or a pitcher, to sell their favors for his own benefit.
Beyond these, that cloud of standards, which, on a yellow ground, common to them all, bear various emblems, are those of the same god, who reins under different names in the nations of the East. The Chinese adores him in Fot,* the Japanese in Budso, the Ceylonese in Bedhou, the people of Laos in Chekia, of Pegu in Phta, of Siam in Sommona-Kodom, of Thibet in Budd and in La. Agreeing in some points of his history, they all celebrate his life of penitence, his mortifications, his fastings, his functions of mediator and expiator, the enmity between him and another god, his adversary, their battles, and his ascendency. But as they disagree on the means of pleasing him, they dispute about rites and ceremonies, and about the dogmas of interior doctrine and of public doctrine. That Japanese Bonze, with a yellow robe and naked head, preaches the eternity of souls, and their successive transmigrations into various bodies; near him, the Sintoist denies that souls can exist separate from the senses,** and maintains that they are only the effect of the organs to which they belong, and with which they must perish, as the sound of the flute perishes with the flute. Near him, the Siamese, with his eyebrows shaved, and a talipat screen*** in his hand, recommends alms, offerings, and expiations, at the same time that he preaches blind necessity and inexorable fate. The Chinese vochung sacrifices to the souls of his ancestors; and next him, the follower of Confucius interrogates his destiny in the cast of dice and the movement of the stars.**** That child, surrounded by a swarm of priests in yellow robes and hats, is the Grand Lama, in whom the god of Thibet has just become incarnate.*5 But a rival has arisen who partakes this benefit with him; and the Kalmouc on the banks of the Baikal, has a God similar to the inhabitant of Lasa. And they agree, also, in one important point--that god can inhabit only a human body. They both laugh at the stupidity of the Indian who pays homage to cowdung, though they themselves consecrate the excrements of their high-priest.*6
* The original name of this god is Baits, which in Hebrew signifies an egg. The Arabs pronounce it Baidh, giving to the dh an emphatic sound which makes it approach to dz. Kempfer, an acurate traveler, writes it Budso, which must be pronounced Boudso, whence is derived the name of Budsoist and of Bonze, applied to the priests. Clement of Alexandria, in his Stromata, writes it Bedou, as it is pronounced also by the Chingulais; and Saint Jerome, Boudda and Boutta. At Thibet they call it Budd; and hence the name of the country called Boud-tan and Ti-budd: it was in this province that this system of religion was first inculcated in Upper Asia; La is a corruption of Allah, the name of God in the Syriac language, from which many of the eastern dialects appear to be derived. The Chinese having neither b nor d, have supplied their place by f and t, and have therefore said Fout.
** See in Kempfer the doctrine of the Sintoists, which is a mixture of that of Epicurus and of the Stoics.
*5 The Delai-La-Ma, or immense high priest of La, is the same person whom we find mentioned in our old books of travels, by the name of Prester John, from a corruption of the Persian word Djehan, which signifies the world, to which has been prefixed the French word prestre or pretre, priest. Thus the priest world, and the god world are in the Persian idiom the same.
*6 In a recent expedition the English have found certain idols of the Lamas filled in the inside with sacred pastils from the close stool of the high priest. Mr. Hastings, and Colonel Pollier, who is now at Lausanne, are living witnesses of this fact, and undoubtedly worthy of credit. It will be very extraordinary to observe, that this disgusting ceremony is connected with a profound philosophical system, to wit, that of the metempsychosis, admitted by the Lamas. When the Tartars swallow, the sacred relics, which they are accustomed to do, they imitate the laws of the universe, the parts of which are incessantly absorbed and pass into the substance of each other. It is upon the model of the serpent who devours his tail, and this serpent is Budd and the world.After these, a crowd of other banners, which no man could number, came forward into sight; and the genius exclaimed:
I should never finish the detail of all the systems of faith which divide these nations. Here the hordes of Tartars adore, in the forms of beasts, birds, and insects, the good and evil Genii; who, under a principal, but indolent god, govern the universe. In their idolatry they call to mind the ancient paganism of the West. You observe the fantastical dress of the Chamans; who, under a robe of leather, hung round with bells and rattles, idols of iron, claws of birds, skins of snakes and heads of owls, invoke, with frantic cries and factitious convulsions, the dead to deceive the living. There, the black tribes of Africa exhibit the same opinions in the worship of their fetiches. See the inhabitant of Juida worship god in a great snake, which, unluckily, the swine delight to eat.* The Teleutean attires his god in a coat of several colors, like a Russian soldier.** The Kamchadale, observing that everything goes wrong in his frozen country, considers god as an old ill-natured man, smoking his pipe and hunting foxes and martins in his sledge.***
* It frequently happens that the swine devour the very species of serpents the negroes adore, which is a source of great desolation in the country. President de Brosses has given us, in his History of the Fetiche, a curious collection of absurdities of this nature. ** The Teleuteans, a Tartar nation, paint God as wearing a vesture of all colors, particularly red and green; and as these constitute the uniform of the Russian dragoons, they compare him to this description of soldiers. The Egyptians also dress the God World in a garment of every color. Eusebius Proep. Evang. p 115. The Teleuteans call God Bou, which is only an alteration of Boudd, the God Egg and World.*** Consult upon this subject a work entitled, Description des Peuples, soumis a la Russie, and it will be found that the picture is not overcharged.
But you may still behold a hundred savage nations who have none of the ideas of civilized people respecting God, the soul, another world, and a future life; who have formed no system of worship; and who nevertheless enjoy the rich gifts of nature in the irreligion in which she has created them.
Part I, Chapter 21PROBLEM OF RELIGIOUS CONTRADICTIONS The various groups having taken their places, an unbounded silence succeeded to the murmurs of the multitude; and the legislator said:
Chiefs and doctors of mankind! You remark how the nations, living apart, have hitherto followed different paths, each believing its own to be that of truth. If, however, truth is one, and opinions are various, it is evident that some are in error. If, then, such vast numbers of us are in the wrong, who shall dare to say, "I am in the right?" Begin, therefore, by being indulgent in your dissensions. Let us all seek truth as if no one possessed it. The opinions which to this day have governed the world, originating from chance, propagated in obscurity, admitted without discussion, accredited by a love of novelty and imitation, have usurped their empire in a clandestine manner. It is time, if they are well founded, to give a solemn stamp to their certainty, and legitimize their existence. Let us summon them this day to a general scrutiny, let each propound his creed, let the whole assembly be the judge, and let that alone be acknowledged as true which is so for the whole human race.Then, by order of position, the representative of the first standard on the left was allowed to speak: "You are not permitted to doubt," said their chief, "that our doctrine is the only true and infallible one. FIRST, it is revealed by God himself--" "So is ours," cried all the other standards, "and you are not permitted to doubt it." "But at least," said the legislator, "you must prove it, for we cannot believe what we do not know." "Our doctrine is proved," replied the first standard, "by numerous facts, by a multitude of miracles, by resurrections of the dead, by rivers dried up, by mountains removed--" "And we also have numberless miracles," cried all the others, and each began to recount the most incredible things. "THEIR miracles," said the first standard, "are imaginary, or the fictions of the evil spirit, who has deluded them." "They are yours," said the others, "that are imaginary;" and each group, speaking of itself, cried out: "None but ours are true, all the others are false." The legislator then asked: "Have you living witnesses of the facts?" "No," replied they all; "the facts are ancient, the witnesses are dead, but their writings remain." "Be it so," replied the legislator; "but if they contradict each other, who shall reconcile them?" "Just judge!" cried one of the standards, "the proof that our witnesses have seen the truth is, that they died to confirm it; and our faith is sealed by the blood of martyrs." "And ours too," said the other standards; "we have thousands of martyrs who have died in the most excruciating torments, without ever denying the truth." Then the Christians of every sect, the Mussulmans, the Indians, the Japanese, recited endless legends of confessors, martyrs, penitents, etc. And one of these parties, having denied the martyrology of the others: "Well," said they, "we will then die ourselves to prove the truth of our belief."
And instantly a crowd of men, of every religion and of every sect, presented themselves to suffer the torments of death. Many even began to tear their arms, and to beat their heads and breasts, without discovering any symptom of pain.But the legislator, preventing them--"O men!" said he, "hear my words with patience. If you die to prove that two and two make four, will your death add any thing to this truth?" "No!" answered all. "And if you die to prove that they make five, will that make them five?" Again they all answered, "No."
"What, then, is your persuasion to prove, if it changes not the existence of things? Truth is one--your persuasions are various; many of you, therefore, are in error. Now, if man, as is evident, can persuade himself of error, what is the persuasion of man to prove?"If error has its martyrs, what is the sure criterion of truth? "If the evil spirit works miracles, what is the distinctive character of God?
"Besides, why resort forever to incomplete and insufficient miracles? Instead of changing the course of nature, why not rather change opinions? Why murder and terrify men, instead of instructing and correcting them?
"O credulous, but opinionated mortals! none of us know what was done yesterday, what is doing to-day even under our eyes; and we swear to what was done two thousand years ago!
"Oh, the weakness and yet the pride of men! The laws of nature are unchangeable and profound--our minds are full of illusion and frivolity--and yet we would comprehend every thing--determine every thing! Forgetting that it is easier for the whole human race to be in error, than to change the nature of the smallest atom.""Well, then," said one of the doctors, "let us lay aside the evidence of fact, since it is uncertain; let us come to argument-- to the proofs inherent in the doctrine."
Then came forward, with a look of confidence, an Iman of the law of Mahomet; and, having advanced into the circle, turned towards Mecca, and recited with great fervor his confession of faith. "Praise be to God," said he, with a solemn and imposing voice, "the light shines with full evidence, and the truth has no need of examination." Then, showing the Koran, he exclaimed: "Here is the light of truth in its proper essence. There is no doubt in this book. It conducts with safety him who walks in darkness, and who receives without discussion the divine word which descended on the prophet, to save the simple and confound the wise. God has established Mahomet his minister on earth; he has given him the world, that he may subdue with the sword whoever shall refuse to receive his law. Infidels dispute, and will not believe; their obduracy comes from God, who has hardened their hearts to deliver them to dreadful punishments."*
* This passage contains the sense and nearly the very words of the first chapter of the Koran; and the reader will observe in general, that, in the pictures that follow, the writer has endeavored to give as accurately as possible the letter and spirit of the opinions of each party.
At these words a violent murmur arose on all sides, and silenced the speaker. "Who is this man," cried all the groups, "who thus insults us without a cause? What right has he to impose his creed on us as conqueror and tyrant? Has not God endowed us, as well as him, with eyes, understanding, and reason? And have we not an equal right to use them, in choosing what to believe and what to reject? If he attacks us, shall we not defend ourselves? If he likes to believe without examination, must we therefore not examine before we believe?
"And what is this luminous doctrine that fears the light? What is this apostle of a God of clemency, who preaches nothing but murder and carnage? What is this God of justice, who punishes blindness which he himself has made? If violence and persecution are the arguments of truth, are gentleness and charity the signs of falsehood?"
A man then advancing from a neighboring group, said to the Iman: "Admitting that Mahomet is the apostle of the best doctrine,--the prophet of the true religion,--have the goodness at least to tell us whether, in the practice of his doctrine, we are to follow his son-in-law Ali, or his vicars Omar and Aboubekre?"** These are the two grand parties into which the Mussulmans are divided. The Turks have embraced the second, the Persians the first.
At the sound of these names a terrible schism arose among the Mussulmans themselves. The partisans of Ali and those of Omar, calling out heretics and blasphemers, loaded each other with execrations. The quarrel became so violent that neighboring groups were obliged to interfere, to prevent their coming to blows. At length, tranquillity being somewhat restored, the legislator said to the Imans:
"See the consequences of your principles! If you yourselves were to carry them into practice, you would destroy each other to the last man. Is it not the first law of God that man should live?"Then, addressing himself to the other groups, he continued:
"Doubtless this intolerant and exclusive spirit shocks every idea of justice, and overturns the whole foundation of morals and society; but before we totally reject this code of doctrine, is it not proper to hear some of its dogmas? Let us not pronounce on the forms, without having some knowledge of the substance."
The groups having consented, the Iman began to expound how God, having sent to the nations lost in idolatry twenty-four thousand prophets, had finally sent the last, the seal and perfection of all, Mahomet; on whom be the salvation of peace: how, to prevent the divine word from being any longer perverted by infidels, the supreme goodness had itself written the pages of the Koran. Then, explaining the particular dogmas of Islamism, the Iman unfolded how the Koran, partaking of the divine nature, was uncreated and eternal, like its author: how it had been sent leaf by leaf, in twenty-four thousand nocturnal apparitions of the angel Gabriel: how the angel announced himself by a gentle knocking, which threw the prophet into a cold sweat: how in the vision of one night he had travelled over ninety heavens, riding on the beast Borack, half horse and half woman: how, endowed with the gift of miracles, he walked in the sunshine without a shadow, turned dry trees to green, filled wells and cisterns with water, and split in two the body of the moon: how, by divine command, Mahomet had propagated, sword in hand, the religion the most worthy of God by its sublimity, and the most proper for men by the simplicity of its practice; since it consisted in only eight or ten points:--To profess the unity of God; to acknowledge Mahomet as his only prophet; to pray five times a day; to fast one month in the year; to go to Mecca once in our life; to pay the tenth of all we possess; to drink no wine; to eat no pork; and to make war upon the infidels.* He taught that by these means every Mussulman becoming himself an apostle and martyr, should enjoy in this world many blessings; and at his death, his soul, weighed in the balance of works, and absolved by the two black angels, should pass the infernal pit on the bridge as narrow as a hair and as sharp as the edge of a sword, and should finally be received to a region of delight, which is watered with rivers of milk and honey, and embalmed in all the perfumes of India and Arabia; and where the celestial Houris--virgins always chaste--are eternally crowning with repeated favors the elect of God, who preserve an eternal youth.
* Whatever the advocates for the philosophy and civilization of the Turks may assert, to make war upon infidels is considered by them as an obligatory precept and an act of religion. See Reland de Relig. Mahom.At these words an involuntary smile was seen on all their lips; and the various groups, reasoning on these articles of faith, exclaimed with one voice: "Is it possible that reasonable beings can admit such reveries? Would you not think it a chapter from The Thousand and One Nights?"
A Samoyede advanced into the circle: "The paradise of Mahomet," said he, "appears to me very good; but one of the means of gaining it is embarrassing: for if we must neither eat nor drink between the rising and setting sun, as he has ordered, how are we to practise that fast in my country, where the sun continues above the horizon six months without setting?"
"That is impossible," cried all the Mussulman doctors, to support the teaching of the prophet; but a hundred nations having attested the fact, the infallibility of Mahomet could not but receive a severe shock."It is singular," said an European, "that God should be constantly revealing what takes place in heaven, without ever instructing us what is doing on the earth."
"For my part," said an American," I find a great difficulty in the pilgrimage. For suppose twenty-five years to a generation, and only a hundred millions of males on the globe,-each being obliged to go to Mecca once in his life,--there must be four millions a year on the journey; and as it would be impracticable for them to return the same year, the numbers would be doubled--that is, eight millions: where would you find provisions, lodgings, water, vessels, for this universal procession? Here must be miracles indeed!"
"The proof," said a catholic doctor, "that the religion of Mahomet is not revealed, is that the greater part of the ideas which serve for its basis existed a long time before, and that it is only a confused mixture of truths disfigured and taken from our holy religion and from that of the Jews; which an ambitious man has made to serve his projects of domination, and his worldly views. Look through his book; you will see nothing there but the histories of the Bible and the Gospel travestied into absurd fables--into a tissue of vague and contradictory declamations, and ridiculous or dangerous precepts.
"Analyze the spirit of these precepts, and the conduct of their apostle; you will find there an artful and audacious character, which, to obtain its end, works ably it is true, on the passions of the people it had to govern. It is speaking to simple men, and it entertains them with miracles; they are ignorant and jealous, and it flatters their vanity by despising science; they are poor and rapacious, and it excites their cupidity by the hope of pillage; having nothing at first to give them on earth, it tells them of treasures in heaven; it teaches them to desire death as a supreme good; it threatens cowards with hell; it rewards the brave with paradise; it sustains the weak with the opinion of fatality; in short, it produces the attachment it wants by all the allurements of sense, and all the power of the passions.
"How different is the character of our religion! and how completely does its empire, founded on the counteraction of the natural temper, and the mortification of all our passions, prove its divine origin! How forcibly does its mild and compassionate morality, its affections altogether spiritual, attest its emanation from God! Many of its doctrines, it is true, soar above the reach of the understanding, and impose on reason a respectful silence; but this more fully demonstrates its revelation, since the human mind could never have imagined such mysteries."
Then, holding the Bible in one hand and the four Gospels in the other, the doctor began to relate that, in the beginning, God, after passing an eternity in idleness, took the resolution, without any known cause, of making the world out of nothing; that having created the whole universe in six days, he found himself fatigued on the seventh; that having placed the first human pair in a garden of delights, to make them completely happy, he forbade their tasting a particular fruit which he placed within their reach; that these first parents, having yielded to the temptation, all their race (which were not yet born) had been condemned to bear the penalty of a fault which they had not committed; that, after having left the human race to damn themselves for four or five thousand years, this God of mercy ordered a well beloved son, whom he had engendered without a mother, and who was as old as himself, to go and be put to death on the earth; and this for the salvation of mankind; of whom much the greater portion, nevertheless, have ever since continued in the way of perdition; that to remedy this new difficulty, this same God, born of a virgin, having died and risen from the dead, assumes a new existence every day, and in the form of a piece of bread, multiplies himself by millions at the voice of one of the basest of men. Then, passing on to the doctrine of the sacraments, he was going to treat at large on the power of absolution and reprobation, of the means of purging all sins by a little water and a few words, when, uttering the words indulgence, power of the pope, sufficient grace, and efficacious grace, he was interrupted by a thousand cries."It is a horrible abuse," cried the Lutherans, "to pretend to remit sins for money." "The notion of the real presence," cried the Calvinists, "is contrary to the text of the Gospel."
"The pope has no right to decide anything of himself," cried the Jansenists; and thirty other sects rising up, and accusing each other of heresies and errors, it was no longer possible to hear anything distinctly.
Silence being at last restored, the Mussulmans observed to the legislator: "Since you have rejected our doctrine as containing things incredible, can you admit that of the Christians? Is not theirs still more contrary to common sense and justice? A God, immaterial and infinite, to become a man! to have a son as old as himself! This god-man to become bread, to be eaten and digested! Have we any thing equal to that? Have the Christians an exclusive right of setting up a blind faith? And will you grant them privileges of belief to our detriment?"
Some savage tribes then advanced: "What!" said they, "because a man and woman ate an apple six thousand years ago, all the human race are damned? And you call God just? What tyrant ever rendered children responsible for the faults of their fathers? What man can answer for the actions of another? Does not this overturn every idea of justice and of reason?"
Others exclaimed: "Where are the proofs, the witnesses of these pretended facts? Can we receive them without examining the evidence? The least action in a court of justice requires two witnesses; and we are ordered to believe all this on mere tradition and hearsay!"
A Jewish Rabbin then addressing the assembly, said: "As to the fundamental facts, we are sureties; but with regard to their form and their application, the case is different, and the Christians are here condemned by their own arguments. For they cannot deny that we are the original source from which they are derived--the primitive stock on which they are grafted; and hence the reasoning is very short: Either our law is from God, and then theirs is a heresy, since it differs from ours, or our law is not from God, and then theirs falls at the same time."
"But you must make this distinction," replied the Christian: "Your law is from God as typical and preparative, but not as final and absolute: you are the image of which we are the substance."
"We know," replied the Rabbin, "that such are your pretensions; but they are absolutely gratuitous and false. Your system turns altogether on mystical meanings, visionary and allegorical interpretations.* With violent distortions on the letter of our books, you substitute the most chimerical ideas for the true ones, and find in them whatever pleases you; as a roving imagination will find figures in the clouds. Thus you have made a spiritual Messiah of that which, in the spirit of our prophets, is only a temporal king. You have made a redemption of the human race out of the simple re-establishment of our nation. Your conception of the Virgin is founded on a single phrase, of which you have changed the meaning. Thus you make from our Scriptures whatever your fancy dictates; you even find there your trinity; though there is not a word that has the most distant allusion to such a thing; and it is an invention of profane writers, admitted into your system with a host of other opinions, of every religion and of every sect, during the anarchy of the first three centuries of your era."
* When we read the Fathers of the church, and see upon what arguments they have built the edifice of religion, we are inexpressibly astonished with their credulity or their knavery: but allegory was the rage of that period; the Pagans employed it to explain the actions of their gods, and the Christians acted in the same spirit when they employed it after their fashion.
At these words, the Christian doctors, crying sacrilege and blasphemy, sprang forward in a transport of fury to fall upon the Jew; and a troop of monks, in motley dresses of black and white, advanced with a standard on which were painted pincers, gridirons, lighted fagots, and the words Justice, Charity, Mercy.* "It is necessary," said they, "to make an example of these impious wretches, and burn them for the glory of God." They began even to prepare the pile, when a Mussulman answered in a strain of irony:
"This, then, is that religion of peace, that meek and beneficent system which you so much extol! This is that evangelical charity which combats infidelity with persuasive mildness, and repays injuries with patience! Ye hypocrites! It is thus that you deceive mankind-thus that you propagate your accursed errors! When you were weak, you preached liberty, toleration, peace; when you are strong, you practise persecution and violence--"* This description answers exactly to the banner of the Inquisition of Spanish Jacobins. And he was going to begin the history of the wars and slaughters of Christianity, when the legislator, demanding silence, suspended this scene of discord. The monks, affecting a tone of meekness and humility, exclaimed: "It is not ourselves that we would avenge; it is the cause of God; it is the glory of God that we defend." "And what right have you, more than we," said the Imans, "to constitute yourselves the representatives of God? Have you privileges that we have not? Are you not men like us?" "To defend God," said another group, "to pretend to avenge him, is to insult his wisdom and his power. Does he not know, better than men, what befits his dignity?" "Yes," replied the monks, "but his ways are secret." "And it remains for you to prove," said the Rabbins, "that you have the exclusive privilege of understanding them."
Then, proud of finding supporters to their cause, the Jews thought that the books of Moses were going to be triumphant, when the Mobed (high priest) of the Parses obtained leave to speak.
"We have heard," said he, "the account of the Jews and Christians of the origin of the world; and, though greatly mutilated, we find in it some facts which we admit. But we deny that they are to be attributed to the legislator of the Hebrews. It was not he who made known to men these sublime truths, these celestial events. It was not to him that God revealed them, but to our holy prophet Zoroaster: and the proof of this is in the very books that they refer to. Examine with attention the laws, the ceremonies, the precepts established by Moses in those books; you will not find the slightest indication, either expressed or understood, of what constitutes the basis of the Jewish and Christian theology. You nowhere find the least trace of the immortality of the soul, or of a future life, or of heaven, or of hell, or of the revolt of the principal angel, author of the evils of the human race. These ideas were not known to Moses, and the reason is very obvious: it was not till four centuries afterwards that Zoroaster first evangelized them in Asia.*
* See the Chronology of the Twelve Ages, in which I conceive myself to have clearly proved that Moses lived about 1,400 years before Jesus Christ, and Zoroaster about a thousand.
"Thus," continued the Mobed, turning to the Rabbins, "it was not till after that epoch, that is to say, in the time of your first kings, that these ideas began to appear in your writers; and then their appearance was obscure and gradual, according to the progress of the political relations between your ancestors and ours. It was especially when, having been conquered by the kings of Nineveh and Babylon and transported to the banks of the Tygris and the Euphrates, where they resided for three successive generations, that they imbibed manners and opinions which had been rejected as contrary to their law. When our king Cyrus had delivered them from slavery, their heart was won to us by gratitude; they became our disciples and imitators; and they admitted our dogmas in the revision of their books;* for your Genesis, in particular, was never the work of Moses, but a compilation drawn up after the return from the Babylonian captivity, in which are inserted the Chaldean opinions of the origin of the world.
* In the first periods of the Christian church, not only the most learned of those who have since been denominated heretics, but many of the orthodox conceived Moses to have written neither the law nor the Pentateuch, but that the work was a compilation made by the elders of the people and the Seventy, who, after the death of Moses, collected his scattered ordinances, and mixed with them things that were extraneous; similar to what happened as to the Koran of Mahomet. See Les Clementines, Homel. 2. sect. 51. and Homel. 3. sect. 42.
Modern critics, more enlightened or more attentive than the ancients, have found in Genesis in particular, marks of its having been composed on the return from the captivity; but the principal proofs have escaped them. These I mean to exhibit in an analysis of the book of Genesis, in which I shall demonstrate that the tenth chapter, among others, which treats of the pretended generations of the man called Noah, is a real geographical picture of the world, as it was known to the Hebrews at the epoch of the captivity, which was bounded by Greece or Hellas at the West, mount Caucasus at the North, Persia at the East, and Arabia and Upper Egypt at the South. All the pretended personages from Adam to Abraham, or his father Terah, are mythological beings, stars, constellations, countries. Adam is Bootes: Noah is Osiris: Xisuthrus Janus, Saturn; that is to say Capricorn, or the celestial Genius that opened the year. The Alexandrian Chronicle says expressly, page 85, that Nimrod was supposed by the Persians to be their first king, as having invented the art of hunting, and that he was translated into heaven, where he appears under the name of Orion.
"At first the pure followers of the law, opposing to the emigrants the letter of the text and the absolute silence of the prophet, endeavored to repel these innovations; but they ultimately prevailed, and our doctrine, modified by your ideas, gave rise to a new sect.
"You expected a king to restore your political independence; we announced a God to regenerate and save mankind. From this combination of ideas, your Essenians laid the foundation of Christianity: and whatever your pretensions may be, Jews, Christians, Mussulmans, you are, in your system of spiritual beings, only the blundering followers of Zoroaster."
The Mobed, then passing on to the details of his religion, quoting from the Zadder and the Zendavesta, recounted, in the same order as they are found in the book of Genesis, the creation of the world in six gahans,* the formation of a first man and a first woman, in a divine place, under the reign of perfect good; the introduction of evil into the world by the great snake, emblem of Ahrimanes; the revolt and battles of the Genius of evil and darkness against Ormuzd, God of good and of light; the division of the angels into white and black, or good and bad; their hierarchal orders, cherubim, seraphim, thrones, dominions, etc.; the end of the world at the close of six thousand years; the coming of the lamb, the regenerator of nature; the new world; the future life, and the regions of happiness and misery; the passage of souls over the bridge of the bottomless pit; the celebration of the mysteries of Mithras; the unleavened bread which the initiated eat; the baptism of new-born children; the unction of the dead; the confession of sins; and, in a word, he recited so many things analagous to those of the three preceding religions, that his discourse seemed like a commentary or a continuation of the Koran or the Apocalypse.**
* Or periods, or in six gahan-bars, that is six periods of time. These periods are what Zoroaster calls the thousands of God or of light, meaning the six summer months. In the first, say the Persians, God created (arranged in order) the heavens; in the second the waters; in the third the earth; in the fourth trees; in the fifth animals; and in the sixth man; corresponding with the account in Genesis. For particulars see Hyde, ch. 9, and Henry Lord, ch. 2, on the religion of the ancient Persians. It is remarkable that the same tradition is found in the sacred books of the Etrurians, which relate that the fabricator of all things had comprised the duration of his work in a period of twelve thousand years, which period was distributed to the twelve houses of the sun. In the first thousand, God made heaven and earth; in the second the firmament; in the third the sea and the waters; in the fourth the sun, moon and stars; in the fifth the souls of animals, birds, and reptiles; in the sixth man. See Suidas, at the word Tyrrhena; which shows first the identity of their theological and astrological opinions; and, secondly, the identity, or rather confusion of ideas, between absolute and systematical creation; that is, the periods assigned for renewing the face of nature, which were at first the period of the year, and afterwards periods of 60, of 600, of 25,000, of 36,000 and of 432,000 years.
** The modern Parses and the ancient Mithriacs, who are the same sect, observe all the Christian sacraments, even the laying on of hands in confirmation. The priest of Mithra, says Tertullian, (de Proescriptione, ch. 40) promises absolution from sin on confession and baptism; and, if I rightly remember, Mithra marks his soldiers in the forehead, with the chrism called in the Egyptian Kouphi; he celebrates the sacrifice of bread, which is the resurrection, and presents the crown to his followers, menacing them at the same time with the sword, etc.
In these mysteries they tried the courage of the initiated with a thousand terrors, presenting fire to his face, a sword to his breast, etc.; they also offered him a crown, which he refused, saying, God is my crown: and this crown is to be seen in the celestial sphere by the side of Bootes. The personages in these mysteries were distinguished by the names of the animal constellations. The ceremony of mass is nothing more than an imitation of these mysteries and those of Eleusis. The benediction, the Lord be with you, is a literal translation of the formula of admission chou-k, am, p-ka. See Beausob. Hist. Du Manicheisme, vol. ii.
But the Jewish, Christian, and Mahometan doctors, crying out against this recital, and treating the Parses as idolaters and worshippers of fire, charged them with falsehood, interpolations, falsification of facts; and there arose a violent dispute as to the dates of the events, their order and succession, the origin of the doctrines, their transmission from nation to nation, the authenticity of the books on which they are founded, the epoch of their composition, the character of their compilers, and the validity of their testimony. And the various parties, pointing out reciprocally to each other, the contradictions, improbabilities, and forgeries, accused one another of having established their belief on popular rumors, vague traditions, and absurd fables, invented without discernment, and admitted without examination by unknown, partial, or ignorant writers, at uncertain or unknown epochs.A great murmur now arose from under the standards of the various Indian sects; and the Bramins, protesting against the pretensions of the Jews and the Parses, said:
"What are these new and almost unheard of nations, who arrogantly set themselves up as the sources of the human race, and the depositaries of its archives? To hear their calculations of five or six thousand years, it would seem that the world was of yesterday; whereas our monuments prove a duration of many thousands of centuries. And for what reason are their books to be preferred to ours? Are then the Vedes, the Chastres, and the Pourans inferior to the Bibles, the Zendavestas, and the Zadders?* And is not the testimony of our fathers and our gods as valid as that of the fathers and the gods of the West? Ah! if it were permitted to reveal our mysteries to profane men! if a sacred veil did not justly conceal them from every eye!"
These are the sacred volumes of the Hindoos; they are sometimes written Vedams, Pouranams, Chastrans, because the Hindoos, like the Persians, are accustomed to give a nasal sound to the terminations of their words, which we represent by the affixes on and an, and the Portuguese by the affixes om and am. Many of these books have been translated, thanks to the liberal spirit of Mr. Hastings, who has founded at Calcutta a literary society, and a printing press. At the same time, however, that we express our gratitude to this society, we must be permitted to complain of its exclusive spirit; the number of copies printed of each book being such as it is impossible to purchase them even in England; they are wholly in the hands of the East India proprietors. Scarcely even is the Asiatic Miscellany known in Europe; and a man must be very learned in oriental antiquity before he so much as hears of the Jones's, the Wilkins's, and the Halhed's, etc. As to the sacred books of the Hindoos, all that are yet in our hands are the Bhagvat Geeta, the Ezour-Vedam, the Bagavadam, and certain fragments of the Chastres printed at the end of the Bhagvat Geeta. These books are in Indostan what the Old and New Testament are in Christendom, the Koran in Turkey, the Zadder and the Zendavesta among the Parses, etc. When I have taken an extensive survey of their contents, I have sometimes asked myself, what would be the loss to the human race if a new Omar condemned them to the flames; and, unable to discover any mischief that would ensue, I call the imaginary chest that contains them, the box of Pandora.
The Bramins stopping short at these words: "How can we admit your doctrine," said the legislator, "if you will not make it known? And how did its first authors propagate it, when, being alone possessed of it, their own people were to them profane? Did heaven reveal it to be kept a secret?"*
* The Vedas or Vedams are the sacred volumes of the Hindoos, as the Bibles with us. They are three in number; the Rick Veda, the Yadjour Veda, and the Sama Veda; they are so scarce in India, that the English could with great difficulty find an original one, of which a copy is deposited in the British Museum; they who reckon four Vedas, include among them the Attar Veda, concerning ceremonies, but which is lost. There are besides commentaries named Upanishada, one of which was published by Anquetil du Peron, and entitled Oupnekhat, a curious work. The date of these books is more than twenty-five centuries prior to our era; their contents prove that all the reveries of the Greek metaphysicians come from India and Egypt. Since the year 1788, the learned men of England are working in India a mine of literature totally unknown in Europe, and which proves that the civilization of India ascends to a very remote antiquity. After the Vedas come the Chastras amounting to six. They treat of theology and the Sciences. Afterwards eighteen Pouranas, treating of Mythology and History. See the Bahgouet-guita, the Baga Vadam, and the Ezour-Vedam, etc.
But the Bramins persisting in their silence: "Let them have the honor of the secret," said a European: "Their doctrine is now divulged; we have their books, and I can give you the substance of them."
Then beginning with an abstract of the four Vedes, the eighteen Pourans, and the five or six Chastres, he recounted how a being, infinite, eternal, immaterial and round, after having passed an eternity in self-contemplation, and determining at last to manifest himself, separated the male and female faculties which were in him, and performed an act of generation, of which the Lingam remains an emblem; how that first act gave birth to three divine powers, Brama, Bichen or Vichenou, and Chib or Chiven;* whose functions were--the first to create, the second to preserve, and the third to destroy, or change the form of the universe. Then, detailing the history of their operations and adventures, he explained how Brama, proud of having created the world and the eight bobouns, or spheres of probation, thought himself superior to Chib, his equal; how his pride brought on a battle between them, in which these celestial globes were crushed like a basket of eggs; how Brama, vanquished in this conflict, was reduced to serve as a pedestal to Chib, metamorphosed into a Lingam; how Vichenou, the god mediator, has taken at different times to preserve the world, nine mortal forms of animals; how first, in shape of a fish, he saved from the universal deluge a family who repeopled the earth; how afterwards, in the form of a tortoise,** he drew from the sea of milk the mountain Mandreguiri (the pole); then, becoming a boar, he tore the belly of the giant Ereuniachessen, who was drowning the earth in the abyss of Djole, from whence he drew it out with his tusks; how, becoming incarnate in a black shepherd, and under the name of Christ-en, he delivered the world of the enormous serpent Calengem, and then crushed his head, after having been wounded by him in the heel.
* These names are differently pronounced according to the different dialects; thus they say Birmah, Bremma, Brouma. Bichen has been turned into Vichen by the easy exchange of a B for a V, and into Vichenou by means of a grammatical affix. In the same manner Chib, which is synonymous with Satan, and signifies adversary, is frequently written Chiba and Chiv-en; he is called also Rouder and Routr-en, that is, the destroyer.
** This is the constellation testudo, or the lyre, which was at first a tortoise, on account of its slow motion round the Pole; then a lyre, because it is the shell of this reptile on which the strings of the lyre are mounted. See an excellent memoir of M. Dupuis sur l'Origine des Constellations.
Then, passing on to the history of the secondary Genii, he related how the Eternal, to display his own glory, created various orders of angels, whose business it was to sing his praises and to direct the universe; how a part of these angels revolted under the guidance of an ambitious chief, who strove to usurp the power of God, and to govern all; how God plunged them into a world of darkness, there to undergo the punishment for their crimes; how at last, touched with compassion, he consented to release them, to receive them into favor, after they should undergo a long series of probations; how, after creating for this purpose fifteen orbits or regions of planets, and peopling them with bodies, he ordered these rebel angels to undergo in them eighty-seven transmigrations; he then explained how souls, thus purified, returned to the first source, to the ocean of life and animation from which they had proceeded; and since all living creatures contain portions of this universal soul, he taught how criminal it was to deprive them of it. He was finally proceeding to explain the rites and ceremonies, when, speaking of offerings and libations of milk and butter made to gods of copper and wood, and then of purifications by the dung and urine of cows, there arose a universal murmur, mixed with peals of laughter, which interrupted the orator.
Each of the different groups began to reason on that religion: "They are idolators," said the Mussulmans; "and should be exterminated." "They are deranged in their intellect," said the followers of Confucius; "we must try to cure them." "What ridiculous gods," said others, "are these puppets, besmeared with grease and smoke! Are gods to be washed like dirty children, from whom you must brush away the flies, which, attracted by honey, are fouling them with their excrements!"
"And in what respect are you more worthy than we?" exclaimed a Lama of Tibet. "Is it because you pretend to have issued from the head of Brama, and the rest of the human race from the less noble parts of his body? But to support the pride of your distinctions of origin and castes, prove to us in the first place that you are different from other men; establish, in the next place, as historical facts, the allegories which you relate; show us, indeed, that you are the authors of all this doctrine; for we will demonstrate, if necessary, that you have only stolen and disfigured it; that you are only the imitators of the ancient paganism of the West; to which, by an ill assorted mixture, you have allied the pure and spiritual doctrine of our gods--a doctrine totally detached from the senses, and entirely unknown on earth till Beddou taught it to the nations."*
* All the ancient opinions of the Egyptian and Grecian theologians are to be found in India, and they appear to have been introduced, by means of the commerce of Arabia and the vicinity of Persia, time immemorial.A number of groups having asked what was this doctrine, and who was this god, of whom the greater part had never heard the name, the Lama resumed and said:
"In the beginning, a sole-existent and self-existent God, having passed an eternity in the contemplation of his own being, resolved to manifest his perfections out of himself, and created the matter of the world. The four elements being produced, but still in a state of confusion, he breathed on the face of the waters, which swelled like an immense bubble in form of an egg, which unfolding, became the vault or orb of heaven, enclosing the world.* Having made the earth, and the bodies of animals, this God, essence of motion, imparted to them a part of his own being to animate them; for this reason, the soul of everything that breathes being a portion of the universal soul, no one of them can perish; they only change their form and mould in passing successively into different bodies. Of all these forms, the one most pleasing to God is that of man, as most resembling his own perfections. When a man, by an absolute disengagement from his senses, is wholly absorbed in self- contemplation, he then discovers the divinity, and becomes himself God. Of all the incarnations of this kind that God has hitherto taken, the greatest and most solemn was that in which he appeared thirty centuries ago in Kachemire, under the name of Fot or Beddou, to preach the doctrines of self-denial and self-annihilation."
* This cosmogony of the Lamas, the Bonzes, and even the Bramins, as Henry Lord asserts, is literally that of the ancient Egyptians. The Egyptians, says Porphyry, call Kneph, intelligence, or efficient cause of the universe. They relate that this God vomited an egg, from which was produced another God named Phtha or Vulcan, (igneous principle or the sun) and they add, that this egg is the world. Euseb. Proep. Evang. p. 115.
They represent, says the same author in another place, the God Kneph, or efficient cause, under the form of a man in deep blue (the color of the sky) having in his hand a sceptre, a belt round his body, and a small bonnet royal of light feathers on his head, to denote how very subtile and fugacious the idea of that being is. Upon which I shall observe that Kneph in Hebrew signifies a wing, a feather, and that this color of sky-blue is to be found in the majority of the Indian Gods, and is, under the name of Narayan, one of their most distinguishing epithets.Then, pursuing the history of Fot, the Lama continued:
"He was born from the right flank of a virgin of royal blood, who did not cease to be a virgin for having become a mother; that the king of the country, uneasy at his birth, wished to destroy him, and for this purpose ordered a massacre of all the males born at that period, that being saved by shepherds, Beddou lived in the desert till the age of thirty years, at which time he began his mission to enlighten men and cast out devils; that he performed a multitude of the most astonishing miracles; that he spent his life in fasting and severe penitence, and at his death, bequeathed to his disciples a book containing his doctrines."And the Lama began to read: "He that leaveth his father and mother to follow me," says Fot, "becomes a perfect Samanean (a heavenly man).
"He that practices my precepts to the fourth degree of perfection, acquires the faculty of flying in the air, of moving heaven and earth, of prolonging or shortening his life (rising from the dead).
"The Samanean despises riches, and uses only what is strictly necessary; he mortifies his body, silences his passions, desires nothing, forms no attachments, meditates my doctrines without ceasing, endures injuries with patience, and bears no malice to his neighbor."Heaven and earth shall perish," says Fot: "despise therefore your bodies, which are composed of the four perishable elements, and think only of your immortal soul. "Listen not to the flesh: fear and sorrow spring from the passions: stifle the passions and you destroy fear and sorrow.
"Whoever dies without having embraced my religion," says Fot, "returns among men, until he embraces it."
The Lama was going on with his reading, when the Christians interrupted him, crying out that this was their own religion adulterated--that Fot was no other than Jesus himself disfigured, and that the Lamas were the Nestorians and the Manicheans disguised and bastardized.*
* This is asserted by our missionaries, and among others by Georgi in his unfinished work of the Thibetan alphabet: but if it can be proved that the Manicheans were but plagiarists, and the ignorant echo of a doctrine that existed fifteen hundred years before them, what becomes of the declarations of Georgi? See upon this subject, Beausob. Hist. du Manicheisme.
But the Lama, supported by the Chamans, Bonzes, Gonnis, Talapoins of Siam, of Ceylon, of Japan, and of China, proved to the Christians, even from their own authors, that the doctrine of the Samaneans was known through the East more than a thousand years before the Christian era; that their name was cited before the time of Alexander, and that Boutta, or Beddou, was known before Jesus.*
* The eastern writers in general agree in placing the birth of Beddou 1027 years before Jesus Christ, which makes him the contemporary of Zoroaster, with whom, in my opinion, they confound him. It is certain that his doctrine notoriously existed at that epoch; it is found entire in that of Orpheus, Pythagoras, and the Indian gymnosophists. But the gymnosophists are cited at the time of Alexander as an ancient sect already divided into Brachmans and Samaneans. See Bardesanes en Saint Jerome, Epitre a Jovien. Pythagoras lived in the ninth century before Jesus Christ; See chronology of the twelve ages; and Orpheus is of still greater antiquity. If, as is the case, the doctrine of Pythagoras and that of Orpheus are of Egyptian origin, that of Beddou goes back to the common source; and in reality the Egyptian priests recite, that Hermes as he was dying said: "I have hitherto lived an exile from my country, to which I now return. Weep not for me, I ascend to the celestial abode where each of you will follow in his turn: there God is: this life is only death."--Chalcidius in Thinaeum.
Such was the profession of faith of the Samaneans, the sectaries of Orpheus, and the Pythagoreans. Farther, Hermes is no other than Beddou himself; for among the Indians, Chinese, Lamas, etc., the planet Mercury and the corresponding day of the week (Wednesday) bear the name of Beddou, and this accounts for his being placed in the rank of mythological beings, and discovers the illusion of his pretended existence as a man; since it is evident that Mercury was not a human being, but the Genius or Decan, who, placed at the summer solstice, opened the Egyptian year; hence his attributes taken from the constellation Syrius, and his name of Anubis, as well as that of Esculapius, having the figure of a man and the head of a dog: hence his serpent, which is the Hydra, emblem of the Nile (Hydor, humidity); and from this serpent he seems to have derived his name of Hermes, as Remes (with a schin) in the oriental languages, signifies serpent. Now Beddou and Hermes being the same names, it is manifest of what antiquity is the system ascribed to the former. As to the name of Samanean, it is precisely that of Chaman, still preserved in Tartary, China, and India. The interpretation given to it is, man of the woods, a hermit mortifying the flesh, such being the characteristic of this sect; but its literal meaning is, celestial (Samaoui) and explains the system of those who are called by it.--The system is the same as that of the sectaries of Orpheus, of the Essenians, of the ancient Anchorets of Persia, and the whole eastern country. See Porphyry, de Abstin. Animal.
These celestial and penitent men carried in India their insanity to such an extreme as to wish not to touch the earth, and they accordingly lived in cages suspended from the trees, where the people, whose admiration was not less absurd, brought them provisions. During the night there were frequent robberies, rapes and murders, and it was at length discovered that they were committed by those men, who, descending from their cages, thus indemnified themselves for their restraint during the day. The Bramins, their rivals, embraced the opportunity of exterminating them; and from that time their name in India has been synonymous with hypocrite. See Hist. de la Chine, in 5 vols. quarto, at the note page 30; Hist. de Huns, 2 vols. and preface to the Ezour- Vedam.
Then, retorting the pretensions of the Christians against themselves: "Prove to us," said the Lama, "that you are not Samaneans degenerated, and that the man you make the author of your sect is not Fot himself disguised. Prove to us by historical facts that he even existed at the epoch you pretend; for, it being destitute of authentic testimony,* we absolutely deny it; and we maintain that your very gospels are only the books of some Mithriacs of Persia, and the Essenians of Syria, who were a branch of reformed Samaneans."**
* There are absolutely no other monuments of the existence of Jesus Christ as a human being, than a passage in Josephus (Antiq. Jud. lib. 18, c.3,) a single phrase in Tacitus (Annal. lib. 15, c. 44), and the Gospels. But the passage in Josephus is unanimously acknowledged to be apocryphal, and to have been interpolated towards the close of the third century, (See Trad. de joseph, par M. Gillet); and that of Tacitus in so vague and so evidently taken from the deposition of the Christians before the tribunals, that it may be ranked in the class of evangelical records. It remains to enquire of what authority are these records. "All the world knows," says Faustus, who, though a Manichean, was one of the most learned men of the third century, "All the world knows that the gospels were neither written by Jesus Christ, nor his apostles, but by certain unknown persons, who rightly judging that they should not obtain belief respecting things which they had not seen, placed at the head of their recitals the names of contemporary apostles." See Beausob. vol. i. and Hist. des Apologistes de la Relig. Chret. par Burigni, a sagacious writer, who has demonstrated the absolute uncertainty of those foundations of the Christian religion; so that the existence of Jesus is no better proved than that of Osiris and Hercules, or that of Fot or Beddou, with whom, says M. de Guignes, the Chinese continually confound him, for they never call Jesus by any other name than Fot. Hist. de Huns.
** That is to say, from the pious romances formed out of the sacred legends of the mysteries of Mithra, Ceres, Isis, etc., from whence are equally derived the books of the Hindoos and the Bonzes. Our missionaries have long remarked a striking resemblance between those books and the gospels. M. Wilkins expressly mentions it in a note in the Bhagvat Geeta. All agree that Krisna, Fot, and Jesus have the same characteristic features: but religious prejudice has stood in the way of drawing from this circumstance the proper and natural inference. To time and reason must it be left to display the truth.
At these words, the Christians set up a general cry, and a new dispute was about to begin; when a number of Chinese Chamans, and Talapoins of Siam, came forward and said that they would settle the whole controversy. And one of them speaking for the whole exclaimed: "It is time to put an end to these frivolous contests by drawing aside the veil from the interior doctrine that Fot himself revealed to his disciples on his death bed.*
* The Budsoists have two doctrines, the one public and ostensible, the other interior and secret, precisely like the Egyptian priests. It may be asked, why this distinction? It is, that as the public doctrine recommends offerings, expiations, endowments, etc., the priests find their profit in preaching it to the people; whereas the other, teaching the vanity of worldly things, and attended with no lucre, it is thought proper to make it known only to adepts. Can the teachers and followers of this religion be better classed than under the heads of knavery and credulity?
"All these theological opinions," continued he, "are but chimeras. All the stories of the nature of the gods, of their actions and their lives, are but allegories and mythological emblems, under which are enveloped ingenious ideas of morals, and the knowledge of the operations of nature in the action of the elements and the movement of the planets.
"The truth is, that all is reduced to nothing--that all is illusion, appearance, dream; that the moral metempsychosis is only the figurative sense of the physical metempsychosis, or the successive movement of the elements of bodies which perish not, but which, having composed one body, pass when that is dissolved, into other mediums and form other combinations. The soul is but the vital principle which results from the properties of matter, and from the action of the elements in those bodies where they create a spontaneous movement. To suppose that this product of the play of the organs, born with them, matured with them, and which sleeps with them, can subsist when they cease, is the romance of a wandering imagination, perhaps agreeable enough, but really chimerical.
God itself is nothing more than the moving principle, the occult force inherent in all beings--the sum of their laws and properties-- the animating principle; in a word, the soul of the universe; which on account of the infinite variety of its connections and its operations, sometimes simple, sometimes multiple, sometimes active, sometimes passive, has always presented to the human mind an unsolvable enigma. All that man can comprehend with certainty is, that matter does not perish; that it possesses essentially those properties by which the world is held together like a living and organized being; that the knowledge of these laws with respect to man is what constitutes wisdom; that virtue and merit consist in their observance; and evil, sin, and vice, in the ignorance and violation of them; that happiness and misery result from these by the same necessity which makes heavy bodies descend and light ones rise, and by a fatality of causes and effects, whose chain extends from the smallest atom to the greatest of the heavenly bodies."*
* These are the very expressions of La Loubre, in his description of the kingdom of Siam and the theology of the Bronzes. Their dogmas, compared with those of the ancient philosophers of Greece and Italy, give a complete representation of the whole system of the Stoics and Epicureans, mixed with astrological superstitious, and some traits of Pythagorism.
At these words, a crowd of theologians of every sect cried out that this doctrine was materialism, and that those who profess it were impious atheists, enemies to God and man, who must be exterminated. "Very well," replied the Chamans, "suppose we are in error, which is not impossible, since the first attribute of the human mind is to be subject to illusion; but what right have you to take away from men like yourselves, the life which Heaven has given them? If Heaven holds us guilty and in abhorrence, why does it impart to us the same blessings as to you? And if it treats us with forbearance, what authority have you to be less indulgent? Pious men! who speak of God with so much certainty and confidence, be so good as to tell us what it is; give us to comprehend what those abstract and metaphysical beings are, which you call God and soul, substance without matter, existence without body, life without organs or sensation. If you know those beings by your senses or their reflections, render them in like manner perceptible to us; or if you speak of them on testimony and tradition, show us a uniform account, and give a determinate basis to our creed."
There now arose among the theologians a great controversy respecting God and his nature, his manner of acting, and of manifesting himself; on the nature of the soul and its union with the body; whether it exists before the organs, or only after they are formed; on the future life, and the other world. And every sect, every school, every individual, differing on all these points, and each assigning plausible reasons, and respectable though opposite authorities for his opinion, they fell into an inextricable labyrinth of contradictions.
Then the legislator, having commanded silence and recalled the dispute to its true object, said: "Chiefs and instructors of nations; you came together in search of truth. At first, every one of you, thinking he possessed it, demanded of the others an implicit faith; but perceiving the contrariety of your opinions, you found it necessary to submit them to a common rule of evidence, and to bring them to one general term of comparison; and you agreed that each should exhibit the proofs of his doctrine. You began by alleging facts; but each religion and every sect, being equally furnished with miracles and martyrs, each producing an equal number of witnesses, and offering to support them by a voluntary death, the balance on this first point, by right of parity, remained equal.
"You then passed to the trial of reasoning; but the same arguments applying equally to contrary positions--the same assertions, equally gratuitous, being advanced and repelled with equal force, and all having an equal right to refuse his assent, nothing was demonstrated. What is more, the confrontation of your systems has brought up more and extraordinary difficulties; for amid the apparent or adventitious diversities, you have discovered a fundamental resemblance, a common groundwork; and each of you pretending to be the inventor, and first depositary, have taxed each other with adulterations and plagiarisms; and thence arises a difficult question concerning the transmission of religious ideas from people to people.
"Finally, to complete your embarrassment: when you endeavored to explain your doctrines to each other, they appeared confused and foreign, even to their adherents; they were founded on ideas inaccessible to your senses; you consequently had no means of judging of them, and you confessed yourselves in this respect to be only the echoes of your fathers. Hence follows this other question: how came they to the knowledge of your fathers, who themselves had no other means than you to conceive them? So that, on the one hand, the succession of these ideas being unknown, and on the other, their origin and existence being a mystery, all the edifice of your religious opinions becomes a complicated problem of metaphysics and history.
"Since, however, these opinions, extraordinary as they may be, must have had some origin; since even the most abstract and fantastical ideas have some physical model, it may be useful to recur to this origin, and discover this model--in a word, to find out from what source the human understanding has drawn these ideas, at present so obscure, of God, of the soul, of all immaterial beings, which make the basis of so many systems; to unfold the filiation which they have followed, and the alterations which they have undergone in their transmissions and ramifications. If, then, there are any persons present who have made a study of these objects, let them come forward, and endeavor, in the face of nations, to dissipate the obscurity in which their opinions have so long remained."