left biblioblography: ÉCRASEZ L'INFÂME!

Thursday, March 30, 2006


(Translation: ‘Crush the infamous thing!”)

I am going to attempt to embark on a series of tributes to men who in no small part contributed deeply to our developing civilization, men to whom we owe a great debt to, especially in no small part we atheists owe more than we could possibly repay.

I begin this with my all-time favorite Frenchman: Voltaire. It was in some small part (due to his writings) that I chose my current path. His wit, his knowledge, his biting satire that even kings feared, has had no small impact on our world today.

Allow me a bit of writer’s intrusion, as to his profound effect on my life.
I often tell the story of how I became an atheist. A friend (Born-again, 2 decades) had sent me both a KJV and McDowell’s Evidence That Demands A Verdict. A rapacious reader, I read the latter twice. Something was wrong with it: rather, a number of somethings. One of those somethings was McDowell’s attack on Voltaire, denouncing him as an infidel; railing against Voltaire’s prediction that xtianity would perish, proclaiming the deceased as lost in the annals of history. I’d always been peripherally aware of Arouet (often quoting his famous Le sens commun n'est pas si commun, Common sense is not so common), and so I did what few true believers do: I researched the injured party. It was reading his works that made me aware of the contradictions in the Gospels: I’d had no inkling there was any contestation whatsoever. So it began. I owe this man a profound debt, which sadly I can never repay.

Voltaire was born “Francois Marie Arouet, who first made a name for himself among the refined patrons of the French salons. He applied his wit and knowledge to writing poetry and political treatises, often incurring the wrath of the French government and the church. Perhaps his most famous work is his novel Candide (1759), with its common sense conclusion that we must "cultivate our garden.” Voltaire influenced political theorists, philosophers, educators and historians, and is one of the most celebrated citizens in the history of France.” From http://www.answers.com/topic/voltaire?method=22.

Here is a link to his online works: http://oll.libertyfund.org/Texts/Voltaire0265/Works/0060-04_Bk.html.

And, of course, some choice quotes:

“Several learned men have testified their surprise at not finding in the historian, Flavius Josephus, any mention of Jesus Christ; for all men of true learning are now agreed that the short passage relative to him in that history has been interpolated. The father of Flavius Josephus must, however, have been witness to all the miracles of Jesus. Josephus was of the sacerdotal race and akin to Herod’s wife, Mariamne. He gives us long details of all that prince’s actions, yet says not a word of the life or death of Jesus; nor does this historian, who disguises none of Herod’s cruelties, say one word of the general massacre of the infants ordered by him on hearing that there was born a king of the Jews. The Greek calendar estimates the number of children murdered on this occasion at fourteen thousand. This is, of all actions of all tyrants, the most horrible. There is no example of it in the history of the whole world.”

“Yet the best writer the Jews have ever had, the only one esteemed by the Greeks and Romans, makes no mention of an event so singular and so frightful. He says nothing of the appearance of a new star in the east after the birth of our Saviour—a brilliant phenomenon, which could not escape the knowledge of a historian so enlightened as Josephus. He is also silent respecting the darkness which, on our Saviour’s death, covered the whole earth for three hours at midday—the great number of graves that opened at that moment, and the multitude of the just that rose again.
“The learned are constantly evincing their surprise that no Roman historian speaks of these prodigies, happening in the empire of Tiberius, under the eyes of a Roman governor and a Roman garrison, who must have sent to the emperor and the senate a detailed account of the most miraculous event that mankind had ever heard of. Rome itself must have been plunged for three hours in impenetrable darkness; such a prodigy would have had a place in the annals of Rome, and in those of every nation. But it was not God’s will that these divine things should be written down by their profane hands.
“The same persons also find some difficulties in the gospel history. They remark that, in Matthew, Jesus Christ tells the scribes and Pharisees that all the innocent blood that has been shed upon earth, from that of Abel the Just down to that of Zachary, son of Barac, whom they slew between the temple and the altar, shall be upon their heads.”
“Let us consider the state of religion in the Roman Empire at that period. Mysteries and expiations were in credit almost throughout the earth. The emperors, the great, and the philosophers, had, it is true, no faith in these mysteries; but the people, who, in religious matters, give the law to the great, imposed on them the necessity of conforming in appearance to their worship. To succeed in chaining the multitude you must seem to wear the same fetters.”

“Tertullian goes farther; and from the recesses of Africa, where he resided, he says, in his “Apology”—chap. xxiii.—“If your gods do not confess themselves to be devils in the presence of a true Christian, we give you full liberty to shed that Christian’s blood.” Can any demonstration be possibly clearer?”

“In the year 314, before Constantine resided in his new city, those who had persecuted the Christians were punished by them for their cruelties. The Christians threw Maxentius’s wife into the Orontes; they cut the throats of all his relations, and they massacred, in Egypt and Palestine, those magistrates who had most strenuously declared against Christianity. The widow and daughter of Diocletian, having concealed themselves at Thessalonica, were recognized, and their bodies thrown into the sea. It would certainly have been desirable that the Christians should have followed less eagerly the cry of vengeance; but it was the will of God, who punishes according to justice, that, as soon as the Christians were able to act without restraint, their hands should be dyed in the blood of their persecutors.”

And this:
“It is said, sometimes, that common sense is very rare. What does this expression mean? That, in many men, dawning reason is arrested in its progress by some prejudices; that a man who judges reasonably on one affair will deceive himself grossly in another. The Arab, who, besides being a good calculator, was a learned chemist and an exact astronomer, nevertheless believed that Mahomet put half of the moon into his sleeve.
How is it that he was so much above common sense in the three sciences above mentioned, and beneath it when he proceeded to the subject of half the moon? It is because, in the first case, he had seen with his own eyes, and perfected his own intelligence; and, in the second, he had used the eyes of others, by shutting his own, and perverting the common sense within him.
How could this strange perversion of mind operate? How could the ideas which had so regular and firm a footing in his brain, on many subjects, halt on another a thousand times more palpable and easy to comprehend? This man had always the same principles of intelligence in him; he must have therefore possessed a vitiated organ, as it sometimes happens that the most delicate epicure has a depraved taste in regard to a particular kind of nourishment.
How did the organ of this Arab, who saw half of the moon in Mahomet’s sleeve, become disordered? —By fear. It had been told him that if he did not believe in this sleeve his soul, immediately after his death, in passing over the narrow bridge, would fall forever into the abyss. He was told much worse—if ever you doubt this sleeve, one dervish will treat you with ignominy; another will prove you mad, because, having all possible motives for credibility, you will not submit your superb reason to evidence; a third will refer you to the little divan of a small province, and you will be legally impaled.
All this produces a panic in the good Arab, his wife, sister, and all his little family. They possess good sense in all the rest, but on this article their imagination is diseased like that of Pascal, who continually saw a precipice near his couch. But did our Arab really believe in the sleeve of Mahomet? No; he endeavored to believe it; he said, “It is impossible, but true—I believe that which I do not credit.” He formed a chaos of ideas in his head in regard to this sleeve, which he feared to disentangle, and he gave up his common sense.”
On Biblical contradictions:” If St. Matthew alone makes mention of the three magi, and of the star which guided them to Bethlehem from the remote climes of the East, and of the massacre of the children; if the other evangelists take no notice of these events, they do not contradict St. Matthew; silence is not contradiction.”
“If the three first evangelists—St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke—make Jesus Christ to have lived but three months from his baptism in Galilee till his crucifixion at Jerusalem; and if St. John extends that time to three years and three months, it is easy to approximate St. John to the other evangelists, as he does not expressly state that Jesus Christ preached in Galilee for three years and three months, but only leaves it to be inferred from his narrative. Should a man renounce his religion upon simple inferences, upon points of controversy, upon difficulties in chronology?
“It is impossible, says Meslier, to harmonize St. Mark and St. Luke; since the first says that Jesus, when he left the wilderness, went to Capernaum, and the second that he went to Nazareth. St. John says that Andrew was the first who became a follower of Jesus Christ; the three other evangelists say that it was Simon Peter.
“He pretends, also, that they contradict each other with respect to the day when Jesus celebrated the Passover, the hour and place of His execution, the time of His appearance and resurrection. He is convinced that books which contradict each other cannot be inspired by the Holy Spirit; but it is not an article of faith to believe that the Holy Spirit inspired every syllable; it did not guide the hand of the copyist; it permitted the operation of secondary causes; it was sufficient that it condescended to reveal the principal mysteries, and that in the course of time it instituted a church for explaining them. All those contradictions, with which the gospels have been so often and so bitterly reproached, are explained by sagacious commentators; far from being injurious, they mutually clear up each other; they present reciprocal helps in the concordances and harmony of the four gospels.
“And if there are many difficulties which we cannot solve, mysteries which we cannot comprehend, adventures which we cannot credit, prodigies which shock the weakness of the human understanding, and contradictions which it is impossible to reconcile, it is in order to exercise our faith and to humiliate our reason.”
A few more:
Of all religions the Christian is without doubt the one, which should inspire tolerance most, although up to now the Christians have been the most intolerant of all men.-- Voltaire, from Harry Elmer Barnes, An Intellectual and Cultural History of the Western World (1937) p. 766, quoted from Albert J. Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom
Christianity is the most ridiculous, the most absurd and bloody religion that has ever infected the world.-- Voltaire, quoted from James A. Haught in "Honest Minds, Past and Present" Talks for History of Freethought conference Sept. 20-21, 1997, Cincinnati, Ohio sponsored by Council for Secular Humanism and Free Inquiry Group
Every sensible man, every honest man, must hold the Christian sect in horror.-- Voltaire, quoted from James A. Haught in "Honest Minds, Past and Present" at the Talks for History of Freethought conference Sept. 20-21, 1997, Cincinnati, Ohio sponsored by Council for Secular Humanism and Free Inquiry Group
“Which is more dangerous: fanaticism or atheism? Fanaticism is certainly a thousand times more deadly; for atheism inspires no bloody passion whereas fanaticism does; atheism is opposed to crime and fanaticism causes crimes to be committed.” -- Voltaire (attributed: source unknown) ††
There is, of course, more to this man than his aversion to organized religion. He fought the good fight: did so with a brilliant mind, and a sharp tongue: his dry satire is an inspiration to read, and recommended to any who seek to further themselves. He battled injustice on many fronts.
Would that I were as worthy as he.

Stumble Upon Toolbar


PastaLaVista said...

Reluctant that is an excellent idea. You almost read my mind. I was just thinking of looking for a book that kinda does just that: Touches on several famous philosophers/deep thinkers, and what they were all about. I'll have to pop back from time to time and check out your latest article.

pasta la vista

Krystalline Apostate said...

You almost read my mind.
Naw, just consulted the magic 8-ball.
Go check out Voltaire's writings. He's quite a read, wit as sharp as a razor.
Even after all these centuries.

Anonymous said...

"And if there are many difficulties which we cannot solve...it is in order to exercise our faith and to humiliate our reason."

There is a similar disclaimer in the Gospel of the FSM:
"While Pastafarianism is the only religion based on empirical evidence, it should be noted that this is a faith-based book. Attentive readers will note numerous holes and contradictions throughout the text; they will even find blatant lies and exaggerations. These have been placed there to test the reader's faith."

(A second disclaimer suggests putting the book on the highest shelf to avoid provoking midgets.) :)

All religious tomes should have disclaimers, not only at the beginning, but boldly printed throughout!

Three cheers for Voltaire! Some great quotes, BTW.

Believers have vitiated organs. How simple. And they work so hard to keep them in that condition.


Krystalline Apostate said...

I love those disclaimers for FSM. How utterly amusing.
I haven't read the FSM gospel yet. Definitely 1 to put on my reading list.

say no to christ said...

What a great write up RA!! I am going to read up on Voltaire. Smart man!

Sorry I havent been around lately. My in-laws came to visit and I am working on my Picoso...well my peek-lhaso. lol A guy I know that owns a gallary and does humorous work, wanted me to do a painting of my one eyed peek/lhasapso mix and title it peek-lhaso.
Whatever it takes to get my art noticed. lol

Krystalline Apostate said...

Sorry I havent been around lately.
Hey, no big whoop, we all got lives to live, dear.
Try not to be a stranger. I was wonderin' where you'd gone off to.