Tuesday, 15 October 2013

VOLTAIRE AND PRIESTCRAFT

Sir,—That a right thinking, well read, and reasoning man of this present age should speak of Voltaire only in the words of an author who wrote one of the gloomiest and most dreary dirges in the English language as a mere profligate, shews that he has not studied those authors most capable of appreciating his character once in a century. Archdeacon M'Cullagh, in your paper writing of Voltaire, reiterates a portion of Young's illogical epigram. 

" Thou art so witty, profligate and thin
Thou seemest Satan with his death and sin. 

The author belonged to the class stigmatized by gentle Goldsmith, who wrote the best description of a truly good and virtuous man to be found in any language, and who in 1709 published a life of Voltaire, on his supposed death, mourning the loss the world suffers in the death of a philosopher of genius such as nature produces once in a century, extolling his independence, rectitude and detestation of sycophancy, and telling how his enemies and detractors had characterised him as a monster and an atheist, with a heart inclined to vice and debased in principle, he concludes his eulogy of Voltaire, with whom he was personally acquainted and had visited at Forney. "But seek for his character among writers like himself, and you will find him differently described. You perceives him in their accounts possessed of good nature, humanity of soul, fortitude and almost every virtue; in this description those who might be best acquainted with his character are unanimous. The royal Prussian, d'Argens, Dederot, d'Alembert and Fontenelle conspire in drawing the picture, in describing the friend of man and the patron of rising genius." Such was the opinion of his friends; an extract from his Philosophical Dictionary should equally dispel the charge of atheism.
After quoting many of the arguments used by Atheists, he says :—"The philosopher who recognised a God, has with him a crowd of probabilities, equivalent to certainty, while the Atheist has nothing but doubts, but it is also clear that it is better not to recognise a God, than to adore a barbarous being, to whom human beings are sacrificed, as has been done by so many nations," and thus sums up his conclusions:—" Atheism and fanaticism are two monsters which rend and devour society, but the Atheist has reason, while those of the fanatic are sharpened by the incessant madness which afflicts him." He died after confessing to a priest, received the rights of the church, and left this written declaration:—" I die adoring God, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, and  detesting superstition.—Voltaire." Archdeacon MacCullagh, who flippantly described Voltaire as a mere profligate, cannot surely, like nearly every Englishman, be cognizant of the history of Voltaire's times. There were giants in literature in those days; at no period both in France and England have so many mighty men wielded the pen, and at no time were they more required in defence of liberty of action and freedom of thought and speech, but Voltaire, who towered above them all when licentious writings were the custom, was remarkable for purity of thought and language. Few of his voluminous works have been translated into English, yet his history of Charles XII., with Fenelon's "Telemachus" are textbooks in English schools, even at this day. To give the reasons how of why Voltaire provoked the enmity of the priesthood, whose vices, waste, and profligacy, possessed as they were of nearly one-third of the revenues of France, he scourged with scathing criticism, bitter irony, and trenchant sarcasm, would involve a resume of the then state of France, to show how debased man had become at the end of the reign of the " grand Monarque," how during his latter years Louis XIV. felt the necessity of making his peace with God, he whose great ambition had been waging unnecessary wars ; how in furtherance of this intention, at the instigation or his mistress Madame de Matenon, who had become devout herself acted on by a Jesuit priest, he revoked the edict of Nantes and declared war against the Protestants, and drove 50,000 of his best subjects into exile, besides slaughtering as many more; how a stagey fanaticism pervaded the spirit of the nation, and how under priestly intolerance and domination they had become, in Voltaire's words, a nation of apes and tigers." To wake the people from this state of lethargic cruelty, Voltaire and the Encyclopedists—a band of honest-speaking, truth-abiding, determined men of genius—published merciless denunciations of the dominant classes. The aristocracy and priesthood writhed under the truth-telling satires of men, who, powerless to use arms against temporal and spiritual tyranny, so imbued mankind with the spirit of freedom, that the people who had been treated for centuries as mere beasts of burden, rose en masse. Can we wonder that poor suffering humanity, actuated by the pens of soul-stirring men, rebelled? Can we wonder at the French revolution, whose horrors were but a retaliation, for the people committed no greater evils, inflicted no greater tortured than they had been compelled to endure? Is it strange that the so called religion, the spurious Christianity which had afflicted them for generations, was trodden under foot, and which as far as the spirit of the times will allow is still rampant? Are we not still suffering from the evils of priestcraft? The founder of our religion himself, with words of mercy for all mankind, had only wrath and contempt for that class. At this time do not thoughtful men turn to the writings of Matthew Arnold and his compeers for refuge and relief? The existence of the Salvation Army is a protest against the false Christianity, whose practice pervades our churches and society. They say, brother you have a soul to be saved, alone you can and must do it, without priestly aid and domination. They are casting off the trammels with which superstition and greed have encompassed them, and are teaching that man's best priest is himself with his Testament for his guide. The time is coming, with the education of the masses, when flippant abuse of the world's regenerators will not avail against the awakened conscience of regenerate human beings, and we may hope for the advent of a pure Christianity divested of dogma, fetish dread, and fearful mysticisms which alone uphold the practice of the false throughout the world.

Yours truly, CENSOR.

1st November.

 Bendigo Advertiser 5 November 1884,

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