Random Quote #35 topic: voltaire-dict, Philosophical Dictionary by Voltaire, 1694-1778


I meditated last night; I was absorbed in the contemplation of nature; I
admired the immensity, the course, the harmony of these infinite globes
which the vulgar do not know how to admire.

I admired still more the intelligence which directs these vast forces. I
said to myself: "One must be blind not to be dazzled by this spectacle;
one must be stupid not to recognize the author of it; one must be mad
not to worship Him. What tribute of worship should I render Him? Should
not this tribute be the same in the whole of space, since it is the same
supreme power which reigns equally in all space? Should not a thinking
being who dwells in a star in the Milky Way offer Him the same homage as
the thinking being on this little globe where we are? Light is uniform
for the star Sirius and for us; moral philosophy must be uniform. If a
sentient, thinking animal in Sirius is born of a tender father and
mother who have been occupied with his happiness, he owes them as much
love and care as we owe to our parents. If someone in the Milky Way sees
a needy cripple, if he can relieve him and if he does not do it, he is
guilty toward all globes. Everywhere the heart has the same duties: on
the steps of the throne of God, if He has a throne; and in the depth of
the abyss, if He is an abyss."

I was plunged in these ideas when one of those genii who fill the
intermundane spaces came down to me. I recognized this same aerial
creature who had appeared to me on another occasion to teach me how
different God's judgments were from our own, and how a good action is
preferable to a controversy.

He transported me into a desert all covered with piled up bones; and
between these heaps of dead men there were walks of ever-green trees,
and at the end of each walk a tall man of august mien, who regarded
these sad remains with pity.

"Alas! my archangel," said I, "where have you brought me?"

"To desolation," he answered.

"And who are these fine patriarchs whom I see sad and motionless at the
end of these green walks? they seem to be weeping over this countless
crowd of dead."

"You shall know, poor human creature," answered the genius from the
intermundane spaces; "but first of all you must weep."

He began with the first pile. "These," he said, "are the twenty-three
thousand Jews who danced before a calf, with the twenty-four thousand
who were killed while lying with Midianitish women. The number of those
massacred for such errors and offences amounts to nearly three hundred

"In the other walks are the bones of the Christians slaughtered by each
other for metaphysical disputes. They are divided into several heaps of
four centuries each. One heap would have mounted right to the sky; they
had to be divided."

"What!" I cried, "brothers have treated their brothers like this, and I
have the misfortune to be of this brotherhood!"

"Here," said the spirit, "are the twelve million Americans killed in
their fatherland because they had not been baptized."

"My God! why did you not leave these frightful bones to dry in the
hemisphere where their bodies were born, and where they were consigned
to so many different deaths? Why assemble here all these abominable
monuments to barbarism and fanaticism?"

"To instruct you."

"Since you wish to instruct me," I said to the genius, "tell me if there
have been peoples other than the Christians and the Jews in whom zeal
and religion wretchedly transformed into fanaticism, have inspired so
many horrible cruelties."

"Yes," he said. "The Mohammedans were sullied with the same
inhumanities, but rarely; and when one asked _amman_, pity, of them and
offered them tribute, they pardoned. As for the other nations there has
not been one right from the existence of the world which has ever made a
purely religious war. Follow me now." I followed him.

A little beyond these piles of dead men we found other piles; they were
composed of sacks of gold and silver, and each had its label: _Substance
of the heretics massacred in the eighteenth century, the seventeenth and
the sixteenth._ And so on in going back: _Gold and silver of Americans
slaughtered_, etc., etc. And all these piles were surmounted with
crosses, mitres, croziers, triple crowns studded with precious stones.

"What, my genius! it was then to have these riches that these dead were
piled up?"

"Yes, my son."

I wept; and when by my grief I had merited to be led to the end of the
green walks, he led me there.

"Contemplate," he said, "the heroes of humanity who were the world's
benefactors, and who were all united in banishing from the world, as far
as they were able, violence and rapine. Question them."

I ran to the first of the band; he had a crown on his head, and a little
censer in his hand; I humbly asked him his name. "I am Numa Pompilius,"
he said to me. "I succeeded a brigand, and I had brigands to govern: I
taught them virtue and the worship of God; after me they forgot both
more than once; I forbade that in the temples there should be any image,
because the Deity which animates nature cannot be represented. During my
reign the Romans had neither wars nor seditions, and my religion did
nothing but good. All the neighbouring peoples came to honour me at my
funeral: that happened to no one but me."

I kissed his hand, and I went to the second. He was a fine old man about
a hundred years old, clad in a white robe. He put his middle-finger on
his mouth, and with the other hand he cast some beans behind him. I
recognized Pythagoras. He assured me he had never had a golden thigh,
and that he had never been a cock; but that he had governed the
Crotoniates with as much justice as Numa governed the Romans, almost at
the same time; and that this justice was the rarest and most necessary
thing in the world. I learned that the Pythagoreans examined their
consciences twice a day. The honest people! how far we are from them!
But we who have been nothing but assassins for thirteen hundred years,
we say that these wise men were arrogant.

In order to please Pythagoras, I did not say a word to him and I passed
to Zarathustra, who was occupied in concentrating the celestial fire in
the focus of a concave mirror, in the middle of a hall with a hundred
doors which all led to wisdom. (Zarathustra's precepts are called
_doors_, and are a hundred in number.) Over the principal door I read
these words which are the precis of all moral philosophy, and which cut
short all the disputes of the casuists: "When in doubt if an action is
good or bad, refrain."

"Certainly," I said to my genius, "the barbarians who immolated all
these victims had never read these beautiful words."

We then saw the Zaleucus, the Thales, the Aniximanders, and all the
sages who had sought truth and practised virtue.

When we came to Socrates, I recognized him very quickly by his flat
nose. "Well," I said to him, "here you are then among the number of the
Almighty's confidants! All the inhabitants of Europe, except the Turks
and the Tartars of the Crimea, who know nothing, pronounce your name
with respect. It is revered, loved, this great name, to the point that
people have wanted to know those of your persecutors. Melitus and
Anitus are known because of you, just as Ravaillac is known because of
Henry IV.; but I know only this name of Anitus. I do not know precisely
who was the scoundrel who calumniated you, and who succeeded in having
you condemned to take hemlock."

"Since my adventure," replied Socrates, "I have never thought about that
man; but seeing that you make me remember it, I have much pity for him.
He was a wicked priest who secretly conducted a business in hides, a
trade reputed shameful among us. He sent his two children to my school.
The other disciples taunted them with having a father who was a currier;
they were obliged to leave. The irritated father had no rest until he
had stirred up all the priests and all the sophists against me. They
persuaded the counsel of the five hundred that I was an impious fellow
who did not believe that the Moon, Mercury and Mars were gods. Indeed, I
used to think, as I think now, that there is only one God, master of all
nature. The judges handed me over to the poisoner of the republic; he
cut short my life by a few days: I died peacefully at the age of
seventy; and since that time I pass a happy life with all these great
men whom you see, and of whom I am the least."

After enjoying some time in conversation with Socrates, I went forward
with my guide into a grove situated above the thickets where all the
sages of antiquity seemed to be tasting sweet repose.

I saw a man of gentle, simple countenance, who seemed to me to be about
thirty-five years old. From afar he cast compassionate glances on these
piles of whitened bones, across which I had had to pass to reach the
sages' abode. I was astonished to find his feet swollen and bleeding,
his hands likewise, his side pierced, and his ribs flayed with whip
cuts. "Good Heavens!" I said to him, "is it possible for a just man, a
sage, to be in this state? I have just seen one who was treated in a
very hateful way, but there is no comparison between his torture and
yours. Wicked priests and wicked judges poisoned him; is it by priests
and judges that you have been so cruelly assassinated?"

He answered with much courtesy--"_Yes._"

"And who were these monsters?"

"_They were hypocrites._"

"Ah! that says everything; I understand by this single word that they
must have condemned you to death. Had you then proved to them, as
Socrates did, that the Moon was not a goddess, and that Mercury was not
a god?"

"_No, these planets were not in question. My compatriots did not know at
all what a planet is; they were all arrant ignoramuses. Their
superstitions were quite different from those of the Greeks._"

"You wanted to teach them a new religion, then?"

"_Not at all; I said to them simply--'Love God with all your heart and
your fellow-creature as yourself, for that is man's whole duty.' Judge
if this precept is not as old as the universe; judge if I brought them a
new religion. I did not stop telling them that I had come not to destroy
the law but to fulfil it; I had observed all their rites; circumcised as
they all were, baptized as were the most zealous among them, like them I
paid the Corban; I observed the Passover as they did, eating standing up
a lamb cooked with lettuces. I and my friends went to pray in the
temple; my friends even frequented this temple after my death; in a
word, I fulfilled all their laws without a single exception._"

"What! these wretches could not even reproach you with swerving from
their laws?"

"_No, without a doubt._"

"Why then did they put you in the condition in which I now see you?"

"_What do you expect me to say! they were very arrogant and selfish.
They saw that I knew them; they knew that I was making the citizens
acquainted with them; they were the stronger; they took away my life:
and people like them will always do as much, if they can, to whoever
does them too much justice._"

"But did you say nothing, do nothing that could serve them as a

"_To the wicked everything serves as pretext._"

"Did you not say once that you were come not to send peace, but a

"_It is a copyist's error; I told them that I sent peace and not a
sword. I have never written anything; what I said can have been changed
without evil intention._"

"You therefore contributed in no way by your speeches, badly reported,
badly interpreted, to these frightful piles of bones which I saw on my
road in coming to consult you?"

"_It is with horror only that I have seen those who have made themselves
guilty of these murders._"

"And these monuments of power and wealth, of pride and avarice, these
treasures, these ornaments, these signs of grandeur, which I have seen
piled up on the road while I was seeking wisdom, do they come from you?"

"_That is impossible; I and my people lived in poverty and meanness: my
grandeur was in virtue only._"

I was about to beg him to be so good as to tell me just who he was. My
guide warned me to do nothing of the sort. He told me that I was not
made to understand these sublime mysteries. Only did I conjure him to
tell me in what true religion consisted.

"_Have I not already told you? Love God and your fellow-creature as

"What! if one loves God, one can eat meat on Friday?"

"_I always ate what was given me; for I was too poor to give anyone

"In loving God, in being just, should one not be rather cautious not to
confide all the adventures of one's life to an unknown man?"

"_That was always my practice._"

"Can I not, by doing good, dispense with making a pilgrimage to St.
James of Compostella?"

"_I have never been in that country._"

"Is it necessary for me to imprison myself in a retreat with fools?"

"_As for me, I always made little journeys from town to town._"

"Is it necessary for me to take sides either for the Greek Church or the

"_When I was in the world I never made any difference between the Jew
and the Samaritan._"

"Well, if that is so, I take you for my only master." Then he made me a
sign with his head which filled me with consolation. The vision
disappeared, and a clear conscience stayed with me.


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