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The Ruins of Empire

By C. F. Volney


CHAPTER XXI.

PROBLEM 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 {87} 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. {88}

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."1

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 {90} 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?"2

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 doctriner 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 {91} 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.3 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.

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 {92} constantly revealing what takes place in heaven, without ever instructing us what is doing on the earth."

"For my part," said an American, " 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 {93} 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 {94} 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 {95} system turns altogether on mystical meanings, visionary and allegorical interpretations.4 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."

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 faggots, and the words Justice, Charity, Mercy.5 "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--"

{96} 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.6

{97} "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;7 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.

"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.

{98} "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,8 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 analogous to those of the three preceding religions, that his {99} discourse seemed like a commentary or a continuation of the Koran or the Apocalypse.9

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, {100} the Zendavestas, and the Zadders?10 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!"

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?"11

But the Bramins persisting in their silence: "Let them {101} 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;12 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,13 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 {102} the world of the enormous serpent Calengem, and then crushed his head, after having been wounded by him in the heel.

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!"

But a Bramin exclaimed with indignation: "These are profound mysteries, -- emblems of truth, which you are not worthy to hear."

"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 {103} 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."14

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.15 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 {104} 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 Fôt or Beddou, to preach the doctrines of self-denial and self-annihilation."

Then, pursuing the history of Fôt, 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 Fôt, "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 Fôt: "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.

{105} "Whoever dies without having embraced my religion," says Fôt, "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 Fôt was no other than Jesus himself disfigured, and that the Lamas were the Nestorians and the Manicheans disguised and bastardized.16

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.17

{106} 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 Fôt himself disguised. Prove to us by historical facts that he even existed at the epoch you pretend; for, it being destitute of authentic testimony,18 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."19

{107} 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 Fôt himself revealed to his disciples on his death bed.20

"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 {108} 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."21

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."

{109} 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 {110} 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."


Notes

1. 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.

2. These are the two grand parties into which the Mussulmans are divided. The Turks have embraced the second, the Persians the first.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. This description answers exactly to the banner of the Inquisition of Spanish Jacobins.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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 world 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 apt 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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 I788, 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.

12. 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.

13. 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.

14. 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.

15. 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. Præp. 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.

16. 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.

17. 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 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 (Samâoui) 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. 18. 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 Fôt or Beddou, with whom, says M. de Guignes, the Chinese continually confound him, for they never call Jesus by any other name than Fôt. Hist. de Huns.

19. 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, Fôt, 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.

20. 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 superstitions, and some traits of Pythagorism.

21. 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?