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In this philosophic age, when nature, reason, and the rights of man have resumed their empire; when the genius of a great, generous, and brave people is giving the last blow to superstition and despotism, the publication of a work which has greatly contributed to these glorious events, must be highly acceptable, not only to the literary world, but even to the community at large, who eagerly seek after instruction, the moment they believe it necessary for their happiness.
This publication bears a conspicuous rank among those works whose free and independent sentiments have introduced a happy change in the public mind, and concurred with the writings of Rousseau, Mably, Raynal, and Voltaire, in bringing forward the French Revolution : a revolution which will probably prove the harbinger of the complete triumph of reason. Persecutions and wars will then cease for ever throughout the civilized world.
In offering this translation to the public, I pay a tribute that every member of society owes to his fellow-citizens, that of endeavouring to acquaint them with their true rights and duties, and, consequently, the means most conducive to their happiness.
New York, 1804.
THE AUTHOR TO A FRIEND.
I RECEIVE, Sir, with gratitude, the remarks which
you send me upon my work. If I am sensible to the praises you condescend to give it, I am too fond of truth to be displeased with the frankness with which you propose your objections. I find them sufficiently weighty to merit all my attention. He but ill deserves the title of philosopher, who has not the courage to hear his opinions contradicted. We are not divines; our disputes are of a nature to terminate amicably ; they in no way resemble those of the apostles of superstition, who endeavour to overreach cach other by captious arguments, and who, at the expence of good faith, contend only to advocate the cause of their vanity and their prejudices. We both desire the happiness of mankind, we both search after truth ; this being the case, we cannot disagree.
You begin by admitting the necessity of examining religion, and submitting opinions to the decision of
You acknowledge that Christianity cannot sustain this trial, and that in the eye of good sense it can never appear to be any thing but a tissue of absurdities, of unconnected fables, senseless dogmas, puerile ceremonies, and notions borrowed from the Chaldeans, Egyptians, Phenicians, Grecians, and Romans. In one word, you confess that this religious system is
only. the deformed offspring of almost all ancient superstitions, begotten by oriental fanaticism, and diversely modified by the circumstances and prejudices of those who have since pretended to be the inspired ambassadors of God, and the interpreters of his will.
You tremble at the horrors which the intolerant spirit of Christians has caused them to commit, whenever they had power to do it ; you feel that a religion founded on a sanguinary deity must be a religion of blood. You lament that phrenzy, which in infancy takes possession of princes and people, and renders them equally the slaves of superstition and her priests; which prevents their acquaintance with their true interests, renders them deaf to reason, and turns them aside from the great objects by which they ought to be occupied. You confess that a religion founded upon enthusiasm or imposture can have no sure principles; that it must prove an eternal source of disputes, and always end in causing troubles, persecutions, and ravages ; especially when political power conceives itself indispensibly obliged to enter into its quarrels. In fine, you go so far as to agree that a good Christian who follows literally the conduct prescribed to him as the most perfect by the gospel, knows not in this world any thing of those duties on which true morality is founded ; and that if he wants energy he must prove an useless misanthrope, or if his temper be warm a turbulent fanatic.
After acknowledging all this, how could it happen that you should
pronounce my work a dangerous one! You tell me that a wise man ought to think only for himself; that to the populace a religion is necessary, be it good or bad ; that it is a restraint necessary to gross and ignorant minds, which, without it, would have no longer any motive for abstaining from vice, You look upon a reform of religious prejudices as impossible, because it is the interest of many of those persons who alone can effect it, to continue mankind in that ignorance of which themselves reap the advan