My one regret in dying is that I cannot aid you in this noble enterprise, the finest and most respectable which the human mind can point out.
It is characteristic of fanatics who read the holy scriptures to tell themselves: God killed, so I must kill; Abraham lied, Jacob deceived, Rachel stole: so I must steal, deceive, lie. But, wretch, you are neither Rachel, nor Jacob, nor Abraham, nor God; you are just a mad fool, and the popes who forbade the reading of the Bible were extremely wise.
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Voltaire's opinion of the Bible was mixed. Although influenced by Socinian works such as the Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum , Voltaire's skeptical attitude to the Bible separated him from Unitarian theologians like Fausto Sozzini or even Biblical-political writers like John Locke.
The deeply Christian Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote to his father the year of Voltaire's death, saying, "The arch-scoundrel Voltaire has finally kicked the bucket As Christianity advances, disasters befall the [Roman] empire—arts, science, literature, decay—barbarism and all its revolting concomitants are made to seem the consequences of its decisive triumph—and the unwary reader is conducted, with matchless dexterity, to the desired conclusion—the abominable Manicheism of Candide , and, in fact, of all the productions of Voltaire's historic school—viz.
However, Voltaire also acknowledged the self-sacrifice of Christians. He wrote: "Perhaps there is nothing greater on earth than the sacrifice of youth and beauty, often of high birth, made by the gentle sex in order to work in hospitals for the relief of human misery, the sight of which is so revolting to our delicacy. Peoples separated from the Roman religion have imitated but imperfectly so generous a charity.
The attack, launched at first against clericalism and theocracy, ended in a furious assault upon Holy Scripture, the dogmas of the Church, and even upon the person of Jesus Christ Himself, who [he] depicted now as a degenerate". According to Orthodox rabbi Joseph Telushkin , the most significant Enlightenment hostility against Judaism was found in Voltaire;  thirty of the articles in his Dictionnaire philosophique dealt with Jews and described them in consistently negative ways.
Whatever anti-semitism Voltaire may have felt, Gay suggests, derived from negative personal experience. His remarks on the Jews and their "superstitions" were essentially no different from his remarks on Christians. Telushkin states that Voltaire did not limit his attack to aspects of Judaism that Christianity used as a foundation, repeatedly making it clear that he despised Jews. Some authors link Voltaire's anti-Judaism to his polygenism. According to Joxe Azurmendi this anti-Judaism has a relative importance in Voltaire's philosophy of history.
However, Voltaire's anti-Judaism influences later authors like Ernest Renan. According to the historian Will Durant , Voltaire had initially condemned the persecution of Jews on several occasions including in his work Henriade. However, subsequently, Voltaire had become strongly anti-Semitic after some regrettable personal financial transactions and quarrels with Jewish financiers. In his Essai sur les moeurs Voltaire had denounced the ancient Hebrews using strong language; a Catholic priest had protested against this censure. The anti-Semitic passages in Voltaire's Dictionnaire philosophique were criticized by Issac Pinto in Subsequently, Voltaire agreed with the criticism of his anti-Semitic views and stated that he had been "wrong to attribute to a whole nation the vices of some individuals";  he also promised to revise the objectionable passages for forthcoming editions of the Dictionnaire philosophique , but failed to do so.
Voltaire's views about Islam remained negative as he considered the Quran to be ignorant of the laws of physics. Referring to the prophet, Voltaire continued in his letter, "But that a camel-merchant should stir up insurrection in his village; that in league with some miserable followers he persuades them that he talks with the angel Gabriel; that he boasts of having been carried to heaven, where he received in part this unintelligible book, each page of which makes common sense shudder; that, to pay homage to this book, he delivers his country to iron and flame; that he cuts the throats of fathers and kidnaps daughters; that he gives to the defeated the choice of his religion or death: this is assuredly nothing any man can excuse, at least if he was not born a Turk, or if superstition has not extinguished all natural light in him.
It must be admitted that he removed almost all of Asia from idolatry" and that "it was difficult for such a simple and wise religion, taught by a man who was constantly victorious, could hardly fail to subjugate a portion of the earth. As a historian he devoted several chapters to Islam,    Voltaire highlighted the Arabian, Turkish courts, and conducts.
The play is a study of religious fanaticism and self-serving manipulation. The character Muhammad orders the murder of his critics. Voltaire described Muhammad as an "impostor", a "false prophet", a "fanatic" and a "hypocrite". In his play, Mohammed was "whatever trickery can invent that is most atrocious and whatever fanaticism can accomplish that is most horrifying.
Mahomet here is nothing other than Tartuffe with armies at his command. Voltaire continues about Islam, saying:. Nothing is more terrible than a people who, having nothing to lose, fight in the united spirit of rapine and of religion. In a letter recommending the play to Pope Benedict XIV , Voltaire described Muhammad as "the founder of a false and barbarous sect" and "a false prophet". Voltaire wrote: "Your holiness will pardon the liberty taken by one of the lowest of the faithful, though a zealous admirer of virtue, of submitting to the head of the true religion this performance, written in opposition to the founder of a false and barbarous sect.
To whom could I with more propriety inscribe a satire on the cruelty and errors of a false prophet, than to the vicar and representative of a God of truth and mercy? Commenting on the sacred texts of the Hindus, the Vedas , Voltaire observed:. The Veda was the most precious gift for which the West had ever been indebted to the East.
He regarded Hindus as "a peaceful and innocent people, equally incapable of hurting others or of defending themselves. The works of Confucius were translated into European languages through the agency of Jesuit scholars stationed in China. Translations of Confucian texts influenced European thinkers of the period,  particularly among the Deists and other philosophical groups of the Enlightenment who were interested by the integration of the system of morality of Confucius into Western civilisation.
Confucius has no interest in falsehood; he did not pretend to be prophet; he claimed no inspiration; he taught no new religion; he used no delusions; flattered not the emperor under whom he lived With the translation of Confucian texts during the Enlightenment , the concept of a meritocracy reached intellectuals in the West, who saw it as an alternative to the traditional ancient regime of Europe.
Voltaire rejected the biblical Adam and Eve story and was a polygenist who speculated that each race had entirely separate origins. His most famous remark on slavery is found in Candide , where the hero is horrified to learn "at what price we eat sugar in Europe" after coming across a slave in French Guiana who has been mutilated for escaping, who opines that, if all human beings have common origins as the Bible taught, it makes them cousins, concluding that "no one could treat their relatives more horribly". Elsewhere, he wrote caustically about "whites and Christians [who] proceed to purchase negroes cheaply, in order to sell them dear in America".
Voltaire has been accused of supporting the slave trade as per a letter attributed to him,    although it has been suggested that this letter is a forgery "since no satisfying source attests to the letter's existence. In his Philosophical Dictionary , Voltaire endorses Montesquieu 's criticism of the slave trade: "Montesquieu was almost always in error with the learned, because he was not learned, but he was almost always right against the fanatics and the promoters of slavery.
Zeev Sternhell argues that despite his shortcomings, Voltaire was a forerunner of liberal pluralism in his approach to history and non-European cultures. This great misunderstanding about Chinese rituals has come about because we have judged their usages by ours, for we carry the prejudices of our contentious spirit to the end of the world. When writing about India, he declares, "It is time for us to give up the shameful habit of slandering all sects and insulting all nations!
According to Victor Hugo : "To name Voltaire is to characterize the entire eighteenth century. The more I read Voltaire the more I love him. He is a man always reasonable, never a charlatan, never a fanatic. In Russia, Catherine the Great had been reading Voltaire for sixteen years prior to becoming Empress in The content of these letters has been described as being akin to a student writing to a teacher.
Gogol , Vissarion Belinsky wrote that Voltaire "stamped out the fires of fanaticism and ignorance in Europe by ridicule. When Comte de Lally was executed for treason in , Voltaire wrote a page document absolving de Lally. Subsequently, in , the judgment against de Lally was expunged just before Voltaire's death. The Genevan Protestant minister Pomaret once said to Voltaire, "You seem to attack Christianity, and yet you do the work of a Christian.
Under the French Third Republic , anarchists and socialists often invoked Voltaire's writings in their struggles against militarism, nationalism, and the Catholic Church. Italy had a Renaissance , and Germany had a Reformation , but France had Voltaire; he was for his country both Renaissance and Reformation, and half the Revolution.
His spirit moved like a flame over the continent and the century, and stirs a million souls in every generation.
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Voltaire's junior contemporary Jean-Jacques Rousseau commented on how Voltaire's book Letters on the English played a great role in his intellectual development. Subsequently, when Rousseau sent Voltaire a copy of his book Discourse on Inequality , Voltaire replied, noting his disagreement with the views expressed in the book:.
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No one has ever employed so much intellect to persuade men to be beasts. However, as it is more than sixty years since I lost that habit, I feel, unfortunately, that it is impossible for me to resume it. No more about Jean-Jacques' romance if you please. I have read it, to my sorrow, and it would be to his if I had time to say what I think of this silly book.
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Voltaire speculated that the first half of Julie had been written in a brothel and the second half in a lunatic asylum. Paris recognized Voltaire's hand and judged the patriarch to be bitten by jealousy. In reviewing Rousseau's book Emile after its publication, Voltaire dismissed it as "a hodgepodge of a silly wet nurse in four volumes, with forty pages against Christianity, among the boldest ever known.
In , Rousseau published Lettres de la montagne , containing nine letters on religion and politics. In the fifth letter he wondered why Voltaire had not been able to imbue the Genevan councilors, who frequently met him, "with that spirit of tolerance which he preaches without cease, and of which he sometimes has need".
The letter continued with an imaginary speech delivered by Voltaire, imitating his literary style, in which he accepts authorship for the book Sermon of the Fifty —a book whose authorship Voltaire had repeatedly denied because it contained many heresies. In , when a priest sent Rousseau a pamphlet denouncing Voltaire, Rousseau responded with a defense of Voltaire:. He has said and done so many good things that we should draw the curtain over his irregularities.
This was met by a sharp retort from Rousseau:. How dare you mock the honors rendered to Voltaire in the temple of which he is the god, and by the priests who for fifty years have been living off his masterpieces? On 2 July , Rousseau died one month after Voltaire's death. Louis XVI , while incarcerated in the Temple , had remarked that Rousseau and Voltaire had "destroyed France", by which he meant his dynasty. Voltaire perceived the French bourgeoisie to be too small and ineffective, the aristocracy to be parasitic and corrupt, the commoners as ignorant and superstitious, and the Church as a static and oppressive force useful only on occasion as a counterbalance to the rapacity of kings, although all too often, even more rapacious itself.
Voltaire distrusted democracy, which he saw as propagating the idiocy of the masses. But his disappointments and disillusions with Frederick the Great changed his philosophy somewhat, and soon gave birth to one of his most enduring works, his novella Candide, ou l'Optimisme Candide, or Optimism, , which ends with a new conclusion: "It is up to us to cultivate our garden.
Candide was also burned and Voltaire jokingly claimed the actual author was a certain 'Demad' in a letter, where he reaffirmed the main polemical stances of the text. He particularly had admiration for the ethics and government as exemplified by the Chinese philosopher Confucius. Voltaire is also known for many memorable aphorisms, such as " Si Dieu n'existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer " "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him" , contained in a verse epistle from , addressed to the anonymous author of a controversial work on The Three Impostors.
But far from being the cynical remark it is often taken for, it was meant as a retort to atheistic opponents such as d'Holbach , Grimm , and others. The Scottish Victorian writer Thomas Carlyle argued that "Voltaire read history, not with the eye of devout seer or even critic, but through a pair of mere anti-catholic spectacles. The town of Ferney, where Voltaire lived out the last 20 years of his life, was officially named Ferney-Voltaire in honor of its most famous resident in In the Zurich of , the theatre and performance group who would become the early avant-garde movement Dada named their theater The Cabaret Voltaire.
A lateth-century industrial music group then named themselves after the theater. Astronomers have bestowed his name to the Voltaire crater on Deimos and the asteroid Voltaire. Voltaire was also known to have been an advocate for coffee, as he was reported to have drunk it 50—72 times per day. It has been suggested that high amounts of caffeine acted as a mental stimulant to his creativity.
In the s, the bibliographer and translator Theodore Besterman started to collect, transcribe and publish all of Voltaire's writings. Voltaire wrote between fifty and sixty plays, including a few unfinished ones. The complex soul of France seemed to have divided itself into these two men, so different and yet so French. Nietzsche speaks of " la gaya scienza , the light feet, wit, fire, grace, strong logic, arrogant intellectuality, the dance of the stars"—surely he was thinking of Voltaire.
Now beside Voltaire put Rousseau:all heat and fantasy, a man with noble and jejune visions, the idol of la bourgeois gentile-femme , announcing like Pascal that the heart has its reason which the head can never understand. In Chisholm, Hugh ed.
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