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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
On Religion
By Montesquieu (1689–1755)
 
From ‘The Spirit of Laws’: Translation of Thomas Nugent

THE DIFFERENT religions of the world do not give to those who profess them equal motives of attachment: this depends greatly on the manner in which they agree with the turn of thought and perceptions of mankind. We are extremely addicted to idolatry, and yet have no great inclination for the religion of idolaters; we are not very fond of spiritual ideas, and yet are most attached to those religions which teach us to adore a spiritual being. This proceeds from the satisfaction we find in ourselves at having been so intelligent as to choose a religion which raises the Deity from that baseness in which he had been placed by others. We look upon idolatry as the religion of an ignorant people; and the religion which has a spiritual being for its object as that of the most enlightened nations.  1
  When with a doctrine that gives us the idea of a spiritual supreme being, we can still join those of a sensible nature, and admit them into our worship, we contract a greater attachment to religion; because those motives which we have just mentioned are added to our natural inclinations for the objects of sense. Thus the Catholics, who have more of this kind of worship than the Protestants, are more attached to their religion than the Protestants are to theirs, and more zealous for its propagation.  2
  When the people of Ephesus were informed that the fathers of the council had declared they might call the Virgin Mary the Mother of God, they were transported with joy; they kissed the hands of the bishops, they embraced their knees, and the whole city resounded with acclamations.  3
  When an intellectual religion superadds a choice made by the Deity, and a preference of those who profess it to those who do not, this greatly attaches us to religion. The Mahometans would not be such good Mussulmans, if on the one hand there were not idolatrous nations who make them imagine themselves the champions of the unity of God; and on the other, Christians to make them believe that they are the objects of his preference.  4
  A religion burthened with many ceremonies attaches us to it more strongly than that which has a fewer number. We have an extreme propensity to things in which we are continually employed: witness the obstinate prejudices of the Mahometans and the Jews, and the readiness with which barbarous and savage nations change their religion,—who, as they are employed entirely in hunting or war, have but few religious ceremonies.  5
  Men are extremely inclined to the passions of hope and fear: a religion therefore that had neither a heaven nor a hell could hardly please them. This is proved by the ease with which foreign religions have been established in Japan, and the zeal and fondness with which they were received.  6
  In order to raise an attachment to religion, it is necessary that it should inculcate pure morals. Men who are knaves by retail are extremely honest in the gross: they love morality. And were I not treating of so grave a subject, I should say that this appears remarkably evident in our theatres: we are sure of pleasing the people by sentiments avowed by morality; we are sure of shocking them by those it disapproves.  7
  When external worship is attended with great magnificence, it flatters our minds, and strongly attaches us to religion. The riches of temples, and those of the clergy, greatly affect us. Thus, even the misery of the people is a motive that renders them fond of a religion which has served as a pretext to those who were the cause of their misery.  8
 
 
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