Fiction > Montesquieu > Persian Letters
Montesquieu (1689–1755).  Persian Letters.  1901.
Letter XLVI
Usbek to Rhedi, at Venice
I MEET here certain people who are never done discussing religion, but who seem at the same time to contend as to who shall observe it least.  1
  These disputants are, however, no better Christians, nor even better citizens, than others; and that it is that moves me: for the principal part of any religion consists in obedience to the laws, in loving mankind, and in revering one’s parents.  2
  Indeed, ought it not to be the chief aim of a religious man to please the Deity who has founded the religion which he professes? But the surest way to please God is, without doubt, to obey the laws of society, and do our duty toward men. For, whatever religion we may profess, as soon as we grant its existence, it becomes at once necessary to assume that God loves men, since He establishes a religion for their happiness: then, since He loves men, we are certain of pleasing Him in loving them too—in other words, in fulfilling all the duties of charity and humanity, and in breaking none of the laws under which men live.  3
  We are much more certain of pleasing God in this way, than in the observance of this or that ceremony; for ceremonies have no goodness in themselves; they are only relatively good, and on the supposition that God has commanded them. But this is a subject which might be discussed endlessly; and one could easily deceive oneself regarding it, because it is necessary to choose the rites of one religion from among those of two thousand.  4
  A man prayed to God daily in the following terms: “Lord, I do not understand any of those discussions that are carried on without end regarding Thee: I would serve Thee according to Thy will; but each man whom I consult would have me serve Thee according to his. When I desire to pray, I know not in which language to address Thee. Nor do I know what posture to adopt: one bids me pray standing; another, sitting; and another requires me to kneel. That is not all: there are some who insist that I ought to wash every morning in cold water; others maintain that Thou regardest me with horror if I do not remove a certain small portion of my flesh. I happened the other day to eat of a rabbit in a caravansary: three men who were present made me tremble: all three maintained that I had grievously offended Thee; one 1 because that animal was unclean; another, 2 because it had been strangled; and the third, 3 because it was not a fish. A Brahman who was passing by, and whom I asked to be our judge, said to me, ‘They are all wrong, for it appears that you did not kill the animal yourself.’ ‘I did, though,’ said I. ‘Ah, then, you have committed an abominable act, which God will never pardon,’ said he to me, in a severe tone. ‘How do you know that the soul of your father had not passed into that beast?’ All these things, O Lord, trouble me beyond expression. I cannot move my head but I am threatened with Thy wrath. Nevertheless I would please Thee, and devote to that end the life which Thou hast given me. I may be deceiving myself; but I think that the best means to accomplish this aim is to live as a good citizen in the society where Thou hast placed me, and as a good father in the family which Thou hast given me.”

  PARIS, the 8th of the moon of Chahban, 1713.
Note 1. A Jew.—(M.) [back]
Note 2. A Turk.—(M.) [back]
Note 3. An Armenian.—(M.) [back]

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