Voltaire was certainly no friend of Christianity, or any of the major religions for that matter. But as I will soon demonstrate, he was not being flippant or trying to be cute or funny when he penned those words. Rather, he used them in a serious attack against someone who would — sadly — be considered all too ‘main stream’ were he alive today. Still, enemy as he was, he is also an ally. He was an ally because he knew and understood and faithfully defended logic in the pursuit of right reasoning. To that end, I hope he will help me clarify a common point of confusion in our modern world: that it is impossible to have liberty without morality, and equally impossible to have morality without a Creator — God.
In my last post on this subject, I confused the situation by using the term ‘religion’ as the American founders often did: to be understood as interchangeably with what we commonly call ‘faith’ today. I suppose this was brought on by my familiarity with the founders — having read so much of what they wrote with their own hands. However,m rather than try to explain the confusion and then try to assign a different term, I will consciously choose to stay with the language of America’s founding. I find today’s language to be far too lawless to be sure I will be understood by those who may listen and heed what our founders had to say.
Religion is usually the work of man, and as such, it is usually a perversion of God’s Word and Law. In essence, when man creates religion, he is trying to take God’s seat on His throne. He does this through his presumption that he — man — can write the universal law of morality. However, our founders also used the term to describe the doctrines of pure faith. They assumed the readers of their day would be educated well enough to determine which was intended by the context of the discussion. That this is true can be found in Franklin’s declaration of his religion; of what — at the time of the founding — could rightly be called the American religion:
To Ezra Stiles, 9 March 1790 (B 12:185-6):
You desire to know something of my religion. It is the first time I have been questioned upon it. But I cannot take your curiosity amiss, and shall endeavor in a few words to gratify it. Here is my creed. I believe in one God, the creator of the universe. That he governs by his providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion, and I regard them as you do in whatever sect I meet with them.
The founders built this nation upon this expression of faith. The founders were adamant that, without a popular belief in and support for such a faith, liberty was not possible, and neither was a free and self-governing society. Voltaire agreed. This is just a small excerpt of the poem he wrote in response to an Atheist who claimed the notion of God was a lie and superstitious belief. It is from this poem that the quote at the top of this page was drawn (you can find the full text here):
Insipid writer, you pretend to draw for your readers
The portraits of your 3 impostors;
How is it that, witlessly, you have become the fourth?
Why, poor enemy of the supreme essence,
Do you confuse Mohammed and the Creator,
And the deeds of man with God, his author?…
Criticize the servant, but respect the master.
God should not suffer for the stupidity of the priest:
Let us recognize this God, although he is poorly served.
My lodging is filled with lizards and rats;
But the architect exists, and anyone who denies it
Is touched with madness under the guise of wisdom.
Consult Zoroaster, and Minos, and Solon,
And the martyr Socrates, and the great Cicero:
They all adored a master, a judge, a father.
This sublime system is necessary to man.
It is the sacred tie that binds society,
The first foundation of holy equity,
The bridle to the wicked, the hope of the just.
If the heavens, stripped of his noble imprint,
Could ever cease to attest to his being,
If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.
Let the wise man announce him and kings fear him.
Kings, if you oppress me, if your eminencies disdain
The tears of the innocent that you cause to flow,
My avenger is in the heavens: learn to tremble.
Such, at least, is the fruit of a useful creed.
But you, faulty logician, whose sad foolishness
Dares to reassure them in the path of crime,
What fruit do you expect to reap from your fine arguments?
Will your children be more obedient to your voice?
Your friends, at time of need, more useful and reliable?
Your wife more honest? and your new renter,
For not believing in God, will he pay you better?
Alas! let’s leave intact human belief in fear and hope.
Clearly, Voltaire was making a positive argument for the necessity of God to the preservation of civil society. What’s more, he hammers those who would judge God by the fault of those who profess to believe in and follow Him. He even point out — and correctly so — that the person who wrote the original work to which he was reacting had a poor command of logic bordering on foolishness. The true shame here is that, when it came to his evaluation of other religions, Voltaire did not heed his own advice against judging God by His followers.
The point here is simple: all who know, understand and are loyal to the laws which govern logic and right reason acknowledge that it is impossible for man to create a universal moral law. At the same time, those who are wise also recognize it is equally impossible to maintain a free and self-governing society without a universal moral law: a moral law that applies to everyone equally — especially those who lead and rule over society. But a universal law requires a Law Giver, and if logic dictates that it cannot be a man, then that leaves no choice but that there must be a God. If there is not, then man would have to invent Him lest society forever wallow under the oppression of the law of the jungle: the law of ‘might-makes-right.’
The faulty logic here is in thinking that man can determine what is right and wrong. If there is no God, then who appointed the man or woman who proposes to make that determination to the position of a god? Sure, many have tried, and they all claim to have done so using reason. This is the source of the assumed intellectual superiority I wrote about on The OYL. the problem with all of those who have claimed they succeeded without God — Mill, Rand — even Marx — is that they all based their arguments on false premises. In other words, they broke the rules of logic in ‘proving’ that logic can define universal morality. They are all wrong because they all refused to see they were claiming to be gods. You cannot deny god exists and then presume to be a god and expect logic to support you. It is a contradiction, and logic abhors contradiction.
Sadly, I suspect that those who understand this do not need me to explain it, and those who do not understand it never will no matter how many times and in how many different ways I try. But still, I will try to illustrate the point once more.
Suppose I tell you I have a perfect system of moral law based entirely on what is best for society. I have designed a perfect democracy where the majority rules. Since society and the most good for the most people is the goal, the individual does not matter. he or she is expected to sacrifice themselves for the majority. But you come along and claim that the individual has rights, and that those rights are the source of morality. So we engage in an intellectual battle. Both of us design rock-solid logical arguments by ‘proving’ that our system of morality is sound, valid and rational. According to the rules of logic, if we have two or more sound, valid and rational arguments, the only way to choose between which is the best is to choose which premise is the best. So how do you choose between all of society and the individual? And, even if you can figure that out, by what authority do you claim the power to make your decision binding on all humans, at all times? Only pride and arrogance does that, but then, are those not ‘bad’ things? Are you starting to see the problem yet? Logic is neutral, therefore, it cannot design the perfect universal moral law. All it can do is discover it!
Fortunately, there have been people who have discovered that a Universal Law of Morality does exist and that the human heart is born with a natural ability to recognize it. Job did it, as well as Cicero and the Apostle Paul and Locke after him. Jefferson even echoed that it is self-evident.. Even as a child, we recognize when we have been wronged. It’s just that we loose this ability with time. As we grow more and more self-absorbed, my filled with pride and less and less responsive to God and His laws, we lose touch with our conscience. But this does not mean that law ceases to exist: it does not. If it did; if there were no moral law; then the notion of any law would be an absurdity. It would be equivalent to accusing a lion of murder when he kills and eats a zebra. This is why Voltaire said such people show their foolishness through their faulty use of logic: because they do.