How the Woke monster originated
One might ask: Why doesn’t this site pay homage to Voltaire or the French philosophers, so anti-Christian they were?
The answer is devastatingly simple.
They were all secular Christians, what we have been calling neochristians (read Ferdinand Bardamu’s essay in The Fair Race’s Darkest Hour). They all broke with church dogma, true: but not with the ethical code that underlies Christianity.
For the fourteen words, a secular ‘Christianity’ like that of the French Enlightenment is even more dangerous than traditional Christianity, since the atheist, the agnostic or the deist of other times believes he has emancipated himself when in reality he is as much an axiological slave to the religion of our ancestors as the most fundamentalist or bigoted Calvinist.
After a few pages in which Tom Holland told us of the horrible torture and death inflicted on an innocent Frenchman for religious reasons, and how Voltaire reacted with pamphlets to this outrage perpetrated by Catholics, he quoted the most famous French philosopher:
‘He has his brethren from Beijing to Cayenne, and he reckons all the wise his brothers.’
Yet this, of course, was merely to proclaim another sect—and, what was more, one with some very familiar pretensions. The dream of a universal religion was nothing if not catholic. Ever since the time of Luther, attempts by Christians to repair the torn fabric of Christendom had served only to shred it further. The charges that Voltaire levelled against Christianity—that it was bigoted, that it was superstitious, that its scriptures were rife with contradictions—were none of them original to him. All had been honed, over the course of two centuries and more, by pious Christians. Voltaire’s God, like the Quakers’, like the Collegiants’, like Spinoza’s, was a deity whose contempt for sectarian wrangling owed everything to sectarian wrangling. ‘Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy, that is the very foolish daughter of a wise and intelligent mother.’ Voltaire’s dream of a brotherhood of man, even as it cast Christianity as something fractious, parochial, murderous, could not help but betray its Christian roots. Just as Paul had proclaimed that there was neither Jew nor Greek in Christ Jesus, so—in a future blessed with full enlightenment—was there destined to be neither Jew nor Christian nor Muslim. Their every difference would be dissolved. Humanity would be as one.
‘You are all sons of God.’ Paul’s epochal conviction that the world stood on the brink of a new dispensation, that the knowledge of it would be written on people’s hearts, that old identities and divisions would melt and vanish away, had not released its hold on the philosophes. Even those who pushed their quest for ‘the light of reason’ to overtly blasphemous extremes could not help but remain its heirs.
In 1719—three years before the young Voltaire’s arrival in the Dutch Republic, on his ever first trip abroad—a book had been printed there so monstrous that its ‘mere title evoked fear’. The Treatise of the Three Imposters, although darkly rumoured to have had a clandestine existence since the age of Conrad of Marburg, had in reality been compiled by a coterie of Huguenots in The Hague. As indicated by its alternative title—The Spirit of Spinoza—it was a book very much of its time. Nevertheless, its solution to the rival understandings of religion that had led to the Huguenots’ exile from France was one to put even the Theological- Political Treatise in the shade. Christ, far from being ‘the voice of God’, as Spinoza had argued, had been a charlatan: a sly seller of false dreams. His disciples had been imbeciles, his miracles trickery. There was no need for Christians to argue over scripture. The Bible was nothing but a spider’s web of lies. Yet the authors of the Treatise, although they certainly aspired to heal the divisions between Protestants and Catholics by demonstrating that Christianity itself was nothing but a fraud, did not rest content with that ambition. They remained sufficiently Christian that they wished to bring light to the entire world. Jews and Muslims too were dupes. Jesus ranked alongside Moses and Muhammad as one of three imposters. All religion was a hoax. Even Voltaire was shocked. No less committed than any priest to the truth of his own understanding of God, he viewed the blasphemies of the Treatise as blatant atheism, and quite as pernicious as superstition. Briefly taking a break from mocking Christians for their sectarian rivalries, he wrote a poem warning his readers not to trust the model of enlightenment being peddled by underground radicals. The Treatise itself was an imposture. Some sense of the divine was needed, or else society would fall apart. ‘If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him’…
The standards by which he judged Christianity, and condemned it for its faults, were not universal. They were not shared by philosophers across the world. They were not common from Beijing to Cayenne. They were distinctively, peculiarly Christian… Atheist though he was, Diderot was too honest not to acknowledge the likeliest answer. ‘If there were a Christ, I assure you that Voltaire would be saved.’
The roots of Christianity stretched too deep, too thick, coiled too implacably around the foundations of everything that constituted the fabric of France, gripped too tightly its venerable and massive stonework, to be pulled up with any ease. In a realm long hailed as the eldest daughter of the Church, the ambition of setting the world on a new order, of purging it of superstition, of redeeming it from tyranny, could hardly help but be shot through with Christian assumptions. The dreams of the philosophes were both novel and not novel in the slightest. [pages 392-395]
For new visitors to this site, when I mentioned The Fair Race I was referring to a book whose PDF is available with some of our other recommended books.