Friday, June 26, 2009

The Theist

The theist is a man firmly persuaded of the existence of a Supreme Being, as good as He is powerful, who has created all beings that are extensive, vegetative, sentient, and reflective; who perpetuates their species, who punishes crimes without cruelty, and rewards virtuous actions with kindness.

The theist does not know how God punishes, how he protects, how he pardons, for he is not bold enough to flatter himself that he knows how God acts, but he knows that God acts and that He is just. Arguments against Providence do not shake him in his faith, because they are merely great arguments, and not proofs. He submits this to Providence, although he perceives only a few effects and a few signs of this Providence: and--judging of the things he does not see by the things he does see--he considers that this providence extends to all time and space.

United by this principle with the rest of the universe, he does not embrace any of the sects, all of which contradict one another. His religion is the most ancient and the most widespread, for the simple worship of a God has preceded all of the systems of the world. He speaks a language that all peoples understand, while they do not understand one another. He has brothers from Peking to Cayenne, and he counts all wise men as his brethren. He believes that religion does not consist either in the opinions of an unintelligible metaphysic, or in vain display, but in worship and justice.

The doing of good, there is his service; being submissive to God, there is his doctrine.

The Mohammedan cries to him: "Have a care if you do not make the pilgrimage to Mecca!" "Woe unto you," says a Recollet, "if you do not make a journey to our Lady of Loretto!"

He laughs at Loretto and at Mecca; but he succors the needy and he defends the oppressed.

-- Voltaire, Dictionnaire Philosophique, from The Portable Voltaire, pp. 207-208

3 comments:

  1. There's a comment of a similar sentiment in the July/August issue of Relevant Magazine. The author of the article comments that oftentimes we don't actually have faith in God, but in a faith about God.

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  2. So then, by this definition, is it fair to say a theist cannot accept even the concept of a "Christ"?

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  3. @ Johnathan: Given Voltaire's rather positive view of Jesus, I'm not sure that's entirely true. Sure, it's largely intellectualized and rational. But the concept of a human being anointed by God's presence...which is the basic meaning of both the Greek "Christ" and the Hebrew "Meshiach"...is not incompatible with enlightenment theism.

    He didn't tend to pose things that way, but neither is the idea antithetical to Voltaire's approach to faith.

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