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On Examining Religion

A Unique Text by a Great French Philosopher
of the 18th Century, Praised in the “Mahatma Letters”
 
 
Baron Holbach

 
 
  
Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach
 
 
 
A 2010 Editorial Note:
 
It is not without a reason that the German-French philosopher Paul-Henry Thiry, Baron D’Holbach (1723-1789), was mentioned twice and strongly praised in one of the most important volumes of the esoteric literature in all times, “The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett”.
 
In the second half of 18th century, Baron D’Holbach played a major role in the French Enlightenment effort, which happened before the 1789-1793 Revolution. It was in the Baron’s house that some of the most important thinkers in those times, including Voltaire, Rousseau and Diderot, got together in order to exchange ideas. The Baron himself has been unjustly forgotten by many. Published anonymously and secretly distributed in order to avoid persecution, the books written by this powerful thinker have important lessons to teach humanity in the 21st century,  and possibly beyond it. 
 
What exactly can this Western thinker have in common with the Eastern Mahatmas? 
 
While discussing the false idea of a monotheistic God, a Sage of the Himalayas wrote in the famous Letter X:
 
“The God of the Theologians is simply an imaginary power, un loup garou as D’Holbach expressed it - a power which has never yet manifested itself. Our chief aim is to deliver humanity of this nightmare, to teach man virtue for its own sake, and to walk in life relying on himself instead of leaning on a theological crutch, that for countless ages was the direct cause of nearly all human misery.”[1]
 
And again, it is said in another Letter:  
 
“Strangely enough I found a European author - the greatest materialist of his times, Baron D’Holbach - whose views coincide entirely with the views of our philosophy. When reading his Essais sur la Nature, I might have imagined I had our book of Kiu-ti before me.”[2]
 
One can only conclude that serious students of Esoteric Philosophy must have an interest in reading this uncommon German-French philosopher. But his books are equally useful to the general reader and to the common sense citizen who wants to understand what is conventional  and institutionalized religion really about.   
 
The extraordinary text reproduced below is Chapter 1 - Introduction of the Baron’s book “Christianity Unveiled” [3].  
 
It should be mentioned that, whether by a coincidence or not, the title of “Christianity Unveiled” partly anticipates that of the first book Helena Petrovna Blavatsky wrote. Living one century after the Baron, Mrs. Blavatsky  was starting her own Mission to help liberate mankind from religious superstition when she published, in 1877, her work “Isis Unveiled”. 
 
(Carlos Cardoso Aveline)
 
NOTES:
 
[1] “The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett”, transcribed by A. T. Barker, Theosophical University Press, T.U.P., Pasadena, California, 1992, 494 pp., see Letter X, p. 53.
 
[2] “The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett”, Letter XXIII-B, p. 155.
 
[3] “Christianity Unveiled”, Baron D’Holbach, “Rescued From Obscurity Series”, With an Introduction and Notes by David Holohan, Hodgson Press, Great Britain, 2008, 518 pp., see pp. 15-19.
 
 
On the necessity of examining religion and
the obstacles encountered to this examination
 
Baron D’Holbach
 
 
Every action reasonable people take should have as its motivating force their own happiness and that of their fellows.
 
Everything conspires toward demonstrating to us that religion is the most important element for our temporal and eternal bliss, and that it has advantages for us not only for our passage through this world, but also in the next, in that its flattering promises offered to us will be honoured. Our duties towards the god, whom we regard as the master of our destiny, can only be founded on the benefits which we expect from him, or on the misfortunes we fear from him. Hence, it is necessary that man examine the grounds for his hopes and fears. To this end, he must have regard to his experience and reason, which are his sole guides here below.
 
The advantages religion procures for Christians in this visible world they inhabit are the basis on which they will be able to judge the reality of those advantages dangled before their eyes by religion in the invisible world, towards which they are ordered to turn their gaze.
 
For the most part people hold to their religion only by habit. They have never seriously examined the reasons which bind them to religion or the motives for their conduct, or the foundations of their opinions. Hence, the thing which everyone regards as the most important thing in their lives has always been that which they have been most afraid of digging deeper into. People follow the paths their forbears have trodden; they believe because they have been told that they ought to do so from infancy; they hope because their ancestors hoped; they tremble because their predecessors trembled; they have almost never deigned to understand the reasons for their beliefs.
 
Very few people have the spare time or the ability to examine and contemplate the objects of their habitual veneration, of their such ill-considered attachment and their traditional fears. Nations are always swept along by a torrent of habits, examples and prejudices. One’s upbringing habituates one’s mind to the most hideous opinions, just as the body does to the most embarrassing of attitudes. Everything which has stood the test of time seems sacred to people who feel guilty if they turn their timid gaze to examine those things which bear the imprimatur of antiquity.
 
Predisposed towards the wisdom of their forbears, people are not so presumptuous as to examine their heritage and they do not see that mankind has always been duped by prejudices, by hopes and fears, and that the same reasons have rendered them almost always impervious to inquiry.
 
The common people, wrapped up in the material necessities of life, place a blind confidence in those who claim to guide them. They abdicate to them the bother of thinking for themselves, they subscribe effortlessly to all that is prescribed for them, and they believe that they will offend God if they doubted for a moment the faith of those who speak to them in his name. The rich, the great and the good of this world, find it personally advantageous to conform to received prejudices and even to maintain the status quo, even though they are more enlightened than the common people.
 
Either that, or given over to indolence, to dissipation and pleasures, they are totally incapable of bothering with a religion which they always subjugate to their ardour, to their inclinations and to their desire to have a good time. In infancy we absorb all the impressions given to us, since we do not have the intellectual capacity, the experience or the courage needed to question what we are taught by those upon whom our feebleness has cast us. In adolescence our ardent passions and the constant exhilaration of our senses stop us from thinking about a religion, which is too problematic and too depressing to occupy our more agreeable moments.
 
If, by chance, a young man looks into religion, he does so haphazardly or with bias - a mere superficial glance at such a disgusting thing soon puts him off. In our mature years, beset by different cares, with new preoccupations absorbing our attention, with ambitious plans of grandeur and power, the pursuit of wealth and the contemplation of occupations followed - all these things engross people’s full attention, leaving almost no time to contemplate a religion whose depths one never had the time to plumb in the first place. In old age, with one’s numbed faculties, mechanical habits and organs weakened by age and infirmity, there is no longer any opportunity to return to the source of deep-rooted opinions. Besides, with the fear of death at the forefront of a mind commonly in the grip of mortal terror, any examination of religion would appear somewhat suspicious.
 
Thus it is that religious opinions, once assimilated, stand their ground for centuries at a stretch. It is thus that, from age to age, nations hand down ideas that have never been properly examined. They believe that their welfare is bound to institutions, which a more mature examination would reveal them to be the source of the majority of their ills. The powers that be yet again provide support for people’s prejudices and keep them from inquiry, forcing them towards ignorance, and they are always ready to punish whosoever might try to disabuse people of their deception.
 
So let us not be at all surprised if we see error almost inextricably interwoven with human-kind; everything seems to conspire to perpetuate people’s blinkered state and all forces conjoin to mask the truth. Tyrants detest truth and suppress it because it dares challenge their unjust and fanciful titles; the priesthood denounces truth because it shows their lavish claims to be bogus; ignorance, passivity and people’s strong emotions make accomplices of everyone in whose interest it is to blind others, to keep them under the yoke and to take advantage of their misfortunes. Thus it is that nations travail under hereditary misfortunes which they never think to remedy, either because they do not know their source or because habit accustoms them to misfortune, and it even robs them of the desire to lessen their burden.
 
If religion be the most important thing in our lives, if it, of necessity, influences the whole conduct of our life, and if its influence extends not only to our existence in this world, but also to the world promised to man hereafter, then undoubtedly there is nothing which demands of us a more serious examination. However, it is of all things the very issue wherein the average man in the street shows the most gullibility. A person who is prepared to conduct the most meticulous examination into the least issue pertaining to their well-being will not go to the slightest trouble to ascertain the grounds for belief, or take strides to discover what it is that, by their own admission, their temporal and eternal happiness depend. People blindly rely on those whom pure chance has provided as guides; people entrust to them the bother of thinking on their behalf and they even turn their laziness and credulity into a merit. In matters of religion, mankind boasts about remaining forever in an infantilized and barbarous state.  
 
However, in every century there have been men who, disabused of their fellow citizens prejudices, have dared to bear witness to the truth. But what could their feeble voice do against such errors, imbibed with their mother’s milk, reinforced by habit, authorized by example and shored up by a political power so often complicit in its own ruination? The stentorian uproar of trickery soon reduced to silence those who clamoured for reason. In vain did the philosopher try to inspire people to be courageous, whilst priests and kings forced them to tremble.
 
The surest way to hoodwink people and to perpetuate prejudices is to dupe them in infancy. Amongst almost all modern peoples upbringing and education seem to have as their only goal the production of fanatics, staunch believers and monks, that is to say people harmful or useless to society. No thought is given to forming citizens. Princes, who themselves are usually victims of a superstitious upbringing, live their entire lives in the deepest ignorance of their duties and the real interests of their states. They fancy that they have done all they can for their subjects when they have filled them full of religious ideas, which substitute for good laws and which save their masters from the tiresome bother of governing well. Religion seems to have been thought up with the sole purpose of turning sovereigns and people equally into slaves of the priesthood. The latter’s sole intent is to create continuous obstacles to the welfare of nations; wherever he might reign, the sovereign’s power is precarious and his subjects are bereft of useful activity, science, a loftiness of spirit and industry - in a word, of those qualities essential to sustain a society.
 
If, in a Christian society, there is some evidence of gainful activity, or of a scientific approach to matters, or even decent social mores - all this is produced in spite of religious opinion, because Nature, whenever possible, restores mankind to reason and forces people to work for their own wellbeing.
 
Were all Christians nations to be consistent in their principles, they would be mired in the most profound inertia and our lands would be inhabited by a small number of pious savages, who would assemble only to harm each other.
 
In fact, what would be the point of bothering with a world, which religion portrays to its disciples as a mere stopover? What of the assiduity of a people who are told repeatedly, on a daily basis, that their god wants them to pray, to grieve, and to live in a state of constant fear, which it laments without ceasing? How could a society survive, composed of people persuaded to be zealous for religion and convinced that they have a duty to hate and destroy their fellows on account of their opinions?
 
In fact, how can we expect to find humanity, justice and virtue from a crowd of fanatics, whose model is a god who is cruel, secretive and nasty, who takes delight in witnessing the tears of his unfortunate creatures, who sets traps for them and then punishes them for falling into them, and who orders theft, crime and carnage?
 
Such are the characteristics described by Christianity of their god, whom they inherited from the Jews. This god was a sultan, a despot, a tyrant at liberty to do anything. However, this god was portrayed as the model of perfection, and the most revolting crimes and most heinous atrocities were committed and justified in his name to support his cause, or to merit his favour.
 
Thus it is that the Christian religion, which boasts of lending steadfast support to morality and setting before people the strongest motivation to spur them on towards virtue, has been a source of divisions, fits of fury and crimes - all on the pretext of bringing about peace, yet it has only ever produced furious violence, hate, discord and war. Religion has given mankind a thousand ingenious motives for people to needle each other and it has lavished upon them scourges unknown to their forebears: had they known about this in advance, they would have sorely hankered after the peaceful ignorance of their idolatrous ancestors a thousand times over.
 
If people’s mores had nothing to gain from Christianity, the power of kings, who purport to support religion, would not have derived great benefit from it. Two distinct powers were established in all states - that of religion, founded upon God himself, which almost always outshone the sovereign, and the sovereign’s own power, forced into a subservient role under the priesthood, and every time he refused to bend his knee before them, he was outlawed, stripped of his rights and exterminated by subjects spurred on to revolt by religion or by fanatics, whose hands it used to wield the knife.
 
Before Christianity, a sovereign of a state was also the ruler over the priesthood, but since the world has turned Christian, the sovereign is no more than the first amongst their slaves, a mere henchman carrying out their vengeful decrees.
 
So let us conclude that the Christian religion has no grounds whatsoever to boast of its superiority in promoting morality or a political society. Therefore, let us tear from it the Veil with which it has shrouded itself. Let us go back to first principles and analyse its sources. Let us follow in its footsteps and we shall find that, rooted in deception, ignorance and credulity, it has never been, and never will be, useful to society, apart from being advantageous to men who believe they have an interest in hoodwinking humankind. Religion will never cease causing the greatest misfortunes for nations, and rather than furnishing the happiness it promises, it serves only to fuel frenzied rages, to drown nations in blood, to immerse them in lunacy and crime, and make people misjudge their true interests and their most holy duties. [1]
 
NOTE:
 
[1] Holbach courageously criticizes conventional religion and teaches universal ethics. He was not able to see at the same time the inner wisdom present in every great religion, or to perceive the true and universal spirituality present in Eastern philosophies. Theosophical literature teaches the middle path between conventional religious dogmatism and Holbach’s total denial of religion. Yet Holbach’s point is of great importance in real Theosophy.  (CCA)
 
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On Examining Religion




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