Don’t fool yourselves, my dear friends, open your eyes to everything that your pious morons or mocking, self-interested priests and scholars are eager to tell you and make you believe on the false pretext of the infallible certainty of their so-called holy and divine religion. You’re no less seduced or less abused than those who are the most seduced and most abused; you’re no less in error than those who are the most deeply plunged. Your religion is no less vain or less superstitious than any other; it’s no less false in its principles, no less ridiculous and absurd in its dogma and maxims. You’re no less idolatrous than those who you yourselves accuse and condemn of idolatry—the idols of pagans are different from yours only in name and shape. In short, everything that your priests and scholars preach to you with so much eloquence concerning the grandeur, excellence, and sanctity of the mysteries they make you worship, everything they tell you so seriously about the certainty of their so-called miracles and everything they recite with so much zeal and assurance concerning the grandeur of the rewards of heaven and the terrible punishments of hell, are in fact only illusions, errors, lies, fictions, and impostures invented at first by the shrewd and crafty politicians, continued by the seducers and imposters, then received and blindly believed by the ignorant and vulgar people—and finally maintained by the rulers and sovereigns of the earth who encourage the abuses, errors, superstitions, and impostures and even authorize them by their laws in order to keep a tight rein on the community of men and make them do whatever they want.
That, my dear friends, is how those who governed the people and who still govern now presumptuously and with impunity abuse the name and authority of God to make themselves feared, obeyed, and respected rather than to fear and serve the imaginary God whose power they terrify you with. That’s how they abuse the specious names of piety and religion to make the weak and ignorant believe whatever they want them to. And finally, that’s how they establish everywhere on earth a detestable mystery of lies and iniquity instead of working, as they should, to establish everywhere the reign of peace and justice as well as truth—a reign whose virtues would make all people happy and content on earth.
I say they establish everywhere a mystery of iniquity because all the hidden motives of the shrewdest politicians—as well as the maxims and ceremonies of the most pious of religion—are really only mysteries of iniquity. I say mysteries of iniquity for all the poor people who are the miserable dupes of all the mummeries of religions, as well as the puppets and hapless victims of the power of the rulers. But for those who govern the consciences or who are provided with good benefices, it’s like a gold mine or a golden fleece, like a cornucopia that brings forth all kinds of goods at their pleasure. And this is what leads all the good gentlemen to amuse themselves and have all kinds of good times, while the poor people, abused by the errors and superstitions of religion, groan sadly, needily, and yet peaceably under the oppression of the rulers. And while they patiently suffer their pains, while they vainly enjoy praying to gods and saints who don’t hear them, while they enjoy the vain devotions, while they repent their sins, and finally, while these poor people are working and worn out day and night in their jobs, sweating blood and tears to earn a paltry living for themselves and lavishly supply pleasures and satisfactions for those who are making them so unhappy in life.
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