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Fraud

Bambabef the fakir one day met one of the disciples of Confutzee, whom we call "Confucius," and this disciple was named "Ouang," and Bambabef maintained that the people had need of being deceived, and Ouang claimed that one should never deceive anybody; and here is the summary of their dispute:


BAMBABEF:

We must imitate the Supreme Being who does not show us things as they are; he makes us see the sun in a diameter of two or three feet, although this star is a million times bigger than the earth; he makes us see the moon and the stars set on the same blue background, whereas they are at different depths. He requires that a square tower shall appear round to us from a distance; he requires that fire shall seem hot to us, although it is neither hot nor cold; in fine, he surrounds us with errors suited to our nature.

OUANG:

What you name error is not one at all. The sun, placed as it is at millions of millions of lis[6] beyond our globe, is not the sun we see. We perceive in reality, and we can perceive, only the sun which is depicted in our retina at a determined angle. Our eyes have not been given us for appreciating sizes and distances, we need other aids and other operations to appreciate them.


Bambabef seemed very astonished at this proposition. Ouang, who was very patient, explained to him the theory of optics; and Bambabef, who had a quick understanding, surrendered to the demonstrations of Confutzee's disciple, then he resumed the argument.

BAMBABEF:

If God does not deceive us through the medium of our senses, as I believed, avow at least that doctors always deceive children for their good; they tell them that they are giving them sugar, and in fact they are giving them rhubarb. I, a fakir, may then deceive the people who are as ignorant as the children.

OUANG:

I have two sons; I have never deceived them; when they have been ill I have told them that there was a very bitter medicine, and that they must have the courage to take it; "it would harm you if it were sweet." I have never allowed their masters and teachers to make them afraid of spirits, ghosts, goblins, sorcerers; by this means I have made brave, wise young citizens of them.

BAMBABEF:

The people are not born so happily as your family.

OUANG:

All men are alike, or nearly so; they are born with the same dispositions. One must not corrupt men's natures.

BAMBABEF:

We teach them errors, I admit, but it is for their good. We make them believe that if they do not buy the nails we have blessed, if they do not expiate their sins by giving us money, they will become, in another life, post-horses, dogs or lizards. That intimidates them, and they become honest people.

OUANG:

Do you not see that you are perverting these poor people? There are among them many more than you think who reason, who laugh at your miracles, at your superstitions, who see quite well that they will not be changed into either lizards or post-horses. What is the consequence? They have enough sense to see that you are telling them impertinences, and they have not enough to raise themselves toward a religion that is pure and free from superstition, such as ours. Their passions make them believe that there is no religion at all, because the only one that is taught them is ridiculous; you become guilty of all the vices in which they are plunged.

BAMBABEF:

Not at all, for we do not teach them anything but good morality.

OUANG:

You would have yourselves stoned by the people if you taught them impure morality. Men are so made that they want to do evil, but that they do not want it preached to them. All that is necessary is that you should not mix a wise moral system with absurd fables, because you weaken through your impostures, which you can do without, the morality that you are forced to teach.

BAMBABEF:

What! you believe that one can teach the people truth without strengthening it with fables?

OUANG:

I firmly believe it. Our literati are of the same stuff as our tailors, our weavers and our husbandmen. They worship a God creator, rewarder, avenger. They do not sully their worship, either by absurd systems, or by extravagant ceremonies; and there are far less crimes among the literati than among the people. Why not deign to instruct our workmen as we instruct our literati?

BAMBABEF:

You would be very foolish; it is as if you wanted them to have the same courtesy, to be lawyers; that is neither possible nor proper. There must be white bread for the masters, and brown bread for the servants.

OUANG:

I admit that all men should not have the same learning; but there are some things necessary to all. It is necessary that all men should be just; and the surest way of inspiring all men with justice is to inspire in them religion without superstition.

BAMBABEF:

It is a fine project, but it is impracticable. Do you think that men will be satisfied to believe in a God who punishes and rewards? You have told me that it often happens that the most shrewd among the people revolt against my fables; they will revolt in the same way against truth. They will say: "Who will assure me that God punishes and rewards? where is the proof of it? what is your mission? what miracle have you performed that I may believe you?" They will laugh at you much more than at me.

OUANG:

That is where you are mistaken. You imagine that people will shake off the yoke of an honest, probable idea that is useful to everyone, of an idea in accordance with human reason, because people reject things that are dishonest, absurd, useless, dangerous, that make good sense shudder.

The people are very disposed to believe their magistrates: when their magistrates propose to them only a reasonable belief, they embrace it willingly. There is no need of prodigies for believing in a just God, who reads in man's heart; this idea is too natural, too necessary, to be combated. It is not necessary to say precisely how God will punish and reward; it suffices that people believe in His justice. I assure you I have seen entire towns which have had barely any other dogma, and that it is in those towns that I have seen most virtue.

BAMBABEF:

Take care; in those towns you will find philosophers who will deny you both your pains and your recompenses.

OUANG:

You will admit to me that these philosophers will deny your inventions still more strongly; so you gain nothing from that. Though there are philosophers who do not agree with my principles, there are honest people none the less; none the less do they cultivate the virtue of them, which must be embraced by love, and not by fear. But, further, I maintain that no philosopher would ever be assured that Providence did not reserve pains for the wicked and rewards for the good. For if they ask me who told me that God punishes? I shall ask them who has told them that God does not punish. In fine, I maintain that these philosophers, far from contradicting me, will help me. Would you like to be a philosopher?

BAMBABEF:

Willingly; but do not tell the fakirs.

OUANG:

Let us think above all that, if a philosopher wishes to be useful to human society, he must announce a God.

FOOTNOTES:

[6] A li is 124 paces.


Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire