XXIV.14 How the force of religion applies to that of civil laws

As reli­gion and civil laws must tend prin­ci­pally to make men into good citi­zens, we see that, if one of them wavers from that pur­pose, the other must tend more toward it ; the less repres­sive the reli­gion is, the more civil laws must repress.

Thus, in Japan, the domi­nant reli­gion having almost no doc­tri­nes, and pro­po­sing nei­ther para­dise nor hell, the laws, in order to fill the gap, have been made extra­or­di­na­rily severe and are car­ried out with extra­or­di­nary pre­ci­sion.

When reli­gion esta­bli­shes the doc­trine of the neces­sity of human actions, the penal­ties of the laws must be more severe, and appli­ca­tion more vigi­lant, so that men who other­wise would let them­sel­ves go will be per­sua­ded by those consi­de­ra­tions ; but if reli­gion esta­bli­shes the doc­trine of free­dom, that is ano­ther mat­ter.

From indo­lence of the soul comes the doc­trine of Mohammedan pre­des­ti­na­tion, and from the doc­trine of this pre­des­ti­na­tion comes indo­lence of the soul. It is spo­ken, it is in the decrees of God : we must the­re­fore remain at rest. In such a case the laws must be used to pro­voke men slum­be­ring in reli­gion.

When reli­gion condemns things which the civil laws must allow, it is dan­ge­rous for the civil laws to allow for their part what reli­gion must condemn, one of these things always signal­ling a lack of har­mony and sound­ness in ideas that also affects the other.

Thus the Tartars of Genghis Kahn,1 for whom it was a sin and even a capi­tal crime to put a knife into the fire, to lean against a whip, to hit a horse with its bridle, or to break one bone with ano­ther, did not think there was any sin in brea­king faith, in making off with someone else’s pro­perty, in har­ming a man, or in killing him. In a word, laws that make one see what is indif­fe­rent as neces­sary have the disad­van­tage of making one consi­der what is neces­sary as indif­fe­rent.

The Formosans believe in a sort of hell, but it is to punish those who have fai­led to go naked in cer­tain sea­sons, who have don­ned clo­thes of linen and not of silk, who have gone oys­ter hun­ting, or who have acted without consul­ting the bird­songs ; but they do not consi­der drun­ken­ness and disor­ders with women as sin ; they even believe that the debau­che­ries of their chil­dren are agreea­ble to their gods.2

When reli­gion sanc­ti­fies for some­thing inci­den­tal, it need­lessly loses the grea­test resource there is among men. The Indians believe that the waters of the Ganges have a sanc­ti­fying vir­tue3 ; those who die on its banks are repu­ted to be exempt from punish­ments in the after­life, and des­ti­ned to live in a region full of delights ; they send urns filled with the ashes of the dead from the remo­test pla­ces to be cast into the Ganges. What does it mat­ter whe­ther we live vir­tuously or not ? We will have our­sel­ves cast into the Ganges.

The notion of a place of reward neces­sa­rily entails the notion of an abode of punish­ments ; and when one hopes for the one without fea­ring the other, the civil laws are without force. Men who believe they are assu­red of rewards in the after­life will escape the legis­la­tor : they will have too much contempt for death. How is one to contain by laws a man who thinks him­self sure that the grea­test punish­ment which magis­tra­tes can inflict on him will be over in an ins­tant, only to begin his feli­city ?

See the relation of Brother Jean Duplan Carpin, sent to Tartary by pope Innocent IV in the year 1246.

Recueil des voyages qui ont servi à l’établissement de la Compagnie des Indes, vol. V, part I, p. 192.

Lettres édifiantes et curieuses, 15th volume.