XXIV.19 That it is less the truth or falsehood of a doctrine that makes it useful or pernicious to men in the civil state, than the use or abuse that is made of it

The truest and holiest doc­tri­nes can have very bad conse­quen­ces when they are not made to connect with the prin­ci­ples of the society ; and contra­ri­wise, the fal­sest doc­tri­nes can have admi­ra­ble conse­quen­ces when they are made to relate to those same prin­ci­ples.

The reli­gion of Confucius denies the immor­ta­lity of the soul,1 and the school of Zeno did not believe in it. Who would have thought that these two schools had drawn from their false prin­ci­ples conse­quen­ces not only just but admi­ra­ble for society ? The reli­gion of the Taos and the Foes belie­ves in the immor­ta­lity of the soul, but from such a sacred doc­trine they have drawn hor­ri­ble conse­quen­ces.

Almost eve­ryw­here in the world, and in all times, the misun­ders­tood opi­nion of the immor­ta­lity of the soul has enti­ced women, sla­ves, sub­jects, and friends to kill each other so they could go serve the object of their res­pect or love in the after­world. It was so in the West Indies ; it was so among the Danes,2 and it is so still today in Japan,3 in Macassar,4 and in seve­ral other pla­ces on the earth.

These cus­toms ema­nate less directly from the doc­trine of the immor­ta­lity of the soul than from that of the resur­rec­tion of the body, from which the conse­quence has been drawn that after death the same indi­vi­dual would have the same needs, the same sen­ti­ments, and the same pas­sions. From this point of view, the doc­trine of the immor­ta­lity of the soul has a pro­di­gious effect on men, because the thought of a sim­ple change of habi­ta­tion is more within our minds’ com­pass, and more flat­ters our heart, than the thought of a new trans­for­ma­tion.

It is not enough that a reli­gion esta­blish a doc­trine, it must also direct it ; that is what the Christian reli­gion has done admi­ra­bly with res­pect to the doc­tri­nes of which we speak : it tells us to hope for a state we believe in, not a state that we feel or know ; eve­ry­thing, inclu­ding the resur­rec­tion of the body, leads us to spi­ri­tual thoughts.

A Chinese philosopher argues thus against the doctrine of Foe : “It is said in the book of this sect that the body is our home, and the soul the immortal hostess who lodges there ; but if the body of our parents is but a lodging, it is natural to regard it with the same disdain we have for for a lump of mud and earth. Is that not to want to tear from the heart the virtue of parents’ love ? That similarly incites one to neglect the care of one’s body, and refuse it the compassion and affection so necessary to its preservation : thus the disciples of Foe kill each other by the thousand.” (A work of a Chinese philosopher in the collection by Father du Halde, Description de l’empire de la Chine, vol. III, p. 52.)

See Thomas Bartholin, Antiquitatum Danicarum.

Relation of Japan in Recueil des voyages qui ont servi à l’établissement de la Compagnie des Indes.

Mémoires de Forbin.