Montesquieu
 

XXV.2 On the motive of attachment for various religions

The world’s various reli­gions do not give to those who pro­fess them equal moti­ves for attach­ment to them ; it depends greatly on the man­ner in which they mesh with men’s way of thin­king and fee­ling.

We are extre­mely prone to ido­la­try, and yet we are not stron­gly atta­ched to ido­la­trous reli­gions ; we are not at all prone to spi­ri­tual thoughts, and yet we are very atta­ched to the reli­gions that have us wor­ship a spi­ri­tual being. This is explai­ned by the satis­fac­tion we find in our­sel­ves for being intel­li­gent enough to have cho­sen a reli­gion that rai­ses the deity from the humi­lia­tion where the others had pla­ced it. We regard ido­la­try as the reli­gion of crude peo­ples, and reli­gion focu­sed on a spi­ri­tual being as the reli­gion of enligh­te­ned peo­ples.

When to the idea of a supreme spi­ri­tual being, which cons­ti­tu­tes the doc­trine, we can fur­ther join tan­gi­ble notions that are part of the ritual, it gives us a strong atta­che­ment to the reli­gion, because the moti­ves of which we have just spo­ken are joi­ned with our natu­ral pen­chant for tan­gi­ble things. And so it is that Catholics, who have more of this sort of ritual than Protestants, are more invin­ci­bly atta­ched to their reli­gion1 than Protestants are to theirs.

When the peo­ple of Ephesus had lear­ned that the Council fathers had deci­ded they could call the Virgin “Mother of God,” they were trans­por­ted with joy2 ; they kis­sed the bishops’ hands, they embra­ced their knees ; eve­ryw­here accla­ma­tions rang out. When an intel­lec­tual reli­gion fur­ther gives us the thought of a choice made by the deity, and of a dis­tinc­tion bet­ween those who pro­fess it and those who do not, this atta­ches us very much to that reli­gion. Mohammedans would not be such good Muslims if, on the one hand, there were not ido­la­trous peo­ples who make them see them­sel­ves as the aven­gers of the one­ness of God, and on the other Christians, to make them believe they are his pre­fer­red peo­ple.

A reli­gion bur­de­ned by many prac­ti­ces3 is more atta­ching than ano­ther which is less so : we hold firmly to things which occupy us conti­nually, wit­ness the tena­cious obs­ti­nacy of Mohammedans4 and Jews, and the ease of reli­gious change of bar­ba­ric and savage peo­ples who, solely occu­pied by the hunt or war, bother lit­tle with reli­gious prac­ti­ces.

Men are extre­mely prone to hope and fear, and could never choose a reli­gion that had nei­ther hell nor para­dise. This is pro­ven by the ease with which foreign reli­gions have been able to implant them­sel­ves in Japan, and the zeal and love with which they have been recei­ved there.5

For a reli­gion to be atta­ching, its mora­lity must be pure. Men, kna­ves indi­vi­dually, are in the aggre­gate very honest peo­ple ; they love mora­lity ; and if I were not trea­ting such a grave sub­ject, I would say that this appears admi­ra­bly on the stage : one is sure to please the com­mon peo­ple with sen­ti­ments that mora­lity owns, and sure to shock them with sen­ti­ments it condemns.

When the out­ward ritual mani­fests great magni­fi­cence, it delights us and gives us much attach­ment for reli­gion. We are greatly affec­ted by the riches of the tem­ples and the clergy. Thus the very misery of peo­ples is a motive which atta­ches them to this reli­gion, which has ser­ved as pre­text to those who have cau­sed their misery.

They are more zealous for its propagation.

Letter of St. Cyril.

This does not contradict what I have said in the penultimate chapter of the previous book ; here I am talking about motives of attachment for a religion, and there about the means of making it more general.

This can be observed throughout the world. See, on the Turks, the missions in the Levant, in Recueil des voyages qui ont servi à l’établissement de la Compagnie des Indes, vol. III, part I, p. 201 on the Moors of Batavia ; and Father Labat on Mohammedan Negroes, etc.

The Christian and Indian religions : the latter have a hell and a paradise, whereas the religion of the Shintos has none.