Montesquieu

Almost all orga­ni­zed peo­ples live in hou­ses. From this came natu­rally the idea of buil­ding a house for God where they can wor­ship him and go to seek him in their fears or expec­ta­tions.

Indeed nothing is more conso­ling to men than a place where they find the deity more pre­sent, and where all toge­ther they give voice to their weak­nes­ses and mise­ries.

But this very natu­ral thought only comes to peo­ples who till the land, and we will not see any tem­ples built among those who have no hou­ses them­sel­ves.

That is why Genghis Khan expres­sed such scorn for mos­ques.1 The prince ques­tio­ned the Mohammedans2 ; he appro­ved all their doc­tri­nes except the one that sta­tes the obli­ga­tion to go to Mecca : he could not unders­tand why one could not wor­ship God eve­ryw­here. The Tartars do not live in hou­ses, and tem­ples are unk­nown to them.

Peoples who have no tem­ples have lit­tle attach­ment for their reli­gion ; that is why the Tartars have at all times been so tole­rant,3 why the bar­ba­rian peo­ples who conque­red the Roman empire did not hesi­tate a moment to embrace Christianity, why the sava­ges of America are so lit­tle atta­ched to their own reli­gion, and why, since our mis­sio­na­ries have had them build chur­ches in Paraguay, they are so zea­lous for ours.

As the deity is the refuge of the unhappy, and no one is more unhappy than cri­mi­nals, one is natu­rally incli­ned to think that tem­ples were an asy­lum for them ; and this idea see­med even more natu­ral to the Greeks, where mur­de­rers, dri­ven from their city and from the pre­sence of men, see­med no lon­ger to have any hou­ses other than tem­ples, nor other pro­tec­tors than the gods.

At first this rela­ted only to invo­lun­tary killers ; but when major cri­mi­nals were inclu­ded, they fell into a gross contra­dic­tion : if they had offen­ded men, they had a for­tiori offen­ded the gods.

These asy­lums mul­ti­plied in Greece ; the tem­ples, says Tacitus, were filled with insol­vent deb­tors and wicked sla­ves ; the magis­tra­tes had dif­fi­culty main­tai­ning order ; the peo­ple pro­tec­ted the cri­mes of men as the cere­mo­nies of the gods, and the senate was obli­ged cut down consi­de­ra­bly on their num­ber.4

The laws of Moses were most wise. Involuntary mur­de­rers were inno­cent, but they had to be remo­ved from the sight of the vic­tim’s family, and so he esta­bli­shed an asy­lum for them.5 Major cri­mi­nals deserve no asy­lum, and they had none6 ; the Jews had only a por­ta­ble taber­na­cle, which cons­tantly chan­ged place, and that exclu­ded the thought of asy­lum. It is true that they should have had a tem­ple, but cri­mi­nals, who would have come from all over, could have dis­rup­ted the divine ser­vice. If mur­de­rers had been dri­ven out of the coun­try, as they were by the Greeks, there would have been rea­son to fear lest they wor­ship foreign gods. All these consi­de­ra­tions led to the ins­ti­tu­tion of cities of asy­lum, where they had to remain until the death of the supreme pon­tiff.

Upon entering the mosque of Buchara, he took the Coran and threw it under his horses’ feet (Histoire des Mongols et des Tartares, part III, p. 273).

Ibid. p. 342.

This disposition of mind was passed on even to the Japanese, who originate with the Tartars, as it is easy to prove.

Annals, book II.

Numbers, ch. xxxv.

Ibidem.