Montesquieu

Penal laws in reli­gious mat­ters should be avoi­ded. They ins­till some fear, it is true ; but since the reli­gion also has its own penal laws that ins­pire fear, the one is eclip­sed by the other. Between these two dif­fe­rent fears, minds turn vicious.1

Religion has such great threats, and it has such great pro­mi­ses, that when they are pre­sent to our mind, wha­te­ver the magis­trate may do to force us to renounce it, it is as if they leave us nothing when they take it away, and they are taking nothing away when they leave it to us.

So it is not by filling the soul with this great object, by brin­ging clo­ser the moment when it should seem of grea­ter impor­tance, that they can manage to detach it ; it is surer to attack a reli­gion with favor, with the com­forts of life, with hope of for­tune ; not with what draws atten­tion but with what makes one for­get ; not by what upsets, but by what lea­ves us tepid when other pas­sions act on our souls and those which reli­gion ins­pi­res are silen­ced. The gene­ral rule : when it comes to chan­ging reli­gion, indu­ce­ments are stron­ger than penal­ties.

The cha­rac­ter of the human mind has appea­red even in the order of the penal­ties that have been applied. Just remem­ber the per­se­cu­tions of Japan2 : their cruel tor­tu­res eli­ci­ted more dis­gust than did the long punish­ments that weary more than they frigh­ten, that are more dif­fi­cult to over­come because they appear less dif­fi­cult.

In a word, his­tory tells us suf­fi­ciently that penal laws have never had any but des­truc­tive effect.

[Les âmes deviennent atroces. “On appelle une âme atroce, une âme noire” (Académie, 1762).]

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