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François-Marie d’Arouet was a French writer, public activist, philosopher and humanitarian who pointed philosophy down a number of new paths, in which it responded to successfully. François-Marie was born in 1694, amidst the Enlightenment era, in which people were using their ability to reason rationally. His writings often reflected themes of religion, politics, science, history and philosophy, usually written with a unique satiric tone, in which he was famous for. Many of his works were published anonymously in pamphlets and essays, in order to avoid prosecution by the government, Catholic Church, and the aristocracy, all of which he was a forthright critic of. His writings allowed people to see a contrasting side of what they had known as true for so long.
His literary debut transpired in 1718 with the publishing of Oedipe, in which he declared his pen name, Voltaire, a name that held to the end of his days. His early works were a mixture of libertinism and deistic ideas, which he had been initially introduced to at the estate of Lord Bolingbroke, who was an English aristocrat and freethinker. Voltaire moved about in Bolingbroke’s circle of writers who experimented with the blending of writing with political criticism. John Locke was of greatest influence on him, and he retained knowledge of his literature throughout his career. He did not keep to this circle alone however, moving about other groups of intellectuals, even meeting Sir Isaac Newton’s sister. From her, he learned the myth of Newton’s apple theory. During this time, Voltaire’s encounters throughout England escalated him to an exceptionally knowledgeable student of English natural philosophy.
In 1734, Voltaire published Lettres philsophiques, which “…included letters on Bacon, Locke, Newton and the details of Newtonian natural philosophy…” (J.B. Locke). However, he had not gained permission from the royal censors before publishing it, therefore causing an unexplainable controversy throughout France, thus causing Voltaire to be a “…widely known intellectual outlaw” (Locke). His books were publicly burned and he consequently fled to Cirey with a companion and took up a new identity as a philosophical rebel and exiled writer. Following this, he began fighting from afar to establish the philosophies of Newton as modern truth. The ensuing controversies became known as the Newton Wars. By 1750, France’s perception had been converted to Enlightened Newtonianism, due to persistent figures like Voltaire.
Voltaire’s works of literature directly prompted a thirst for knowledge, understanding and truth to all who read his work. He was one of many who directed influenced the French Revolution because his work influenced people to begin asking, “Why?” His views on social and political reform worked as a voice of the people in public. In 1759 he purchased a chateau which acted as a safe-haven from police that were often after him for his writings. During these years, Voltaire bear witness to his philosophies unfolding throughout society. He used this notoriety to “…speak out on anything and everything—especially the Church—and he fought vigorously for religious tolerance, material prosperity, respect for the rights of all humans, and the abolition of torture and useless punishments” (Dennis J. Sporre).
Voltaire’s Enlightenment philosophy was a collection of orientations and intellectual stances, in which each category had a particular philosophy attached to it. These philosophies allowed people to easily understand the new knowledge that was arising at the time. The categories of his philosophy were: the notion of liberty, hedonistic morality, skepticism, empirical science and science without metaphysics. His philosophies were directly influential at the time, as these categories reflected issues that all people were facing. The Enlightenment era brought on an extreme amount of new reasoning, methods, and philosophies and Voltaire made sense of them all by writing in a way that everyone could understand.
To conclude, Voltaire played an important role in blossoming the Enlightenment period with his controversial philosophies and radical literature. His loathing of the abuse of human rights drove him to become a fearless writer. He believed everyone should be a skeptic of what they are told, in order to know the truth of the world. Voltaire’s writings helped bring the Enlightenment into an even greater period of knowledge and understanding. He fought vigorously to bring the world into a heightened period of learning and in doing so he earned himself a home in The Pantheon, as one of the greatest French public figures to have lived.
Works Cited and References
Sporre, Dennis J. The Creative Impulse: An Introduction to the Arts. New Jersey. Prentice Hall. 2009. Print.
Merriman, C. D. “François-Marie d’Arouet Voltaire”. The Literature Network. Jalic Inc. 2008. Web. 27 March 2013.
Shank, J.B. “Voltaire”. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edward N. Zalta. 2009. Web. 27 March, 2013.
Rahn, Josh. The Enlightenment. The Literature Network. Jalic Inc. 2011. Web. 27 March, 2013.
Source : https://historyandhumanities.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/voltaires-effect-in-defining-the-enlightenment-era/
In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, French bookbuyers are turning to one of their grands philosophes, Voltaire, for enlightenment and perhaps Enlightenment. Publisher Gallimard is printing an extra 10,000 copies of his Treatise on Tolerance, which was brandished by participants in the Paris rallies of 11 January. In the treatise, Voltaire argues in favour of toleration of religious belief, while reserving the right to argue strenuously against it, and denouncing religious fanaticism of all stripes. “Tolerance has never provoked a civil war; intolerance has covered the Earth in carnage.”
Voltaire was the pen name of François-Marie Arouet, born in 1694: philosopher, novelist, playwright, all-round troublemaker and virtuoso of equal-opportunity ridicule. Since the early 20th century, he has also been doomed to be misquoted by those using him as a weapon in the free-speech wars. He never actually wrote “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – this excellent formulation was, rather, the work of his English biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall (who also used a pseudonym: SG Tallentyre), who used it to describe his “attitude” in her 1906 biography, The Friends of Voltaire.
Noted in an earlier biography is another bon mot, which Voltaire probably did say, in response to the same affair. Hearing that a rival philosopher’s book had been condemned by the authorities to be burned in public, Voltaire quipped: “What a fuss about an omelette!” (A splendidly backhanded defence.) Meanwhile, the instruction “Écrasez l’infâme!” (“Crush what is infamous”), signed on many of his letters, became something of a personal slogan against clerical abuses.
He was, after all, no stranger to getting in trouble with the authorities himself, and he couldn’t help provoking them. The early publication of a satirical poem accusing the Duc d’Orléans of having sex with his own daughter led, not totally unpredictably, to a stint in the Bastille. But Voltaire was able to put incarceration to productive use: it was there that he adopted his nom de plume (or perhaps guerre) and wrote his first play, Oedipe, a riff on the Sophoclean tragedy.
His most famous work remains Candide, a fiction in which the young titular hero is initiated into the mysteries of philosophical optimism. This is a satire on the philosophical theories of the great mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who is immortally caricatured in its pages as one Professor Pangloss – hence our word “Panglossian”. All is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds, insists Pangloss. By the end of the book, however, Candide himself is not so sure – nor, most probably, are those now reading Voltaire for the first time.
Examining Candide in the context of the greater scope of Western thought and movements, there is no doubt that the work is highly critical of many of the social institutions of the time. Still, while criticizing many of the societal aspects (religion, the class system and the detested monarchy in France) Candide is not free from the biases and “unenlightened” thoughts that the revolutionary movement in France was based upon. In a scholarly essay on Candide, one modern critic of Candide argues that while, “the philosophes wanted to work through established forms, including the monarchy and even the Church” by doing so, there were not quite as revolutionary in their beliefs since they did not attempt to go outside of the system of oppression to draw their insights.
Although throughout Candide there are several scathing attacks, mostly through satire, irony and absurd characters, on the Church and his contemporary philosophy, there is nothing inherently revolutionary about it. It certainly makes for a provoking type of comedy, but there are few solutions offered other than living an austere life on a farm. The lack of truly “enlightened” ideas in practice in the novel is especially noticeable in his portrayal of women. For example, Stromberg goes on to note, “Voltaire, as well as Rousseau, thought it most unwise to educate the poor” and one can clearly see that Voltaire’s imagining of women in Candide is hardly enlightened. Even though Voltaire was known have verbally advocated the equal rights of women, this sentiment is not apparent in his fiction, especially considering the fact that the main female characters are prostitutes, women that marry for money, disease-spreaders, and most importantly victims. Overall, while Voltaire’s work was certainly inflammatory and critical of society, any potential revolutionary “value” lies only within the sense that it exposed weaknesses in the dominant societal structure.
In terms of religion, Candide explores the hypocrisy that was rampant in the Church. Consider for example, the inhumanity of the clergy, most notably the Inquisitor, in hanging and executing his fellow citizens over philosophical differences. Moreover, he orders the flogging of Candide for merely, “listening with an air of approval” thus proving himself somehow implicit in blasphemy. Church officials in Candide are depicted as being among the most sinful of all citizens; having mistresses, engaging in homosexual affairs, and operating as jewel thieves. Perhaps the most absurd example of hypocrisy in the Church hierarchy is the fact that the Pope has a daughter despite his vows of celibacy. While Voltaire is poking fun at the Church and its behavior and presents several of these satirical and ironic situations in Candide, there is an element of high comedy about such actions and one gets the sense that Stromberg, in stating that philosophes such as Voltaire were merely working through the system that they appeared to abhor as opposed to working against it in a more proactive way. The theme of revolutionary action or words versus idle philosophical speculation is another theme that is rampant throughout the text and is seen not only in Candide’s humorous accounts of Church hypocrisy, but of philosophy as well.
In many senses, it seems as though in Candide , Voltaire seeks a proactive solution to the problems in society. In the end, the group manages to alleviate their troubles by numbing their minds with hard labor, thus proving that perhaps Voltaire truly believes there is a way to work through the problems posed by society versus philosophy. Although the ending of Candide surely illustrates this idea, the novel has several interesting characters that demonstrate the uselessness of idle philosophy and in fact, may even suggest that there is some inherent damage done by his contemporary philosophy. For example, Pangloss, an adherent to his own brand of philosophy called “metaphysico-theologo-cosmolo-nigology” which advocates the belief that, as expressed in one of the important quotes from “Candide” by Voltaire, “This world is the best of all possible worlds” actually causes damage to others.
While the good Jacques is drowning (as a result of his own philosophical beliefs in altruistic behavior, no less) Pangloss attributes the event in typical nonsensical fashion to the fact that “the bay of Lisbon had been formed expressly for the Anabaptist to drown in” and acts with similar reluctance and self-absorption after the earthquake when Candide asks for assistance. In sum, far from being a treatise on the beneficial nature of philosophy in bringing about positive change, Voltaire is suggesting that philosophy is, in itself, useless and even damaging. While her presents a number of ways of looking at the world philosophically, none of them are ever proven right. Martin’s extreme cynicism is not the way, Pangloss’ blinding optimism isn’t either, therefore it seems that the only way for a true revolution to come about is if one turns off from philosophy completely. This seems like a strange message coming from an author who was one of the most recognized philosophes of his time, and thus it seems rather ironic that the ultimate message about philosophy and its use is so grim. Again, it would seem that most of Voltaire’s uses of philosophy are not aimed at gearing up the masses for a revolution, rather, they are just ironic statements on a society that is recognizable for those contemporary readers. It is also apparent in his discussion on philosophy that he is not creating something new or revolutionary, but is rather working on an old base—the same institutions of philosophy and religion that already exist.
While it is apparent that Voltaire is not visibly working toward any revolutionary sentiments in Candide and is merely pointing out flaws in society, it is interesting to note how ingrained the popular cultural notions of the Enlightenment are not even expressed in the text. The most noticeable case concerns his treatment of women in Candide. While there were many views espoused during the period of the French Revolution about the rights of women, it must be observed that even a progressive thinker like Voltaire did not always hold views aligned with such ideas. In fact, as Stromberg points out (see f.1) many of the philosophes were against the idea of revolution—they were so far set in the aristocratic cultural norms of the society to think outside of it—even if they were wont to criticize it. In thinking of Voltaire and many of those philosophes similar to him in thought, women were not always considered equals (aside from a few exceptions). It was suggested, “The state of their [women’s] natural weakness does not permit them to preeminence…”their very weakness generally gives them more lenity and moderation, qualifications fitter for good administration.” Such sentiments in essays such as this one seem to mask a deeper underside of the patriarchal attitudes of the day more than their polished way of setting apart a few exceptions of women leaders would readily demonstrate.
If Voltaire also held such views, why then do all the women in Candide show such weak and defenseless character traits? While on the one hand it seems as though it many be a progressive move to point out how women constantly run the risk of being subject to often violent male desire (as we see in the stories of rape, enslavement, and general submission on the part of women) it seems more the case that Voltaire considers them to be weak and ineffectual creatures—using sex to obtain their desires and serving as vessels of disease. Women are strangely represented in the novel since at once they seem like helpless victims yet also show remarkable strength. It seems however, that the “strength” that these women show might not be a statement on the internal powers of women, but rather that they have no choice than to adapt to a gruesome and misogynistic situation. The old woman, after telling her terrible life story, relates that she does not believe in self-pity—she was merely telling everyone to pass the time. Although there are many female victims in Candide, none of them seem at all aware of the travesties committed to them or their sex and moreover, they hold true to an abundance of stereotypes (gold-diggers, prostitutes, battered old women). In many respects, as far as feminism goes, this is a rather bleak novel especially because although it is heralded as a precursor to the revolutions, it lacks the true ideals of the Enlightenment’s assertions of equal rights for all.
While this essay has attempted to point out that perhaps Candide is not free from the biases inherent to those classes and groups Voltaire so harshly criticizes, this is not to say that there are not plenty of cases in which it would be possible to draw revolutionary ideas from. By taking an almost socialist stance at the end of the novel, there is the feeling that the only to progress is through direct action rather than idle philosophical speculation. Still however, there also remains the idea that Voltaire is perhaps not as progressive as he is said to be—especially since he was working from inside the system (one of Churches, aristocracy, and gender bias) to formulate his critiques. Despite this rather negative outlook on Candide as an inspiration for future revolutions, it is important to buffer such a statement with the admission that he created a new way of writing about society that was not to be matched for years to come. As one essay on Candide claims, “With the death of the old Bolsheviks, the Enlightenment passed into the hands of nonentities like Suard: it lost its fire and became a mere tranquil diffusion of light. A comfortable ascent toward progress.”
Stromberg, Roland. “The Philosophes and the French Revolution: Reflections on Some Recent Research,”Eighteenth-Century Studies 21: 321-339
Clinton, Katherine. “Femme et Philosophe: Enlightenment Origins of Feminism” Eighteenth-Century Studies. 8: 283-299
Darnton, Robert. “The High Enlightenment and the Low-Life of Literature.” Past and Present 51:81-115
Source : http://www.articlemyriad.com/candide-voltaire-context-enlightenment/
François-Marie Arouet, better known by his immortal pen name, Voltaire, was born on November 21, 1694, in Paris. In a literary career that stretched over 60 years, he wrote many influential poems, essays and books including “Candide” and “Letters Concerning the English Nation.” His surgical wit and provocative ideas on religion, liberty and ethics saw him both celebrated and scorned in the courts of Europe, and later helped cement his reputation as one of the foundational figures of the Enlightenment. On the anniversary of Voltaire’s birth, learn 10 things you may not know about one of the 18th century’s most quotable and controversial thinkers.
1. The origins of his famous pen name are unclear.
Voltaire had a strained relationship with his father, who discouraged his literary aspirations and tried to force him into a legal career. Possibly to show his rejection of his father’s values, he dropped his family name and adopted the nom de plume “Voltaire” upon completing his first play in 1718. Voltaire never explained the meaning of his pen name, so scholars can only speculate on its origins. The most popular theory maintains the name is an anagram of a certain Latinized spelling of “Arouet,” but others have claimed it was a reference to the name of a family chateau or a nod to the nickname “voluntaire” (volunteer), which Voltaire may have been given as a sarcastic reference to his stubbornness.
2. He was imprisoned in the Bastille for nearly a year.
Voltaire’s caustic wit first got him into trouble with the authorities in May 1716, when he was briefly exiled from Paris for composing poems mocking the French regent’s family. The young writer was unable to bite his tongue, however, and only a year later he was arrested and confined to the Bastille for writing scandalous verse implying the regent had an incestuous relationship with his daughter. Voltaire boasted that his cell gave him some quiet time to think, and he eventually did 11 months behind bars before winning a release. He later endured another short stint in the Bastille in April 1726, when he was arrested for planning to duel an aristocrat that had insulted and beaten him. To escape further jail time, he voluntarily exiled himself to England, where he remained for nearly three years.
3. He became hugely wealthy by exploiting a flaw in the French lottery.
In 1729, Voltaire teamed with mathematician Charles Marie de La Condamine and others to exploit a lucrative loophole in the French national lottery. The government shelled out massive prizes for the contest each month, but an error in calculation meant that the payouts were larger than the value of all the tickets in circulation. With this in mind, Voltaire, La Condamine and a syndicate of other gamblers were able to repeatedly corner the market and rake in massive winnings. The scheme left Voltaire with a windfall of nearly half a million francs, setting him up for life and allowing him to devote himself solely to his literary career.
4. He was an extraordinary prolific writer.
Voltaire wrote more than 50 plays, dozens of treatises on science, politics and philosophy, and several books of history on everything from the Russian Empire to the French Parliament. Along the way, he also managed to squeeze in heaps of verse and a voluminous correspondence amounting to some 20,000 letters to friends and contemporaries. Voltaire supposedly kept up his prodigious output by spending up to 18 hours a day writing or dictating to secretaries, often while still in bed. He may have also been fueled by heroic amounts of caffeine—according to some sources, he drank as many as 40 cups a day.
5. Many of his most famous works were banned.
Since his writing denigrated everything from organized religion to the justice system, Voltaire ran up against frequent censorship from the French government. A good portion of his work was suppressed, and the authorities even ordered certain books to be burned by the state executioner. To combat the censors, Voltaire had much of his output printed abroad, and he published under a veil of assumed names and pseudonyms. His famous novella “Candide” was originally attributed to a “Dr. Ralph,” and he actively tried to distance himself from it for several years after both the government and the church condemned it. Despite his best attempts to remain anonymous, Voltaire lived in almost constant fear of arrest. He was forced to flee to the French countryside after his “Letters Concerning the English Nation” was released in 1734, and he went on to spend the majority of his later life in unofficial exile in Switzerland.
6. He helped popularize the famous tale about Sir Isaac Newton and the apple.
Though the two never met in person, Voltaire was an enthusiastic acolyte of the English physicist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton. Upon receiving a copy of Newton’s “Principia Mathematica,” he claimed he knelt down before it in reverence, “as was only right.” Voltaire played a key role in popularizing Newton’s ideas, and he offered one of the first accounts of how the famed scientist developed his theories on gravity. In his 1727 “Essay on Epic Poetry,” Voltaire wrote that Newton “had the first thought of his System of Gravitation, upon seeing an apple falling from a tree.” Voltaire wasn’t the original source for the story of the “Eureka!” moment, as has often been claimed, but his account was instrumental in making it a fabled part of Newton’s biography.
7. He had a brief career as a spy for the French government.
Voltaire struck up a lively correspondence with Frederick the Great in the late 1730s, and he later made several journeys to meet the Prussian monarch in person. Before one of these visits in 1743, Voltaire concocted an ill-advised scheme to use his new position to repair his reputation with the French court. After hatching a deal to serve as a government informant, he wrote several letters to the French giving inside dope on Frederick’s foreign policy and finances. Voltaire proved a lousy spy, however, and his plan quickly fell apart after Frederick grew suspicious of his motives. The two nevertheless remained close friends—some have even claimed they were lovers—and Voltaire later moved to Prussia in 1750 to take a permanent position in the Frederick’s court. Their relationship finally soured in 1752, after Voltaire made a series of scathing attacks on the head of the Prussian Academy of Sciences. Frederick responded by lambasting Voltaire, and ordered that a satirical pamphlet he had written be publically burned. Voltaire left the court for good in 1753, supposedly telling a friend, “I was enthusiastic about [Frederick] for 16 years, but he has cured me of this long illness.”
8. He never married or fathered children.
While Voltaire technically died a bachelor, his personal life was a revolving door of mistresses, paramours and long-term lovers. He carried out a famous 16-year affair with the brilliant—and very married—author and scientist Émilie du Châtelet, and later had a committed, though secretive, partnership with his own niece, Marie-Louise Mignot. The two lived as a married couple from the early 1750s until his death, and they even adopted a child in 1760, when they took in a destitute young woman named Marie- Françoise Corneille. Voltaire later paid the dowry for Corneille’s marriage, and often referred to Mignot and himself as her “parents.”
9. He set up a successful watchmaking business in his old age.
While living in Ferney, Switzerland, in the 1770s, Voltaire joined with a group of Swiss horologists in starting a watchmaking business at his estate. With the septuagenarian Voltaire acting as manager and financier, the endeavor soon grew into a village-wide industry, and Ferney watches came to rival some of the best in Europe. “Our watches are very well made,” he once wrote to the French ambassador to the Vatican, “very handsome, very good and cheap.” Voltaire saw the enterprise as a way to prop up the Ferney economy, and he used his vast network of upper class contacts to find prospective buyers. Among others, he eventually succeeded in peddling his wares to the likes of Catherine the Great of Russia and King Louis XV of France.
10. He continued causing controversy even in death.
Voltaire died in Paris in 1778, just a few months after returning to the city for the first time in 28 years to oversee the production of one of his plays. Over the last few days of his life, Catholic Church officials repeatedly visited Voltaire—a lifelong deist who was often critical of organized religion—in the hope of persuading him to retract his opinions and make a deathbed confession. The great writer was unmoved, and supposedly brushed off the priests by saying, “let me die in peace.” His refusal meant that he was officially denied a Christian burial, but his friends and family managed to arrange a secret internment in the Champagne region of France before the order became official.
French playwright, satirist, and philosopher Voltaire (given name: Francois Marie Arouet, 1694-1778) wrote at a time when a corrupt state church and totalitarian government exercised brutal control over nearly every aspect of French life. Among other causes, Voltaire wrote to free his fellow Frenchmen from the early 18th-century church’s doctrine of “the divine right of kings” – the notion that the monarchy was ordained of God and therefore resisting injustice was a sin.
Unlike Luther, who first attempted to reform the church, or the Anabaptists, who started their own, Voltaire reasoned that the best way to break the corrupt church’s hold on people’s hearts and minds was to make his fellow citizens doubt the core doctrines of the church, and therefore its divine authority.
Voltaire’s attacks on the monarchy, on the state church, as well as on contemporary philosophers who promoted acquiescence to the status quo, were diabolically clever and effective. They influenced Thomas Paine and other American revolutionaries, helped lead to the brutal French revolution, and have influenced many writers and students since.
To thinking Christians, Voltaire’s work is of interest largely because, long after his death, Voltaire’s arguments against core Christian doctrines influenced another kind of revolution – within several mainstream Christian denominations, people influenced by Voltaire’s ideas (though often filtered through other writers) have decided that those core Christian doctrines are expendable “stumbling blocks” that are actually keeping people away from the teachings of Jesus.
But before we focus on that, let’s learn just a bit more about Voltaire. One thing that made him so effective was his ability to come at things “sideways,” getting his ideas past the censors, at the same time he planted seeds of doubt throughout his culture.
Voltaire’s Unique Approach to Banned Subjects – Under almost constant censorship, Voltaire often presented his most “dangerous” ideas by pretending he was writing about someone else. He would start an essay with something to the effect of “You won’t believe what such and such a group has the audacity to say.” Then he would spell out his own ideas about religion or politics in great detail, only to end with a very weak “rebuttal” such as: “Fortunately we in France have the Church to explain that such ideas are only foolishness and may safely be ignored.”
As an example, in Voltaire’s article supposedly denouncing anti-trinitarians (in Dictionnaire Philosophique), he provides a list of arguments against the doctrine of the Trinity. (They center, by the way, on the doctrine being hard to understand and not being explicitly spelled out in the New Testament). Most of those arguments preceded Voltaire, and would not rock the faith of anyone who knew the Bible and something about church history. Voltaire ends the article by saying, that, (fortunately) the (church) councils had settled the subject. However, many people without convictions or motivation to evaluate Voltaire’s claims for themselves have come away from such summaries convinced that Voltaire has made a compelling case against a core Christian doctrine
Voltaire and the Divinity of Christ – In an essay that supposedly attacks those who renounce the divinity of Christ, Voltaire suggests a “history” of how Jesus came to be considered divine by the church, supposedly over a period of centuries. Again, many of the ideas in the following passage originated before Voltaire, but few people expressed them as well.
” , , , Christians spent three whole centuries in constructing little by little the apotheosis [raising to the status of a god] of Jesus. . . . At first . . . Jesus was regarded merely as a man inspired by God, then as a creature more perfect than the others. Some time after he was given a place above the angels, as says Saint Paul. Every day added to his stature. He became an emanation of God manifested in time. That was not enough: he was held to be born before time itself. Finally he was made God, consubstantial with God.
Voltaire’s chronology ignores the fact that virtually all first- and second-century Christian writings and creeds universally accepted the divinity of Jesus. The great church councils of later centuries were not convened, as some insist, to establish Jesus’ divinity, but largely to refute an upstart third-century movement to discredit it.
To scholars serious about their faith and willing to check out the facts, Voltaire’s claims that the doctrine of the divinity of Christ evolved over three centuries should be of historical interest only. But scores of readers who could not be bothered to investigate Voltaire’s claims have simply acquiesced, surrendering this doctrine of Jesus’ own teaching without a shot, as it were. Unfortunately, quite a few of those young men advanced to the pulpit, and even to seminary chairs, where they could disseminate their lack of faith to the next generation under the apparent authority of their own church leadership.
Quoting Voltaire – Voltaire was convincing, prolific, and wickedly funny. Some Christians like to point out that Voltaire enjoyed skewering atheists almost as much as he enjoyed skewering Christians. But before quoting the fellow to prove some sort of “Christian” point, Christians should remember that much of Voltaire’s writing was tongue-in-cheek, and that quoting him out of context could backfire among people who actually take the time to look up the quote.
Voltaire and Twain – American authors often compare Voltaire to Mark Twain, which is a fair comparison if one keeps in mind that Voltaire was first, and was far more vitriolic than Twain (Of course, with church censorship, exile, and imprisonment, Voltaire had more to be bitter about than Twain). To Twain’s credit, he exceeds Voltaire when it comes to capturing the pioneer spirit (for good or for ill) of his countrymen, and for creating compelling characters in most of his fiction. But when he is writing mostly to prove a point, he does emulate Voltaire’s tongue-in-cheek tone. He also reflects Voltaire’s practice when he uses “letters” and “journals” (supposedly from other people) to camouflage attacks on various aspects of society.
In his own attacks against religion, Twain also seems to have repeated several of Voltaire’s arguments (amplifying them with Twain’s own brand of humor, of course). Yet most of Twain’s rants against organized religion or Christian doctrine pale next to the original, even in translation. As a fomenter of “radical” ideas, Twain may influence the reader; Voltaire influenced countless other writers.
Voltaire’s Influence on the Church – Voltaire’s on the church has been as subtle, widespread, and effective as leaven in a lump of dough. Nearly three centuries later, countless religious leaders who’ve swallowed Voltaire’s claims without examination now contend that doctrines like the Trinity and the divinity of Christ are outdated “stumbling blocks” that are keeping people away from “The Faith” (assuming you can call anything “The Faith” that actually requires no faith at all).
Ironically, since Voltaire’s assertions have become dogma in traditionally “mainstream” denominations, the churches and institutions affected have become every bit as dogmatic about their version of “Christianity” as was the early eighteenth-century Roman Catholic church that Voltaire attacked. They, frankly, refuse to revisit their basic assumptions, even when archaeological and manuscript evidence proves them wrong.
As a further irony, the churches that abandoned Biblical doctrines that they thought were keeping people away have stopped attracting new people at all, or even keeping more than a fraction of their own children and grandchildren in the church. Apparently if you take everything out of the “faith” that actually requires faith, you also take away the sense that the faith has anything more to offer than lessons in ethics, which, most people seem to feel they can do without. Yet, in spite of history’s lessons, it still seems that every time Voltaire’s arguments are restated by yet another author in search of publication or notoriety, they attract the attention of those who are easily swayed by whatever seems “clever” or “new.”
Though many times refuted, Voltaire’s assertions about basic Christian doctrines have become the bedrock that supports the foundations of the “Liberal,” “Neo-Orthodox, and “Post-Modern Christian” movements of the last two centuries. In a way, Voltaire has been the thorn in the side of theologically orthodox Christians for almost three centuries, a fact that he would probably find quite amusing, did he not have more compelling demands on his attention just now.
Oddly enough, a book about “reforming the church,” largely based on claims originally made by Voltaire, recently “made the rounds” at any number of conservative Bible colleges and seminaries. Maybe you’ve read it and have all kinds of ideas for making “the faith” more acceptable to nonbelievers by minimizing – if not filtering out – everything that smacks of the supernatural. Guess what – you’re just the latest in a long line of shallow thinkers who’ve fallen for the same centuries-old arguments.
Here’s a rule of thumb – the next time you hear what seems to be a reasonable, compelling argument against ANY of the core doctrines of Christianity, chances are it started with, or at least was popularized by Voltaire – and it has never staggered the faith of any Christian who took the time to do their own research or thinking on the subject.
The eleventh of May 2015 is the 270th anniversary of the battle of Fontenoy, a great French victory in the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748). Voltaire’s official position as royal historiographer allowed him privileged access, for a time, to dispatches sent to Versailles from the battlefields, and he started to write an Histoire de […]
I do not suppose, Spectator of the World, that you propose to fill your pages with facts concerning the physical world. Socrates, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, allowed all the spheres to gravitate one on the top of the other, that they might devote themselves to the regulation of manners. Are your speculations also thus concentrated on morality? But what do you expect from a morality which the teachers of the nations have already preached about with so much success?
I agree with you that it is somewhat of a reflection on human nature that money accomplishes everything and merit almost nothing: that the real workers, behind the scenes, have hardly a modest subsistance, while certain selected personages flaunt on the stage: that fools are exalted to the skies, and genius is in the gutter: that a father disinherits six virtuous children to make his first-born–often a scapegrace–heir to all his possessions: that a luckless wretch who comes to grief, or to any unhappy end in a foreign country, leaves the fortune of his natural inheritors to the treasury of that state.
It is sad to see–I confess it again–those who toil in poverty, and those who produce nothing, in luxury: great proprietors who claim the very birds that fly and the fish that swim: trembling vassals who do not dare to free their houses from the wild boar that devours them: fanatics who want to burn everyone who does not pray to God after their own fashion: violence in high places which engenders violence in the people: might making right not only amongst nations but amongst individuals.
And it is this state of things, common to all lives and to all places, which you expect to change! Behold the folly of you moralists! Mount the pulpit with Bourdaloue, or wield the pen like La Bruyère, and you waste your time–the world will go its way!
A government which could provide for all would do more in a year than the order of preaching friars has done since their institution.
In a very short space of time Lycurgus raised the Spartans above ordinary humanity. The force of Confucius’ wisdom, two thousand years ago, is still felt in China.
But, as neither you nor I are made to govern, if you have such an itching for reform, reform our virtues, which in excess may well become prejudicial to the prosperity of the state. It is easier to reform virtues than vices. The list of exaggerated virtues would be a long one: I will mention a few, and you will easily guess the rest.
I observe, walking about the country, that the children of the soil eat much less than they require: it is difficult to conceive this immoderate passion for abstinence. It even looks as if they had got into their heads that it will be accounted to them for virtue if their beasts also are half-starved.
What is the result? Men and beasts waste away, their stock becomes feeble, work is suspended, and the cultivation of the land suffers.
Patience is another virtue carried to excess, perhaps, in the country. If the tax collectors limited themselves to executing the will of their lord, to be patient would be a duty: but if you question these good folk who supply us with bread, they will tell you that the manner in which the taxes are levied is a hundred times more onerous than the tax itself. Their patience ruins them and their landowners with them.
The evangelical pulpit has reproached kings and the great a hundred times for their harshness to the poor. The fault has been corrected–in excess. The royal antechambers overflow with servants better fed and better clothed than the lords of the parishes whence they come. This excess of charity robs the country of soldiers, and the land of labourers
Spectator of the World, do not let the scheme of reforming our virtues shock you: the founders of religious orders have reformed each other. Another reason for encouragement is that it is perhaps easier to discern an excess of good than to pronounce on the nature of evil. Believe me, dear Spectator, I cannot urge you too strongly to reform our virtues: men cling too tightly to their vices.
Voltaire’s historical writings form a significant part of his output, including works on Louis XIV, Louis XV, Charles XII, Peter the Great, the Holy Roman Empire, and even a pioneering universal history. These histories were highly regarded in his lifetime, and Voltaire was a powerful influence on the other great historians of the age, Hume, Gibbon and Robertson. […]
We recently had the pleasure of welcoming publisher John Mitchinson to the Voltaire Foundation for a particularly enlightening and enjoyable talk. Like Voltaire at Ferney, Mr Mitchinson is a keen amateur beekeeper, and like him he also keeps livestock, and the similarities do not end there. John Mitchinson’s latest venture in the fast- and ever-changing world […]