Candide and Religion
“Ecrasons l’infame,” which is interpreted, “We must crush the vile thing.” This is the expression Voltaire used to articulate his feelings for organized religion. With many natural theists soon to follow his path, Voltaire expressed his hatred for cultural religions, opting for a universal God of nature. Given a few more centuries, Darwin would have given Voltaire the scientific theory to support his desire for atheism. But alas, with no other theory in place,
th intelligent individuals of 18 century France were forced to use creationism to explain the world
in its beauty and organization. This, as previously stated, was not a problem for Voltaire. His issue was the moral implications that separated religious groups, often to the point of war with one another. Religious intolerance was a subject he dealt with in many of his works, especially Candide. The religious characters in this work were mostly negative with the exception of Brethren predecessor, the Anabaptist, and the old woman. His opinion of various religions was also established in Candide, although it was simply a vague one, clumping all organized religions into an “evil superstitions” category. The conclusion of this work also gave us insight on Voltaire’s view of religion as either positive or detrimental to society and the individual. Throughout the book, Voltaire critiqued Leibniz theory that we live in the “best of all possible worlds.” Pangloss was our optimist philosopher, who contended for the Leibniz theory. He argued that, “since everything was made for a purpose, everything is necessarily for the best purpose” (Voltaire, 16). After Candide was beaten, his love raped, his tutor sick with syphilis; after earthquakes, shipwrecks, slavery, being exiled, and losing an unfathomable amount of
2 wealth, Candide began to seriously question his great teacher’s theory. After being reunited with Pangloss after his supposed death, Candide asked him whether he still believed his theory to be true. Like any good philosopher of the day, Pangloss stated, “I still hold my original opinions, because it would be improper to recant…” (Voltaire, 106. 108). While this satirical nature was somewhat true of philosophers of Voltaire’s age, Voltaire’s underlying appeal was to make clear to his readers that this was not the best of all possible worlds. If apparent, it would be easy for anyone to see the fallacy in any organized religion, especially Christianity. The argument was that if there were a benevolent God, this God would create the best of all possible worlds. Voltaire used war, disparity, sickness, injustice, natural disasters, and more to make his claim that this was not the case. Therefore, to believe in, war for, and die for a benevolent God was ignorant at best and detrimental to society at worst. The characters in Candide further divulge Voltaire’s views on various religious people. Probably the most blatant showing of his disdain is found in the Grand Inquisitor. The Grand Inquisitor was an important official of the Catholic Church. His hypocrisy here was evident. He forced a Jew to share Cunegonde with him by threatening him with religious persecution. He proposed the Jew with an “autodafe,” which was basically the burning alive of his kinsmen (Voltaire, 32). The Jew he dealt with was Don Issachar. He was the one who bought Cunegonde to make her his sex slave. The friar, who was of the Franciscan order and obliged to resist earthly wealth, was portrayed as taking riches from an old woman. This was a far cry from the attitude held by Francis of Assisi (ca. 11821226), the founder of the Franciscan order. Then there was the former baron, Cunegonde’s brother. In South America, he became a Jesuit priest. However, ...