The superstitious man is to the rogue what the slave is to the tyrant.
Further, the superstitious man is governed by the fanatic and becomes
fanatic. Superstition born in Paganism, adopted by Judaism, infested the
Christian Church from the earliest times. All the fathers of the Church,
without exception, believed in the power of magic. The Church always
condemned magic, but she always believed in it: she did not
excommunicate sorcerers as madmen who were mistaken, but as men who were
really in communication with the devil.
To-day one half of Europe thinks that the other half has long been and
still is superstitious. The Protestants regard the relics, the
indulgences, the mortifications, the prayers for the dead, the holy
water, and almost all the rites of the Roman Church, as a superstitious
dementia. Superstition, according to them, consists in taking useless
practices for necessary practices. Among the Roman Catholics there are
some more enlightened than their ancestors, who have renounced many of
these usages formerly considered sacred; and they defend themselves
against the others who have retained them, by saying: "They are
indifferent, and what is merely indifferent cannot be an evil."
It is difficult to mark the limits of superstition. A Frenchman
travelling in Italy finds almost everything superstitious, and is hardly
mistaken. The Archbishop of Canterbury maintains that the Archbishop of
Paris is superstitious; the Presbyterians make the same reproach against
His Grace of Canterbury, and are in their turn treated as superstitious
by the Quakers, who are the most superstitious of all in the eyes of
In Christian societies, therefore, no one agrees as to what superstition
is. The sect which seems to be the least attacked by this malady of the
intelligence is that which has the fewest rites. But if with few
ceremonies it is still strongly attached to an absurd belief, this
absurd belief is equivalent alone to all the superstitious practices
observed from the time of Simon the magician to that of Father
It is therefore clear that it is the fundamentals of the religion of one
sect which is considered as superstition by another sect.
The Moslems accuse all Christian societies of it, and are themselves
accused. Who will judge this great matter? Will it be reason? But each
sect claims to have reason on its side. It will therefore be force which
will judge, while awaiting the time when reason will penetrate a
sufficient number of heads to disarm force.
Up to what point does statecraft permit superstition to be destroyed?
This is a very thorny question; it is like asking up to what point one
should make an incision in a dropsical person, who may die under the
operation. It is a matter for the doctor's discretion.
Can there exist a people free from all superstitious prejudices? That is
to ask--Can there exist a nation of philosophers? It is said that there
is no superstition in the magistrature of China. It is probable that
none will remain in the magistrature of a few towns of Europe.
Then the magistrates will stop the superstition of the people from being
dangerous. These magistrates' example will not enlighten the mob, but
the principal persons of the middle-classes will hold the mob in check.
There is not perhaps a single riot, a single religious outrage in which
the middle-classes were not formerly imbrued, because these middle
classes were then the mob; but reason and time will have changed them.
Their softened manners will soften those of the lowest and most savage
populace; it is a thing of which we have striking examples in more than
one country. In a word, less superstition, less fanaticism; and less
fanaticism, less misery.