Jean Jacques Brousson, Anatole France Himself: A Boswellian Record
, tr. John Pollock (1925; rpt. London: Thornton Butterworth, Ltd., 1934), pp. 21-22:
Suddenly he asks me: "Have you been freed?"
I stand perplexed: I do not know precisely what he
means. Freed from what? From military service?
He makes himself clear.
"Have you been liberated from religious beliefs?
Oh, the question is not in the least indiscreet. I say that
to you, just as I would say: 'Have you a good digestion? Is your liver all right?' People are born churchy
or unchurchy, just as they are born with a tendency to
arterio-sclerosis, cancer, or consumption. Not all the
preachings or all the proofs make any difference. Are
there more unbelievers to-day than in the fifteenth
century, for instance? I do not think so. But then
people feigned devotion from fear of the stake. He who
is born an unbeliever, remains one all his life, and vice
versa: he lacks the organ of superstition. In relation
to heaven he is an eunuch. I had that infirmity or, if you
like, advantage. That is why I inquire with such sympathetic interest about you. Anatomists will, I trust,
one day discover the cause and seat of the religious
spirit. I know nothing more terrible directed against
its devotees than a saying of La Bruyère in his chapter —
a feeble chapter too — in the Esprits forts."
He chooses a La Bruyère from his library. He shows
the edition with pride, it is that of ———, the most notable
of all. He finds the passage without difficulty, and
reads: "'He who is in perfect health doubts the existence
of God, but, when he gets a dropsy, leaves his mistress
and sends for the priest.' He sends for a doctor at the
same moment. Decay of the body induces decay of the
mind. Faith and credulity are infirmities, and most often
they are congenital. Sometimes a man lives with them
without being too much harassed, just as one does with
consumption, arterio-sclerosis, or cancer. But the downward turn comes and he gives himself to drugs and the
Deity. A few extra grammes of sugar in his urine and
the libertine goes to mass."