Sunday, October 13, 2019


Have You Been Freed?

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."

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