It is not the ordinary people, my brethren, not the agricultural workers and the ignorant and peaceful artisans, who have raised these ridiculous and fatal quarrels, the sources of so many horrors and parricides. There is, unhappily, not one of them that is not due to the theologians. Men fed by your labours in a comfortable idleness, enriched by your sweat and your misery, struggled for partisans and slaves; they inspired you with a destructive fanaticism, that they might be your masters; they made you superstitious, not that you might fear God the more, but that you might fear them.
I have an idea that, if Voltaire were alive in England to-day, he would write with more scathing irony than ever. I imagine him gazing with profound admiration at that marvellous picture of the past which science and archæology have given us, and then asking at what date in the nineteenth century we ceased to dispute about consubstantiality and transubstantiation, took the gilt off our Old Testament, and elevated our bishops to the rank of citizens. I then fancy him peeping into the fine schools of London or Manchester, and learning that the first educational authorities in England still set children to learn about Adam and Eve, the Deluge, the Plagues of Egypt, and the remarkable proceedings of Joshua and David and the rest. I try to conceive him studying the faces of learned judges and professors, as they listen gravely to the reading of the Bible and the creeds in church on Sundays, or reverently handle the book in court. I picture his amazement as he learns that this England, which he thought so enlightened, still, at the dictation of its bishops, retains the most abominable divorce law in the civilised world; or hears preachers and social students seriously expressing concern for the future of Europe on account of the decay of docility to the clergy. What would he have written on such a situation?
Joseph McCabe, “Introduction” to Toleration and Other Essays by Voltaire (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1912)
He who was the first to forbid communication with those who were not of his opinion rang the tocsin of civil war throughout the earth.