Voltaire’s Satirical Stance of Organized Religion

Voltaire’s satirical novel, Candide, encompasses a variety of things. This includes direct attacks on the beliefs of an opposing philosophe of the Enlightenment period – Leibniz, the foolish and extravagant attitudes of the aristocracy, and the sheer unrealism in romantic novels. But perhaps the most powerful of his satires in his novel is on organized religion. Voltaire (or François-Marie Arouet, as his friends called him) does not manifest a disbelief in G-d, but rather a vehement disapproval of organized religion; he does not abhor religion. He believes that all people should serve G-d in their own way instead of being told how to believe G-d through religious officials. The first palpable example of Voltaire attacking organized religion is after our dear Candide leaves the castle of Baron Von Thunder-Ten-Tronckh of Westphalia. Devastated by the loss of his almost-relationship with the baron’s daughter, Cunegonde, and by the fact that he will never have a name as utterly badass as “Thunder-Ten-Tronckh”, he wanders around mulling in his sorrow. Eventually, he arrives at a city that consists of mostly Calvinists. He asks around for help, like a beggar. He sees an orator preaching Calvinism, and asks him for food. Instead of being kind to the poor Candide like any warm-hearted person who is a representative of G-d should, he questions Candide’s beliefs first. Because Candide did not wholeheartedly believe that the pope was the antichrist, he rejected Candide and did not give him food. The orator’s wife seemed to agree with her husband, as she proceeded to throw a chamber pot on Candide’s head. The action can be viewed as a mock baptism for Candide, as it involves a liquid being put on his head – though a much ruder and unpleasant liquid than water. Almost fittingly so, a man who has not been baptized enters the plot. James the Anabaptist takes Candide under his wing and aids him for awhile. Note here that Voltaire puts our dear Anabaptist in affirmative light! He expresses his approval of the Anabaptist ideal: that the individual should have the choice of whether or not they want to engage in religious practices once they are responsible enough to choose as opposed to bringing them up thinking a certain manner from childhood. Despite the consequences, James eventually meets a bitter end. He is tossed overboard by a drunken sailor with half the integrity he had. Such a shameful end demonstrates that while Voltaire thought well of Anabaptist, it was only relatively. He saw Anabaptism as a “lesser of evils.” Even if Anabaptism had an ideal Voltaire approved of, it was still an organized religion and thus flawed.

Voltaire’s Satirical Stance of Organized Religion

Subsequently, Voltaire expands his views on organized religion by discussing the silly differences between different religions. He exhibits the idea that not every religion can possibly be true, and therefore everything about them is flawed. Voltaire had a strong belief in the idea that religion meant being kind to others. Since not all organized religions can be true, there will inevitably be arguments between different members of different religions. Therefore the inevitable arguments leave no room for the “being kind to others.” It could not possibly be a rational idea with organized religion. To show this, Voltaire talks about how Candide has to save his love, Cunegonde, from the clutches of two prominent men, a grand inquisitor and Don Issachar, a Jewish merchant. The two are sharing Cunegonde, and have decided that only one will get Cunegonde during the Sabbath day. However, due to their different religions, they have found themselves arguing over Cunegonde on Saturday and Sunday, claiming that the other has taken her on the wrong day. Aside from this attack on organized religion, Voltaire goes at great lengths to exploit the Inquisitor, an agent of religion, as a very corrupt and evil individual. He acts amorally toward Don Issachar, and even threatens to blackmail him. This shows that even the most prominent religious officials are not by any means free from corruption, and that organized religion to be used as a means of being virtuous is flawed. Voltaire makes another point about religious officials. To free Cunegonde, Candide murders both the Inquisitor and Don Issachar. When fleeing the scene, Candide and Cunegonde are joined by an old woman who was also in Don Issachar’s service. Later they learn that the woman is a daughter of a pope! Surely the highest of all religious officials! However, the woman had led a miserable life, showing that being part of an organized religion in no way means that your life will be benign. Anon, Candide is separated from Cunegonde and the old woman, and is in North America with a page named Cacambo. Candide and Cacambo arrive in a city called Eldorado, which is a paradise. In Eldorado, everything is absolutely splendid. There is no jealousy of other people, because everyone has everything. Since everything is free and everyone shares, there is no hunger. It is almost like Thomas More’s Utopia. A curious aspect of Eldorado, however, is their approach on religion. As a perfect place, Voltaire shows that he thinks the Eldorado idea of religion is the perfect one. Their approach is that everyone should serve G-d, and that is all. Everyone does it on their own

Voltaire’s Satirical Stance of Organized Religion

way. The religious monks do not argue with each other on the methodology of such, they simply serve G-d in their own way. In Eldorado, another extraordinary aspect of society is the pure selflessness. Everyone cares for others and not just themselves. Everyone is always willing to lend out a helping hand. The cogitation of selflessness being a positive construct for society is not an idea Voltaire develops only in Candide. He also wrote a different untitled story about how he met a genie, and the genie showed him the horrors of different religious wars. The genie concluded by telling Voltaire that the way to serve him is to be kind to others, that is all. Candide is once again wronged by a religious official. When he gets back in Europe, he is wealthy from amassing some money from Eldorado. However, he becomes sick and thus an abbe takes him under his wing. The abbe tricks him out of his money, showing that, once again, being a religious official does not mean that you are free of corruption. Ultimately, the whole crowd settles at a farm where Candide and Cunegonde are finally able to live together. They bump into Paquette, a servant at the castle of Baron Von Thunder Ten-Tronckh, and her partner, a monk. The monk absolutely despises his occupation of a monk, and relays that the opinion is shared by all the other monks who work in the same monastery as him. The only reason he took a life in a monastery, he says, is because his parents left their fortune to his older brother. As he had no money, “a life of a monastery” was the only rational thing he could do to live. Therefore being a religious figure in this situation is a punishment rather than a reward. Perhaps Voltaire is trying to tell us that other religious officials, whether you know it or not, are also interpreting their occupation as a punishment. To them, priesthood is just something you have to deal with as opposed to something you embrace. Perhaps, Voltaire is trying to say, that the entire idea of being a religious official is just a plastic one. That it’s all a sham and that these people don’t honestly believe what they preach. The monk then continues to say that his life as a monk does not make him feel happy or even remotely spiritually satisfied. Perhaps this is also true with everyone, and that everyone who tries to live a life of religion is just clutching at straws. Paquette and the monk settle down with them. Their “happily ever after” at the farm is devoid of any religious services. Instead, they all live lives of hard work which keeps them occupied so that they do not suffer from the “three evils,” all of which are born of uselessness. It is not any religious

Voltaire’s Satirical Stance of Organized Religion

lifestyle which leads them to happiness. This delineates that, once again, religious organization does not necessarily lead to happiness, and that religious organization is not vital for happiness. In fact, it is better to do without. The final line of the book really puts Voltaire’s idea all together. “’Well said,’ replied Candide, “’but we must cultivate our garden.’” The simple fact that Candide is turning away from a conversation that could lead to hypothetical thought and instead work at what is at hand is profound. By doing this, Candide grasps the material world, one of ration (which Voltaire loved), and not of spirituality or of pure intelligence. Religious organization itself is not one of tangible reward. It is one of thought. By a short stretch, Voltaire is saying that it’s not worth thinking about things that you don’t know will help in the end, exemplified by organized religion. Recalcitrate, you should spend your time doing something that will have a tangible and predictable cause, such as tending to your garden; or, as Voltaire also stresses, by helping others.

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