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The Religious Affiliation of Influential Philosopher

Voltaire: "His entire life was a parodox. He despised mankind and yet he was passionately fond of men. He ridiculed the clergy and dedicated one of his books to the pope. He made fun of royalty and he accepted a pension from King Frederick the Great. He hated bigotry and he was bigoted in his attitude toward the Jews. He sneered at the vanity of riches and he acquired a vast fortune (by means that were not always honest). He disbelieved in God and he tried all his life to find Him. He had no respect for religion and he created a new religion of laughter... His father was a Jansenist, which in itself was a paradox. For the Jansenists were a sect of 'Protestant Catholics.'... His father imposed his doctrine of abstract mysticism so vigorously upon him that Voltaire grew up with a rebellious thirst for concrete reality. He cordially hated Jansenism. But he grew up with another hatred--a hatred against the persecution of Jansenists. Against any kind of persecution."; Pg. 185: "He was not, as is commonly believed, an atheist. He was a deist. He believed in the existence of God. Indeed, 'if God did not exist,' he said, 'it would be necessary to invent him.' But Voltaire's God is not an exclusive king of a single ecclesiastical order. He is the world's 'supreme Intelligence, a Workman infinitely able'--and infinitely impartial. He has no favorite people, no favorite country, no favorite church. For the true worshiper there is but a single faith, equal tolerance to all mankind."; Pg. 186: "...he helped them in the preparation of the great Encyclopedia of Free Thought. The Encyclopedists accused him of being a Christian and the Christians accused him of being an infidel, and between the two parties he had his hands full." (Source: Henry and Dana Lee Thomas. Living Biographies of Great Philosophers, Garden City, NY: Garden City Books (1959); Other source: "Late in life Voltaire wrote considerably against religious injustice and was quite opposed to the Catholic Church and Christianity in general."

Voltaire made an official deathbed affirmation of Catholic beliefs, but his intentions in doing so are disputed. Like his writing, many of his activities consisted of multi-layered satire. There is no way to know conclusively what his motivation was. Certainly, from a cultural and literary perspective, Voltaire was deeply involved in Catholicism more than any other religion, often to the consternation of the Catholic Church.

From: Dan Graves, Scientists of Faith, Kregel Resources: Grand Rapids, MI (1996), page 86:

Euler's philosophy was roundly ridiculed by the French deist Voltaire, the most articulate and glib philosopher of the day. Euler argued back by writing apologetics that defended Christianity...

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Webpage created 12 July 2005. Last modified 12 July 2005.
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