Listening up on Voltaire via the Great Courses Lecture series, I get the same sense that I did with Mark Twain, and even to an extent, with Charles Darwin—that if they had had any sense of the overall coherence of the Bible writings, their output would have been much different.
Darwin at one point toyed with becoming a clergyman—a respectable profession for a man of letters who couldn’t otherwise figure out what he wanted to do with his life. The historical novel ‘The Origen,’ by Irving Stone, vividly tells of and probably exaggerates Darwin’s brief stint as a priest, and how he infuriated his superiors. Not only did he refuse to shake down his peasant-class parishioners for money, but he committed the unforgivable sin of joining them in their toil and day to day lives. (It was a long time ago I read this—I really should re-read it.***)
[Edit: Whoa! It’s a good thing I did. I got him mixed up with Vincent Van Gogh. Irving Stone wrote a book on him, too. That, too, I read long ago.
Yeah—it wasn’t Darwin at all. He did toy with going into the clergy, though. That is for sure. But he never actually did it, not even as a trial gig
Sigh...That’s what one gets for relying on memory. I knew something didn’t quite jive—like how Charles could end up in France.]
Mark Twain savaged religion, and Christianity in particular. He is widely thought to have been atheist, and yet—he never had an unkind word for Jesus. His constant complaint was that those who claimed to follow him did not. “There has only been one Christian,” he would write. “They caught and crucified him—early.” Imagine what might have been if he had found a people who follow the Christ.
He did not find one because the weeds were proliferating, and they had choked out the wheat. “Do you want us to pull the weeds out?” the slaves asked the master, and the reply is to hold off until the harvest. The harvest begins after Twain’s time, and Darwin’s, and Voltaire’s. It hardly seems fair to them, but “the devil” who planted the weeds while “men were sleeping” must be given full reign to prove his claim that humans need not heed God’s right to rule. (Matthew 23:24-30, 36-39). The wheat was completely overrun by our trio’s time. One result was that a coherent explanation of the Hebrew and Greek scriptures was nowhere to be found, and not one of the three greats could figure it out on their own.
It makes a difference. You will fight a lot harder to save your home than you will to save your dumpster. Voltaire and Twain readily condemned the travesties of religion—they were principled men, offended at injustice, so why would they not?—and in the process nearly threw the baby out with the bath water. Their successors would later do just that.
Voltaire’s brashness caused him trouble in France, so he fled to England, where he remained for a decade or so. Whereas France allowed only Catholicism to be practiced, England had many faiths and they all at the time, more or less got along with one another. He wrote ‘Letters on England’ and remarked on how others besides Catholics can appeal to verse to buttress their point of view—to frothing clerical disapproval back home. He sets himself up as a devoted and rigid (and naive), Catholic himself, aghast to find Quakers appealing to verse “wrongly”—as his narrative demonstrates that they are not doing it wrongly at all.
Feigning shock that the Quaker is not baptized—after all, Jesus was baptized—he wonders how the Quaker can call himself Christian. The Quaker asks him if he is circumcised—since Jesus was. He replies that he “has not had that honor.” “So—I am a Christian without having been baptized and you are one without having been circumcised,” is the reply. Voltaire lets that stand as having proved the point that all religions can successfully argue scripture.
What is amazing is that he has no concept that scripture might be grasped as a coherent whole. It is perfectly fine with him to cherry-pick verse, and the reason that it is perfectly fine is that no one has ever demonstrated any other way. When in the skirts of ‘Babylon the Great’ is found the blood of ... all those who have been slaughtered on the earth” (Revelation 18:24) it is not so much for her acts of commission as it is for her acts of omission; it should have been teaching the complete Word of God, but it neglected that task, and thus Voltaire quite naturally assumed that it was not possible to teach it—so far as he knows, no one has ever done it.
We Witnesses may not be ones for exalting humans, but by this standard, C.T. Russell becomes one of the most innovative humans of all time. You would think his approach to unlocking the Bible would be the most common-sense thing in the world, but it appears to be revolutionary: Toss out a verse for discussion, and do not move on until every other verse on that same topic is discussed. In that way, get a grasp on what the scriptures teach as a whole. The basic Bible teachings that Jehovah’s Witnesses are known for, so different from what may be found in any of the churches, have been in place for well over a hundred years.
It gets much heavier than this, and the blood of Babylon gets much thicker. More to come—