"Dangerous Books". Atheistic and Deistic Treatises
In his religious beliefs, Voltaire can be described as a deist. However, he viewed deism as knowledge of God based on reason, in contrast to another famous Enlightenment thinker, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, towards whom Voltaire was severely critical. Rousseau advocated deism based on feeling. The major work that describes Rousseau's religious beliefs is The Profession of Faith of a Savoyard Vicar, introduced into his novel Emile, or On Education. Our virtual exhibition Voltaire and Rousseau: Irreconcilable Contradiction? tells more about the relationship between Voltaire and Rousseau. In particular, it features Voltaire's notes in the margines of The Profession of Faith of a Savoyard Vicar, as well as a copy of Rousseau's Letter on Providence dated 18 August 1756, rewritten by Voltaire's secretary Jean-Louis Wagnière.
Unlike Rousseau's views, Voltaire's deism is not based on faith. The researcher of Voltaire's philosophical and religious beliefs A.G. Wulfius wrote,
His deism is completely irreligious. There is no permanent relationship between his God and the world. Once created, the world moves in predetermined paths, people's prayerful requests to God are a waste of time, the concepts of good and evil cannot be applied to the Divine, and even if he asks the reason why God allowed evil as suffering of human beings, then it turns out that He did not have the power to prevent it, just as He cannot nullify the effects of the eternal laws. Voltaire's deity is not only a determinant, but also is determined by Providence. The logical development of this thought led the thinker to the concept of Deity that inexorably excludes everything on which the religious understanding of God is built, that is, the constant relationship of man to Him and the feeling of moral responsibility to Him. Voltaire's concept of God is rooted not in emotion, but in philosophical knowledge. From the point of view of all religions, his God is essentially zero, because He is only a way of explaining the order of the universe, from which no special principles that govern the life can be extracted4.
However, Voltaire is not consistent with his position: the thinker's "religious feeling remains alive"5.
At the same time, Voltaire was a lifelong deist who was sharply critical of historical religions, especially Christianity. The Voltaire Library contains the proof sheets of his unpublished pamphlet On the History of the Establishment of Christianity, under the title Historical and Religious Studies (Recherches historiques et religieuses ), with his notes, as well as the manuscript of this work, written by Voltaire and his secretary Wagnière. As V.S.Lublinsky stated, on the basis of Volume XIII of the Voltaire manuscripts, this work is indisputably attributed to him6.
Voltaire is interested in deistic and atheistic treatises and works. Some of them have the inscription "a dangerous book" (livre dangereux) on the title page. As noted by the researcher of Voltaire's notes Larisa Albina, Almost all books marked "dangerous" are bitterly anti-clerical. Most of these works were published without an author's name, some under pseudonyms. The details of publication — e.g., the place and the date of printing are usually incorrect. London is most often indicated on the title page as the location of the publisher. In fact, half of all works were printed in Amsterdam by the renowned publisher Mark Michel Rey 7. It may be added that books marked "dangerous" are mostly atheistic. Among them are writings by Paul-Henri Thiry (Baron) d'Holbach (Christianity Unveiled (БВ 2–70), Pocket Theology (co-authored with J.-A. Jacques-André Naigeon) (БВ 2–131), On Religious Cruelty (БВ 2–69) and Hell Destroyed! (БВ 2–72), works by the English deists Anthony Collins and John Toland (Toland's Philosophical Letters Translated By Holbach) (БВ 5–124), one of the editions of the Treatise on the Three Impostors.