I read for you The article “Fanaticism” Voltaire – Portable Philosophical Dictionary (1764)

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VOLTAIRE , throwing himself in the exercise of philosophical dictionary, seems to meet Encyclopédistes : Are they too shy? Too averse to risk of censorship? Without a doubt.

VOLTAIRE wants to go further, beyonds the limits of the tolerable, shake consciences, challenge traditions, enlighten his time still dominated by the Sorbonne (the faculty of theology under the old regime), so that flourish and critical thinking, that eventually reign true brotherhood.

“Fanaticism” Voltaire – Portable Philosophical Dictionary (1764)

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The inquisition

VOLTAIRE is not atheist (an atheist is one who denies the existence of God). He believes in a higher being. But his God has nothing to do with Christian superstitions. He is not like the old bearded of the sacred texts. VOLTAIRE believes in “God-watchmaker”, a great architect who had et the basic parameters of the Universe; inaccessible to man God as the elephant to the ant; God omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipotent (all can).

“Fanaticism” Voltaire – Portable Philosophical Dictionary (1764)

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Voltaire Philosophical Dictionary

The philosophical dictionary is a militant book, a glossary “portable”, a box-to tools in which the skeptic will find all the necessary ingredients to criticism of the official dogma, to unmask the deception (Diderot would not have said anything , who saw in the dictionary “a way to change the common way of thinking”).

The irony is everywhere. It allows subtly to denounce the fables of the Bible, such as Genesis of the world. It also helps to denounce the excesses of the clergy, this human institution in the service of a few, who uses fear to enclose consciences and bleed more easily the most humble.

No intermediaries

VOLTAIRE prefers to dispense with intermediaries. He wants to speak directly to God for not having to pay a fee (moral and financial) to the Church.

In this article, he denounces bigotry. Fanaticism is a real poison for society. Fanaticism prevents man to reason and to live in peace with others.

It is an article of striking news, the teachings of today could be used against the fanatics that are popping up everywhere.

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The indoctrination can be fought through education, development of critical thinking, from an early age: Descartes put it a point to question everything, traditions, habits, knowledge…

Jules Ferry proposed to combating fanaticism with the school and its “Hussars of the Republic.” Teachers have a major role in the fight: putting knowledge before anything else, by removing misconceptions, comparing knowledge, freeing speech and freedom of thought.

“Fanaticism” Voltaire – Portable Philosophical Dictionary, 1764

Fanaticism is to superstition that the transport is to fever, that rage is anger. Voltaire

Fanaticism is a disease of the mind

VOLTAIRE compares fanaticism to a disease of the mind, madness, obsessive disorder (today we would say obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD). This disease is more dangerous : it is contagious; it easily contaminates weak or too young minds. That achieved retreats into a single thought. His brain stops thinking; it operates in automatic mode, in a pattern dictated in advance by self-appointed scholars. If this scholar says that the sky is red, then for the fanatic, the sky is red. And if he must kill to convince the neighbor, then he will kill the neighbor. The reason is asleep. The body and govern sensation impulsively.

Fanaticism of any excess; it is beyond superstition which presupposes the absence of critical thinking. The superstitious man is one who makes magic wherever there is the shadow of the unexplained. He does not think. He does not critical. He admits the existence of occult forces that rule the world. The fanatic is seeking to impose, if necessary by force of superstition.

Whoever ecstasies, visions, who takes dreams for realities, and his imaginings for prophecies, is a fanatical novice who gives great hopes; he will soon kill for the love of God. Voltaire.

While the superstitious can doubt, the fanatic is mad: his delusions become reality. He denies any contradiction, obviously. Even the crime loses its horror: everything is justifiable, if it’s for the love of God. This would reverse the famous words of Dostoevsky , who in the Karamazov brothers said:

If God does not exist then everything is permitted. ” Dostoevsky

In fact, for the fanatic, it is because God exists that anything goes, including the crime.

The greatest example of fanaticism is that of the citizens of Paris who ran assassinate, kill, throw the windows to pieces, the night of Saint Bartholomew, their fellow citizens who never went to the messe. Voltaire.

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Saint Barthelemy – 1572

VOLTAIRE sees two types of fanatics:

  1. those who act on a whim, as the murderers of St. Bartholomew, where everyman began to kill his next, in the name of “love of God”;
  2. and then, the most dangerous, those who “act in cold blood”: those sending heretics to the scaffold (that is to say those who do not think like them), who have a biased atrophied reason , mutilated, which excludes (unconsciously) the exculpatory evidence and retains only the incriminating evidence, with one goal: cut the heads sticking out.

Religion, far from being a healthy food for them, turns into poison in infected brains. Voltaire

VOLTAIRE unveils: religion is the largest generator of fanaticism.

These wretches have constantly in mind the example of Ehud who murders the king Eglon; Judith who cuts the head of Holofernes by lying with him; Samuel that ax into pieces Agag the king; the priest Joad who murders his queen at the door to the horses, etc., etc., etc. They do not see that these examples, which are respectable in antiquity, are abominable in the present time: they draw their fury in the same religion that condemns. Voltaire.

Old Testament: work intolerant

VOLTAIRE examined the Old Testament. He found heroes (at least presented as such) who kill in the name of God. God also asks Joshua, Moses’ successor, kill everything living in Jericho. The Hebrews murder, cut heads, pass by the sword with the divine deposit. Yet the first commandment requires that one should kill! Are there a paradox here?

ël burned the city and all that was in it, except the silver and gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they laid the treasury of the house of Yahweh.The Old Testament: Children of Israel

The laws are still powerless against these rage: it’s as if you read a decree of the council at a frenetic. These people are convinced that the Holy Spirit that penetrates is above the law, that their enthusiasm is the only law they need to hear. That meet a man who tells you he prefers to obey God than men, and which accordingly is sure to merit heaven, slaying you? Voltaire

The fanatic does not reason, he recites.

You can not reason with a fanatic. If education has not do the job, then the brain has only one reference: religion. The fanatic is lost.

The fanatic does not recognize the law of man

Whatever is the law of men, the prison, the scaffold. It does not recognize the legitimacy of the laws of the Republic. They are inferior to the divine laws. Our courts are only a reflection of our human condition. The fanatic is convinced that men who judge are wrong and they will be judged in their turn by the beyond. He will win the sky.

For Voltaire , the law is ineffective against the fanatic. Life (and others) based on the laws of the Republic is worthless. One account of God’s law.

Sponsors are never martyrs

This is almost always the rogues who lead the fanatics, and put the dagger in their hands; they resemble the Old Mountain that was, they say, to taste the joys of paradise to fools, and who promised them an eternity of those pleasures which he had given them a taste, provided that they would murder all he would name them. Voltaire

Voltaire was right. Bin Laden has never sought to die, nor Al Baghdadi. The “rogues” entrust this task to illiterate young people, children, women, people easy to indoctrinate.

Abubakar Shekau , the leader of BOKO HARMA, still snug in his box. He makes criminals and send them on the front line to be shredded. The leaders of Hamas or Hezbollah are doing the same. They use suicide bombers as tools. Ever the leader shows the example.

The sects of philosophers were not only free of this plague, but they were the remedy; because the effect of philosophy is to make the quiet soul, and fanaticism is incompatible with peace. Voltaire.

A cure: philosophy (etymologically the search for wisdom). Fanaticism feeds the conflict, of confrontation, of the controversy. It is necessarily proselytizing and conquering. Peace, harmony are potting soils on which fanaticism can not push.


Fanaticism must be treated as a contagious disease. The infected individual is practically unrecoverable. In contrast, education, freedom of thought and expression, critical thinking are the remedies which, when applied early enough, are all antibodies that protect the society of deadly excesses of fanaticism.

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