« 前へ次へ »
tirpate all errors, except those which he cherishes himself; and that it is available against all the world, but the dogmas which are “ pack and parcel" of his law, and are incontrovertibly established on its authority.
On this point, the Catholics and Protestants would be much at issue. Many a grave Protestant divine has chuckled over Erasmus's jest concerning the “real presence” of the horse, he forgot to return to its owner.*
To a Catholic, convinced of the truth of the doctrine of transubstantiation, it would appear an indecent levity, and misapplied ridicule: “flat blasphemy.” Why then should this argument be lawful as levelled against transubstantiation, and yet be unfair as applied against the miraculous conception ? Simply because he who is the strongest happens to be a Protestant, without being also an Unitarian,
Ridicule is, in reality, a species of argument very peculiarly applicable to test religious dogmas. The propositions which constitute the elements of a religious faith relate to “ things not seen." There are no sensible types with which to compare them; and it is only by comparing the ideas with each other, and detecting their incongruities, that error can be demonstrated. This is the especial province of ridicule. When Alexander set up for a god, the ludicrous decree of the Lacedemonian senate betrayed the absurdity of his pretensions better than the most studied argument. The ridicule of the pagan theology scattered through the works of Lucian is a perpetual demonstration of the incongruity of abstract propositions, by means of sensible images. Yet persecuting, narrow sectarians have not thought it beneath their dignity to claim this writer as a believer, and to use his arguments against their opponents, though they bitterly execrate Swift and Voltaire for treading in his steps.
* “ Sic tibi rescribo, de tuo palfrido,
Crede quod habes et habes."
It is this peculiar efficacy of ridicule, that has made its use so objectionable to partizans and exclusionists. The happiness of its illustration renders truths popular, which would remain the exclusive property of the learned, as long as the error to which they are opposed was involved in the intricacy of an abstract argument. The sensible image is a stepping-stone to the judgment of those, who, unused to dialectics, cannot thread the labyrinth of involuted ideas. Those who are interested in the credit of any particular doctrine are, in general, ready enough to compound for the dissent of the cultivated few: and they can bear with patience an argument, which, being beyond the calibre of the vulgar, is not likely to make many proselytes: but ridicule, being within the scope of all, brings absurdity home to the conviction of the meanest understanding. This is the secret of that hostility which the law manifests in the midst of its seeming candour, against certain attacks on the establishment. They are intelligible to all the world ; and it is feared that their influence may be proportionate.
Whatever is incongruous and absurd, cannot emanate from a being pre-eminently wise and good. The internal evidence of such incongruity, is decisive against the pretensions of any religious system, in which it exists. Ridicule, therefore, goes to the fountain head of all false pretensions; and as one religion alone can be a real revelation from Heaven, it follows, that the partisans of all the others, have an immediate interest in putting down the use of a ready instrument for measuring their several errors. What is the sum of their argument? You may put forth cogent and conclusive reason as long as you please ; but beware of ridicule ; for that proves nothing. This excess of candour and forbearance is not entitled to the slightest credit. It may, perhaps, be objected, that ridiculous no-proofs will pass current with the lower classes for valid argument. To this I reply, first, that the lower classes are not so innocent and helpless: or if they are, let them be better taught: and secondly, that they are much more frequently the dupes of grave and plausible noproofs, than of humorous misrepresentation ; and that the argument, if good for any thing, goes against all discussion whatever.
The defenders of absurdity and error are not always in the same story : for they always cry out against the argument which happens to press them the most closely. The counsel of Geneva censured Rousseau's gravity in attacking their religious notions; and asserted, in the teeth of the English law-maxim, that, “ books, only written ing."*
to turn into ridicule, are not, by a great deal, so reprehensible, as those which, without stepping on one side, go at once to the attack by dry reason
So much for the honesty of state dogmatists!
In advocating the lawfulness of ridicule, it is not necessary to advocate every instance in which it is employed. It is bad taste and buffoonery to put forward ludicrous ideas, out of season; and it is both bad feeling and bad policy, to insult the believer by a profane jest. A man is not, however, to be committed to Newgate on a point of taste, or treated like a felon for not having read the institutes of Quintilian. Those who would thus proscribe ridicule in their opponents, are by no means slow in using it against them. Not only ridicule, but scurrility and invective, are daily lavished against those who are objects of religious rancour. What was reprehensible in Voltaire becomes laudable in Piron; what was wrong in Swift was right in Rennell. A protestant bishop may crack a joke upon two non-ascendant religions with a
* Lettres écrites de la Montagne.