Voltaire: “Those Who Can Make You Believe Absurdities, Can Make You Commit Atrocities”


Voltaire, the clear­est of Enlight­en­ment thinkers wrote those words in his 1765 essay, “Ques­tions sur les mir­a­cles.” And they res­onate as much now, 250 years lat­er, as they did then.

I rarely say much about myself on the site. But I’ll just say today that I did my doc­tor­al work on the French Rev­o­lu­tion, spent a cou­ple years liv­ing in Paris, and devel­oped a deep affec­tion for the city, as many oth­ers have. What hap­pened tonight is heart­break­ing, trag­ic and down­right mad­den­ing. My thoughts are with all Parisians tonight, friends and strangers alike.

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Comments (48)
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  • Ed D says:

    Dan, thanks for express­ing my feel­ings so well.

  • louis Heubner says:

    My name is Khan and I’m not a ter­ror­ist. Prays for Paris.

  • Candace Williams says:

    Thank you for post­ing this. Shar­ing.

  • Lorene says:

    Thank you for shar­ing this. I will share it with oth­ers. Viva la France!

  • Skeptic R says:

    I too love Paris. In fact we had just returned from there just a day before this hap­pened. It sad­dens and angers me and I don’t know what to do

  • Skeptic R says:

    I don’t know you but if you love Paris you are my broth­er. Your name or reli­gion does­n’t mat­ter

  • Christine says:

    Thank you for this. My col­lege aged daugh­ter lives in the 11th.

  • Sukru Server Aya says:

    Voltaire had fore­seen the future and dan­ger of those believ­ing viz.in (reli­gious…) absur­di­ties to com­mit atroc­i­ties.
    If the prob­lem of EDUCATING and TEACHING per­sons how to use thei LOGIC and equal­ly share life with all humans,(disregarding race, col­or, belief, lan­guage) isn’t GLOBALLY solved,LEADERS will useng RELIGION to achieve their goals at all times.In the Maya tem­pels, young per­fect boys were vol­un­teer­ing to be sac­ri­ficed on the altar, because they TRUSTED to RETURN to LIFE only five days lat­er… — In Novem­ber 1978 some 918 “edu­cat­ed Amer­i­cans” com­mit­ted mass sui­cide in French Guayana “Peo­ples Tem­ple”… — The “mod­ern assas­sin, does not only kill him­self to be reward­ed with many vir­gins in heav­en” but he deems it “God’s will and bless­ings” to kill as many as pos­si­ble!
    * Reli­gion is illusion.(Sigmund Freud) *Super­sti­tion is the reli­gion of fee­ble minds (E.Burke)* Reli­gion is the opi­um of the peo­ple. (Karl Marx) (FANATICISM always oppos­es KNOWLEDGE)

  • Roy Niles says:

    Bud­dhists tend to be an excep­tion. They have no gods and are guid­ed by a more or less prag­mat­ic phi­los­o­phy. And as to what Marx advised, his eco­nom­ic and social phi­los­o­phy turned out to be more of a poi­son of the peo­ple than opi­um ever could be.

  • TG says:

    What hap­pened in Paris is hor­ri­ble, sad, and total­ly bar­bar­ic. How­ev­er there is no need any big name philoso­phers and thinkers to under­stand what hap­pened. To me it sim­ply human nature! You mas­sacre my peo­ple and destroy my coun­try, soon­er or lat­er I will get back and do harm to you and yours! West­ern­ers seem to believe they can go to Iraq com­mit atroc­i­ties (thanks to Bush’s, Cheney, Rums­feld, etc) and will be no con­se­quences!?? are you kid­ding me. Netanyahu, mur­ders inno­cent chil­dren and wipes out entire fam­i­lies and did you write some­thing then. Just a cou­ple of days ago Beirut was a blood bath, I do not see the same amount of out­cry. Need to look at it glob­al­ly before the west goes and bom­bards oth­er peo­ple.
    I lived in Paris and have so much affec­tion for the city and the peo­ple, and my deep­est sym­pa­thy goes out to the peo­ple and to the fam­i­lies!!!

  • Richard says:

    I will not offer prayers for Paris because reli­gion is at the cen­tre of this, reli­gion is the cause. Voltaire was cor­rect.

    Reli­gion kills.

    My thoughts and my best wish­es as a human being nat­u­ral­ly go to the peo­ple of Paris and of France in gen­er­al. My con­do­lences to the friends and fam­i­lies of the mur­dered and to those wound­ed.

  • Wayne says:

    Of course I don’t applaud the suf­fer­ing of inno­cent peo­ple.
    But I think TG is mak­ing a very impor­tant point here.
    Too many peo­ple are extreme­ly upset when they hear about the suf­fer­ing of West­ern cau­casians and not real­ly all that upset when they hear about the suf­fer­ing of ‘brown’ peo­ple from Iraq or Lebanon.
    The quick­er this kind of think­ing is elim­i­nat­ed, the bet­ter.
    All human lives mat­ter equal­ly and all human suf­fer­ing is equal­ly rep­re­hen­si­ble.

  • kerouac22 says:

    Fin­ished William Gad­dis­’s The Recog­ni­tions (1955) today, and found these few lines to be sort of apro­pos:

    “Paris lay by, accom­plished. Oth­er cities might cloy the appetites they fed, but […] the vilest things became her still.” — p. 938

  • FTR says:

    How sad and unfor­tu­nate that the peo­ple of Paris and the world must once more suf­fer the bar­bar­i­ty of the uncar­ing.
    Also sad and unfor­tu­nate are those who believe that reli­gion is the cause and not the excuse for this sort of cru­el behav­iour.

  • havamal18 says:

    “The least super­sti­tious peo­ple are always the most tol­er­ant. Cast off all super­sti­tion, and be more humane. But when you speak against fanati­cism, anger not the fanat­ics; they are deliri­ous invalids, who would assault their physi­cians. Let us make their ways more gen­tle, not aggra­vate them. And let us instill, drop by drop, into their souls that divine balm of tol­er­ance which they would reject with hor­ror if offered to them in full.” –Voltaire, from his essay “On the Inter­pre­ta­tion of the New Tes­ta­ment”

  • mel says:

    we must all under­stand how islam­ic prophe­cies get twist­ed by ego­ma­ni­ac cler­gy. they believe the world will end [akhi­rat] and before that atroc­i­ties have to hap­pen. These fanat­ics think they have to quick­en / has­ten that process. so we have to be very care­ful. even the aver­age believ­er would / might keep silent for fear of reprisals / chas­tise­ments. so we have to help them change their mind­set — to think out­side the box and beyond…not easy but we must not give up

  • Ms.D says:

    this is not an anti reli­gion post, as is your liken­ing Voltaire to Marx.

  • Charles says:

    The plight of the Rohingya mus­lims, I think has put the sta­tus of the Bud­dhists as an excep­tion in dif­fi­cul­ties.

  • David says:

    It’s, oh, so easy to for­get that the worst ter­ror­ist atroc­i­ty 9/11 occurred before Bush & co. start­ed to take a proac­tive approach to prob­lem areas in the Mid­dle East.
    TG is mak­ing excus­es for ter­ror­ist activ­i­ties. Bring­ing the red her­rings of all the oth­er prob­lems areas on the globe into this dis­cus­sion is an attempt to dis­guise what is hap­pen­ing.
    Don’t pray for Paris — that won’t help.
    SUPPORT Paris and the French.

  • Tommy says:

    Hi Rich,

    This week­end mem­bers of the lit­tle methodist church (I’m not a mem­ber) around the cor­ner from my house spent all day Sat­ur­day walk­ing the streets col­lect­ing clothes for the refugees. They also have a home­less shel­ter every Sat­ur­day where vol­un­teers start work at 5am in order to give the home­less peo­ple in the area a warm break­fast. In addi­tion, they run a vol­un­teer ser­vice which pairs young peo­ple up with old­er peo­ple in the com­mu­ni­ty. If the elder­ly per­son needs some help with shop­ping, main­te­nance or just some com­pa­ny the younger per­son is able to offer that. Their ‘reli­gion’ inspires them to do this.…



  • Wayne says:

    TG has pro­vid­ed some EXPLANATIONS for ter­ror­ist activ­i­ties; not EXCUSES.
    There’s a big dif­fer­ence between the two, David, a BIG dif­fer­ence. …

  • Sachi says:

    Do not take one exam­ple and gen­er­al­ize this to all Bud­dhists.

    Islam, Chris­tian­i­ty, Judaism have always put peo­ple in dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances. How­ev­er many Chris­t­ian — wise ones gave up the Reli­gion and God real­is­ing how absurd these con­cepts were. Look for exam­ple Voltaire him­self, Spin­oza etc. Only the weak in heart and frail in mind resort to the human fan­ta­sy of God and Reli­gion. Inven­tion of Reli­gion and God by humans are the true cause of all human suf­fer­ing. ‘Do we need this any more — No. Can we elim­i­nate such con­cepts — unfor­tu­nate­ly No. So what is the solu­tion — read books that illu­mi­nate your mind. Can we make peo­ple to read and illu­mi­nate their minds — unfor­tu­nate­ly No because look at all the reli­gious lead­ers despite edu­cat­ed and major­i­ty of them doubt God and Reli­gion they still preach for a liv­ing.

    God and Reli­gion are like weeds. Once sown dif­fi­cult to elim­i­nate.

  • Greg says:

    See, there you go with the part about believ­ing absur­di­ties.

  • Penina says:

    To the tune of “Don’t Know Much About Geog­ra­phy”:
    Can­not say I’ve read that much Voltaire,
    Don’t get peo­ple killing, scream­ing al-akber
    But I know that this much is true,
    Arro­gance brings out the worst in you-
    What a ter­ri­ble world this can be!
    When the Almighty made this mas­ter­piece,
    He gave instruc­tions how to keep the peace.
    To know His word, open your heart to love,
    Know we’re con­nect­ed as one soul above,
    What a won­der­ful world this will be!

  • Heather says:

    That’s because Iraq and Lebanon are IN A WAR. We were JUST as upset when Japan had that nuclear melt­down thing ages ago. To think we aren’t that upset by terrorism/disasters that hap­pen in PEACE TIME, is racist.

    Peo­ple DIE in war. That’s the nature of war. I’m not say­ing it’s good, but it’s EXPECTED.

  • Daniel McNeil says:

    The US destroyed Japan and Ger­many in WW2. That was 70 years ago and we are allies. We mas­sa­cred many of those erst­while ene­mies and yet they have not sought to retal­i­ate. How is that pos­si­ble if your claims are cor­rect?

  • David says:

    I under­stand your point Wayne, But TG is encour­ag­ing us to ignore the point made by Voltaire, which is so rel­e­vant now. He says it’s human nature for peo­ple to do what was done in Paris. It’s not human nature for peo­ple to strap bombs to them­selves and blow them­selves up.
    We can’t solve all the prob­lems of the mid­dle east at once, but it may be pos­si­ble for an alliance of the G20 coun­tries to defeat ISIL in Syr­ia and then get Assad and the rebel groups to reach a nego­ti­at­ed agree­ment. Res­ur­rect­ing the his­tor­i­cal prob­lems of the mid­dle east is not going to help that process. Also, I should remind you that Paris is a very cos­mopoli­tan city and peo­ple from many dif­fer­ent coun­tries (and reli­gions) were shot down in that mas­sacre — not just “west­ern Cau­casians”.

  • Macha says:

    While it’s true that Bush/Blair/etc unleashed the mad dogs of the death cult, the root of the poi­son is reli­gion.

    Every­one is the ene­my of the daesh ver­min — Shia, Yazi­di, Xtian — the list goes on.

    Reli­gion poi­sons every­thing and Islam is the worst poi­son of all.

  • Walter Crawford says:

    A very true state­ment. One of my favourite philoso­phers.

  • pradip says:

    i ful­ly agree with you.

  • Chris says:

    A poignant quote, but to declare that Voltaire was the “clear­est of Enlight­en­ment thinkers” is not just absurd, it’s insult­ing.

  • anonymous bosch says:

    Read­ing about reli­gion, I have found lots of absurd quotes and teach­ings. But among the most absurd, is the gnuathe­ist meme “reli­gion is the root of all evil”, which is even sil­li­er than the PC response “reli­gion had noth­ing to do with this”.

    And, with due respect to Voltaire and his great quote (which explains only a part of what is hap­pen­ing, yet an impor­tant one), I think there are much bet­ter sources to read about.

    Ps: Marx quote “reli­gion is the opi­um of the peo­ple” is not what most gnu athe­ists think it is. It’s not a typ­i­cal ditchki­nite “hey, those reli­gious guys are a bunch of idiot fundies”. It was more on the line of “the sub­hu­man con­di­tions under which work­ers live make it eas­i­er to believe in an after­world”.

  • anonymous bosch says:

    BTW, did Voltaire pre­dict­ed some­thing about the vio­lence brought by the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies (in the name of “rea­son”) some years after his death, or this is only about reli­gious morons? Just to make it clear, I dont sup­port the ancien regime.

  • Mike Llewellyn says:

    I think that’s miss­ing the point.

    Just as if you arrived on your street to find your neigh­bours had been shot dead, it affects you more than if you hear in the back­ground a news report that some­one died in a coun­try far away.

    It’s just nat­ur­al human nature to be more affect­ed by peo­ple clos­er to your cir­cle — your cir­cle being your fam­i­ly, then your friends, then your neigh­bours and peo­ple you know, then peo­ple in your coun­try and then peo­ple all around the world. If every­body could grow their cir­cle to include every­one in the world, that would be won­der­ful. But it might not be real­is­tic — it can be painful and dif­fi­cult enough with a cir­cle extend­ing to only the peo­ple you know.

    So this has noth­ing what­so­ev­er to do with a kind of racism for oth­ers, but every­thing to do with con­cern for neigh­bours.

    Also, I won­der if you think that a man in Pak­istan would be upset by the Paris mur­ders com­pared to being upset about mur­ders in his neigh­bour­ing vil­lage?

    What about you — do you spend lit­er­al­ly every wak­ing hour being upset about all the peo­ple who were mur­dered in that hour, some­where in the world? Or do you reserve your emo­tions per­haps for prob­lems clos­er to home?

    I hope you and TG will be hon­est and sim­ply admit that it is a ques­tion of prac­ti­cal­i­ty, rather than mal­ice, that moti­vates peo­ple to be more upset about their imme­di­ate neigh­bours than they are about peo­ple in say Iraq.

  • Phil says:


    Pri­or to 9/11, the US con­duct­ed the longest pro­longed bomb­ing cam­paign in his­to­ry against Iraq–12 years of sus­tained bomb­ing that destroyed much of the coun­try’s infra­struc­ture and caused untold death and suf­fer­ing. 9/11 must be under­stood in con­text with this assault against the Islamist world.

  • Mike Llewellyn says:

    But Phil, look at the point made by Sam Har­ris: (my para­phras­ing), the US has cer­tain­ly caused untold suf­fer­ing and prob­lems around the world, and in a way this acts as a per­fect exper­i­ment as to the effect of beliefs on behav­iour.

    In Iraq, Afghanistan and oth­er coun­tries where the US and her allies have a long his­to­ry if inter­fer­ence, there are large pop­u­la­tions of Chris­tians and oth­er reli­gions who have suf­fered just the same (or often worse) than the Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion.

    How many of them are blow­ing them­selves up in an attempt to kill civil­ians?

    How many of them will, for exam­ple, enter a school full of chil­dren and cut the throats of the chil­dren and kill the teach­ers, and then declare that they are doing it in the name of their god?

    Their is only one reli­gion that is active today that has spe­cif­ic ideas in it that lead peo­ple to be actu­al­ly hap­py to kill them­selves and oth­ers.

    In Tibet, where the pop­u­la­tion has suf­fered a bru­tal Chi­nese occu­pa­tion, the worst atroc­i­ty is for the peo­ple to set them­selves on fire.

    So yes, the US has done ter­ri­ble things in Iraq and else­where. But that isn’t the pri­ma facie moti­va­tion for Islam­ic vio­lence — it is cer­tain­ly a con­tribut­ing fac­tor, but to ignore the role that the belief in Islam plays is to ignore the real­i­ty of the sit­u­a­tion.

  • David says:


    Your point about US action in Iraq, pri­or to 9/11, might have car­ried more weight if Sad­dam Hus­sein and the Iraqi regime had­n’t invad­ed Kuwait, fired Scud mis­siles into Israel, bombed Kurd vil­lages with mus­tard gas and slaugh­tered the Marsh Arabs.
    Also your attempt to “under­stand” the 9/11 atroc­i­ties might have car­ried more weight if the Iraqi regime had done it, rather than Al-Khei­da who had bombed one of the Twin Tow­ers about ten years before 9/11.
    Final­ly, I would make the point that the US and its allies when act­ing in Iraq, have tried to min­imise civil­ian casu­al­ties, while Islam­ic extrem­ist ter­ror­ist activ­i­ties have been designed to max­imise civil­ian casu­al­ties. The slaugh­ter in Paris and on the beach in Tunisia can­not be under­stood or excused by any civilised per­son.

  • Richard Bell says:

    Re com­ment above about Bud­dhism being an excep­tion to the destruc­tive­ness of oth­er reli­gions, I’m afraid the recent his­to­ry of Sri Lan­ka shows that Bud­dhists are just as capa­ble of atroc­i­ties as adher­ents of any oth­er orga­nized reli­gion. As far as I know, atroc­i­ties have been com­mit­ted in the name of all of the world’s major religions–not to men­tion the small­er Jim Jones cult-type oper­a­tions.

  • Leslie Godbold says:

    The chil­dren of Islam nev­er bring any­thing good to a coun­try, they are born and bred to hate. Abra­ham’s bast ard chil­dren doing what they do.

  • eduardo da silva says:

    Eu pen­so que o mal esta sem­pre no mes­mo lugar e esse lugar chama-se “OCIOSIDADE E NECESSIDADES”.…0 desem­prego causa a primeira e a fal­ta de din­heiro a segun­da e isso é o sufi­ciente para fornece­dores de armas vender suas armas e induzir seus usos pelas razões que forem, vin­gança, guer­ra san­ta, ter­ritórios etc.…No mais creio que a máx­i­ma de Voltaire fala tudo para a manip­u­lação dessa mente ociosa e mis­eráv­el.

  • GK Noyer says:

    A minor cor­rec­tion, Sukru Serv­er. Voltaire did­n’t ‘fore­see’ it — he was liv­ing it! And so was every­one, and had been for 13 cen­turies, before the Enlight­en­ment reforms he was piv­otal in bring­ing about, in get­ting reli­gions out of the laws! Of course, we aren’t taught that any­more, which is why reli­gious big­otry and per­se­cu­tions are on the rise again. And that, he did pre­dict: the hydra’s heads and fangs grow back repeat­ed­ly, as soon as we let our guard down.

  • Milton says:

    So true, look what Islam did to Chris­tian­i­ty! A peace­ful reli­gion bring­ing civ­i­liza­tion to the world. The Mus­lims drove them to the cru­sades.

    Too bad haters only teach one side of the reli­gion sto­ry.

  • Milton says:

    The cau­ca­sion and their Chris­t­ian reli­gion is not caus­ing the “brown” peo­ple to suf­fer. The irra­tional log­ic that you embody in your com­ments is what hurts “brown peo­ple.”

  • Freedom Fighter says:

    Marx­ism is one of the most infa­mous exam­ples of FANATICISM.

  • Yugh says:


    I think in 2015 you were right on tar­get.
    In 2021, after Trump,QAnon, and the storm­ing of the Cap­i­tal the words of Voltaire are incred­i­bly pre­scient. In fact those words con­tin­ue to be a pre­scient warn­ing.
    In addi­tion to Voltaire, the oth­er words to heed are those of Philoso­pher George
    San­tayana who said (as you know): “Those who do not remem­ber the past are con­demned to repeat”.

  • Amie Chi says:

    The same atroc­i­ty has hap­pened in the U.S. Capi­tol on Jan­u­ary 6, 2021. It was the result of the ongo­ing absur­di­ties by Don­ald J. Trump.

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