More than 200 years after he was jailed and his works banned, some people may still give me a hard time for quoting Marquis de Sade.Good! That fact alone speaks volumes. As does the fact that even as recently as the 1950s access to his work was severely limited, and the English translation of Juliette was only completed in 1966. Think what you will of his well-deserved reputation for libertinism and amorality–his still-scintillating and devastating rants on God and religion are so eloquent, I can only step back in awe.
Many believers will take Sade’s pornographic, violent, and often murderous fantasies as direct evidence of the need for belief in the very God he decries; as if belief itself could protect them from their own Sadean demons. Still, their point is that many of Sade’s anti-God rants seem designed to prep the reader to accept the libertinage that follows. Since that argument has already been made ad nauseam, I don’t see any further danger. Sade created works of fiction, satire, irony and political subversion. But even if we naively read them literally, it still wouldn’t magically turn us all into unscrupulous or thoughtless imitators. And history, and especially the history of religious warfare has been far more brutal than Sade’s wettest dreams–but in actual reality.
Regardless of a context that may offend our sensibilities, Sade’s philosophical points stand unassailed. And his fierce opposition to the false religious strictures of his time remains just as valid today; especially when viewed as a backdrop for a more rational, modern, and sophisticated morality that justly pursues maximum pleasure, but respects the rights and boundaries of others. As I slowly plow through his enormous books, expect these excerpts to become a regular feature on BSJ. And this is the last and only time I will provide such a caveat. (Let the hate-mail begin). Rational readers should be able to understand that (unlike the bible thumpers), quoting someone’s writing does not mean you have become some kind of slavish devotee: Citing someone is not the same as endorsing them.
Juliette, p. 19
Above all, beware of religion, nothing is more apt to lure you astray than religion’s baneful insinuations. Comparable to the Hydra whose heads grow back as swiftly as they are lopped off, it will unceasingly debilitate you if you falter at the task of obliterating its principles. There is the danger ever present that some bizarre ideas of the fantastical God wherewith they befouled your childhood return again to disturb your maturer imagination while it is in the midst of its divinest heats. Oh, Juliette! Forget it, scorn it, the concept of this vain and ludicrous God. His existence is a shadow instantly to be dissipated by the least mental effort, and you shall never know any peace so long as this odious chimera preserves any of its prize on your soul which error would give to it in bondage.
Refer yourself again and again to the great theses of Spinoza, of Vanini, of the author of Le Systeme de la Nature. We will study them, we will analyze them together, I promised you authoritative dissertations upon this subject and I am going to keep my word: both of us shall feast heartily upon these writers and shall fill ourselves with the spirit of their sage opinions. Should you be visited by further doubts, you shall communicate them to me, I will set your mind at rest. Grown as staunch and doughty as I in your thinking, you’ll soon be imitating me in action, and like myself, you’ll never more pronounce this loathsome God’s name save with revulsion and in hateful blasphemy. The very conceiving of this so infinitely disgusting phantom is, I confess it, the one wrong I am unable to forgive man.
I excuse him all his whims, his ironies, and his eccentricities, I sympathize with all his frailties, but I cannot smile tolerantly upon the lunacy that could erect this monster, I do not pardon man for having himself wrought those religious chains which have so dreadfully hobbled him and for having crept despicably forward, eyes downcast and neck stretched forth, to receive the shameful collar manufactured only by his own stupidity. There would be no end to it, Juliette, were I to give vent to all the horror waked in me by the execrable doctrine based upon a God’s existence; mere mention of him rouses my ire, when I hear his name pronounced I seem to see all around me the palpitating shades of all those woebegone creatures this abominable opinion has slaughtered on the face of the earth. Those ghosts cry out beseechingly to me, they supplicate me to make use of all I have been endowed with the force and ingenuity to erase from the souls of my brethren the idea of the revolting chimera which has brought such rue into the world.