It would be easier to subjugate the entire universe through force than the minds of a single village. ~ Voltaire
Voltaire was an 18th century French writer of the Enlightenment period, a liberal thinker, and a proponent of tolerance and reason in the world. He wrote Candide,and a number of short stories that describe his views on various issues that were of concern to him and the Europe of his times - religious tolerance, faith in reason, abhorrence of superstition, and a free life.
Some of his interestingstories
In Bababec, amuslim traveler visits India and meets fakirs engaged in self-denying and torturous acrobatics, like sitting over nails, and meditating. One of them is persuaded to give up all this and live like a good man. But he returns back as he loses his social status and influence over women. Voltaireasks whetherit is notenough to live like a good man and reach heaven?
In The story of a Good Brahman,an honest and learned brahmanadmits his ignorence - he is not sure about himself, his world, or his soul. But an ignorent woman, who lives next doors, is happy, although she is ignorent too. Yet, he and others like him would rather be comtemplative and unhappy than be happy but purely ignorent. A life of devoted tocontemplation and thinking is more important to them. Voltaire asks why this is so, and thinksit to be a contradiction. The story ends leaving the matter open for debate.
In An Indian Adventure, the story of Pythagoras' visit to India (did he ever visit india?), the traveler, Pythagorasnotices two men being burnt to death because the women of the locality do not like their views - that rites like holding a cow's tail while dying to reach heaven are ridiculous, and it is better to live a virtuous life, and that Brahma does notpervade everything, etc. - and urge their men to burn them. Pythagoras manages to save them. On his return he preaches tolerance, but his house is burnt down by an intolerant. The story ends with the words - "Escape if you can!"
In the story of Scarmentado's travels, a traveler flees Europe, and countries like England, Spain, and China, due to religious persecution everwhere. On the way he has to stay in India, and goes to the court of Aurangzeb, the ruling Indian muslim king,with a French friend. This friend is not able to hold his tongue back, and tells Aurangzeb that in Europe they do not kill their brothers or poison their fathers for a throne. This is translated to the king. The wise traveler immediately runs away at night with this friend. The next day the interpreter is executed.
Voltaire's views on sati - the Indian traditional practice, now extinct, of burning a widow on her dead husband's pyre, are quiet revealing. He thinks that the practice entered India from outside. And that it is all about a silly social competition of showing off one's family honour to the community. A widow, he thinks,should be allowed to remarry, and if only young men around her could be allowed to meet and talk to her for a while, finding a second husband wouldn't be too difficult.
Voltaire'swritingsare always to the point, and really pleasurable.A good joke in thestory,Scarmentado's travels, is when Scarmentado, in Persia, seen to be interested in converting to Islam because of his mistress,runs away asthe the people thereeither want to circumcise him and convert him to Islam, or else beat him up, and he says,"I saved my foreskin and my behind by paying 1000 seqins."
WhatVoltaire said to Benjamin Franklin when the latter visited him with his son atVoltaire's house in Ferney -he saw the young boy, and said, "I will say only two things - God and Liberty."
Just a few weeks ago,a local sandwich maker showed me a coin - a quarter of a dollar - and on that there were these two same words - God and liberty. And why not, because his friends - the founders of USA - fought against all the religiousintolerance that is the main theme of Voltaire's life longtirade against intolerance and superstition.
An interesting commentfrom his story Ingenuous:
Atthe baptism ofIngenuous, the jesuit priest chose Hercules as the patron saint and goes on to say that his 13th miracle was to convert 50 girls to women in a single night. The two ladies present
there lower their eyes on hearing this, look at the sturdy figure of Ingenous, and think it quite apt for him to be linked to Hercules!
(Source:my personal blog)
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