Sade - Dialogue between a Priest and a
Dying Man (1782)
Wait a minute, there's a snag somewhere; something disagreeable.
Why, now, should it be disagreeable?...Ah,I see; it's
life without a break. (Jean Paul Sartre - huis clos)
- Come to this the fatal hour when at last from the eyes
of deluded man the scales must fall away, and be shown the
cruel picture of his errors and his vices - say, my son,
do you not repent the host of sins unto which you were led
by weakness and human frailty?
DYING MAN - Yes, my friend, I do repent.
PRIEST - Rejoice then in these pangs of remorse, during
the brief space remaining to you profit therefrom to obtain
Heavens general absolution for your sins, and be mindful
of it, only through the mediation of the Most Holy Sacrament
of penance will you be granted it by the Eternal.
DYING MAN - I do not understand you, any more than you have
PRIEST - Eh?
DYING MAN - I told you that I repented.
PRIEST - I heard you say it.
DYING MAN - Yes, but without understanding it.
PRIEST - My interpretation -
DYING MAN - Hold. I shall give you mine. By Nature created,
created with very keen tastes, with very strong passions;
placed on this earth for the sole purpose of yielding to
them and satisfying them, and these effects of my creation
being naught but necessities directly relating to Natures
fundamental designs or, if you prefer, naught but essential
derivatives proceeding from her intentions in my regard,
all in accordance with her laws, I repent not having acknowledged
her omnipotence as fully as I might have done, I am only
sorry for the modest use I made of the faculties (criminal
in your view, perfectly ordinary in mine) she gave me to
serve her; I did sometimes resist her, I repent it. Misled
by your absurd doctrines, with them for arms I mindlessly
challenged the desires instilled in me by a much diviner
inspiration, and thereof do I repent: I only plucked an
occasional flower when I might have gathered an ample harvest
of fruit - such are the just grounds for the regrets I have,
do me the honor of considering me incapable of harboring
PRIEST - Lo! where your fallacies take you, to what pass
are you brought by your sophistries! To created being you
ascribe all the Creators power, and those unlucky
penchants which have led you astray, ah! do you not see
they are merely the products of corrupted nature, to which
you attribute omnipotence?
DYING MAN -Friend - it looks to me as though your dialectic
were as false as your thinking. Pray straighten your arguing
or else leave me to die in peace. What do you mean by Creator,
and what do you mean by corrupted nature?
PRIEST - The Creator is the master of the universe, tis
He who has wrought everything, everything created, and who
maintains it all through the mere fact of His omnipotence.
DYING MAN - An impressive figure indeed. Tell me now why
this so very formidable fellow did nevertheless, as you
would have it, create a corrupted nature?
PRIEST - What glory would men ever have, had not God left
them free will; and in the enjoyment thereof, what merit
could come to them, were there not on earth the possibility
of doing good and that of avoiding evil?
DYING MAN - And so your god bungled his work deliberately,
in order to tempt or test his creature - did he then not
know, did he then not doubt what the result would be?
PRIEST - He knew it undoubtedly but, once again, he wished
to leave man the merit of choice.
DYING MAN - And to what purpose, since from the outset he
knew the course affairs would take and since, all-mighty
as you tell me he is, he had but to make his creature choose
as suited him?
PRIEST - Who is there can penetrate Gods vast and
infinite designs regarding man, and who can grasp all that
makes up the universal scheme?
DYING MAN - Anyone who simplifies matters, my friend, anyone,
above all, who refrains from multiplying causes in order
to confuse effects all the more. What need have you of a
second difficulty when you are unable to resolve the first,
and once it is possible that Nature may have all alone done
what you attrubute to your god, why must you go looking
for someone to be her overlord? The cause and explanation
of what you do not understand may perhaps be the simplest
thing in the world. Perfect your physics and you will understand
Nature better, refine your reason, banish your prejudices
and youll have no further need of your god.
PRIEST - Wretched man! I took you for no worse than a Socinian
- arms I had to combat you. But tis clear you are
an athiest, and seeing that your heart is shut to the authentic
and innumerable proofs we receive every day of our lives
of the Creators existence - I have no more to say
to you. There is no restoring the blind to the light.
DYING MAN - Softly, my friend, own that between the two,
he who blindfolds himself must surely see less of the light
than he who snatches the blindfold away from his eyes. You
compose, you construct, you dream, you magnify and complicate;
I sift, I simplify. You accumulate errors, pile one atop
the other; I combat them all. Which one of us is blind?
PRIEST - Then you do not believe in God at all?
DYING MAN - No. And for one very sound reason: it is perfectly
impossible to believe in what one does not understand. Between
understanding and faith immediate connections must subsist;
understanding is the very lifeblood of faith; where understanding
has ceased, faith is dead; and when they who are in such
a case proclaim they have faith, they deceive. You yourself,
preacher, I defy you to believe in the god you predicate
to me - you must fail because you cannot demonstrate him
to me, because it is not in you to define him to me, because
consequently you do not understand him - because as of the
moment you do not understand him, you can no longer furnish
me any reasonable argument concerning him, and because,
in sum, anything beyond the limits and grasp of the human
mind is either illusion or futility; and because your god
having to be one or the other of the two, in the first instance
I should be mad to believe in him, in the second a fool.
My friend, prove to me that matter is inert and I will grant
you a creator, prove to me that Nature does not suffice
to herself and Ill let you imagine her ruled by a
higher force; until then, expect nothing from me, I bow
to evidence only, and evidence I perceive only through my
senses: my belief goes no farther than they, beyond that
point my faith collapses. I believe in the sun because I
see it, I conceive it as the focal center of all the inflammable
matter in Nature, its periodic movement pleases but does
not amaze me. Tis a machanical operation, perhaps
as simple as the workings of electricity, but which we are
unable to understand. Need I bother more about it? when
you have roofed everthing over with your god, will I be
any the better off? and shall I still not have to make an
effort at least as great to understand the artisan as to
define his handiwork? By edifying your chimera it is thus
no service you have rendered me, you have made me uneasy
in my mind but you have not enlightened it, and instead
of gratitude I owe you resentment. You god is a machine
you fabricated in your passions behalf, you manipulated
it to their liking; but the day it interfered with mine,
I kicked it out of my way, deem it fitting that I did so;
and now, at this moment when I sink and my soul stands in
need of calm and philosophy, belabor it not with your riddles
and your cant, which alarm but will not convince it, which
will irritate without improving it; good friends and on
the best terms have we ever been, this soul and I, so Nature
wished it to be; as it is, so she expressly modeled it,
for my soul is the result of the dispositions she formed
in me pursuant to her own ends and needs; and as she has
an equal need of vices and virtues, whenever she was pleased
to move me to evil, she did so, whenever she wanted a good
deed from me, she roused in me the desire to perform one,
and even so I did as I was bid. Look nowhere but to her
workings for the unique cause of our fickle human behavior,
and in her laws hope to find no other springs than her will
and her requirements.
PRIEST - And so whatever is in this world, is necessary.
DYING MAN - Exactly.
PRIEST - But is everything is necessary - then the whole
DYING MAN - I am not the one to deny it.
PRIEST - And what can regulate the whole save it be an all-powerful
and all-knowing hand?
DYING MAN - Say, is it not necessary that gunpowder ignite
when you set a spark to it?
PRIEST - Yes.
DYING MAN - And do you find any presence of wisdom in that?
PRIEST - None.
DYING MAN - It is then possible that things necessariliy
come about without being determined by a superior intelligence,
and possible hence that everything derive logically from
a primary cause, without there being either reason or wisdom
in that primary cause.
PRIEST - What are you aiming at?
DYING MAN - At proving to you that the world and all therein
may be what it is and as you see it to be, without any wise
and reasoning cause directing it, and that natural effects
must have natural causes: natural causes sufficing, there
is no need to invent any such unnatural ones as your god
who himself, as I have told you already, would require to
be explained and who would at the same time be the explanation
of nothing; and that once tis plain your god is superfluous,
he is perfectly useless; that what is useless would greatly
appear to be imaginary only, null and therefore non-existent;
thus, to conclude that your god is a fiction I need no other
argument than that which furnishes me the certitude of his
PRIEST - At that rate there is no great need for me to talk
to you about religion.
DYING MAN - True, but why not anyhow? Nothing so much amuses
me as this sign of the extent to which human beings have
been carried away by fanaticism and stupidity; although
the prodigious spectacle of folly we are facing here may
be horrible, it is always interesting. Answer me honestly,
and endeavor to set personal considerations aside: were
I weak enough to fall victim to your silly theories concerning
the fabulous existence of the being who renders religion
necessary, under what form would you advise me to worship
him? Would you have me adopt the daydreams of Confucius
rather than the absurdities of Brahma, should I kneel before
the great snake to which the blacks pray, invoke the Peruvians
sun or Moses Lord of Hosts, to which Mohammedan sect
should I rally, or which Christian heresy would be preferable
in your view? Be careful how you reply.
PRIEST - Can it be doubtful?
DYING MAN - Then tis egotistical.
PRIEST - No, my son, tis as much out of love for thee
as for myself I urge thee to embrace my creed.
DYING MAN - And I wonder how the one or the other of us
can have much love for himself, to deign to listen to such
PRIEST - But who can be mistaken about the miracles wrought
by our Divine Redeemer?
DYING MAN - He who sees in him anything else than the most
vulgar of all tricksters and the most arrent of all imposters.
PRIEST - O God, you hear him and your wrath thunders
DYING MAN - No my friend, all is peace and quiet around
us, because your god, be it from impotence or from reason
or from whatever you please, is a being whose existence
I shall momentarily concede out of condescension for you
or, if you prefer, in order to accommodate myself to your
sorry little perspective; because this god, I say, were
he to exist, as you are mad enough to believe, could not
have selected as means to persuade us, anything more ridiculous
than those your Jesus incarnates.
PRIEST - What! the prophecies, the miracles, the martyrs
- are they not so many proofs?
DYING MAN - How, so long as I abide by the rules of logic,
how would you have me accept as proof anything which itself
is lacking proof? Before a prophecy could constitute proof
I should first have to be completely certain it was ever
pronounced; the prophecies history tells us of belong to
history and for me they can only have the force of other
historical facts, whereof three out of four are exceedingly
dubious; if to this I add the strong probability that they
have been transmitted to us by not very objective historians,
who recorded what they preferred to have us read, I shall
be quite within my rights if I am Skeptical. And furthermore,
who is there to assure me that this prophecy was not made
after the fact, that it was not a strategem of everyday
political scheming, like that which predicts a happy reign
under a just king, or frost in wintertime? As for your miracles,
I am not any readier to be taken in by such rubbish. All
rascals have performed them, all fools have believed in
them; before Id be persuaded of the truth of a miracle
I would have to be very sure the event so called by you
was absolutely contrary to the laws of Nature, for only
what is outside of Nature can pass for miraculous; and who
is so deeply learned in Nature that he can affirm the precise
point where it is infringed upon? Only two things are needed
to accredit an alleged miracle, a mountebank and a few simpletons;
tush, theres the whole origin of your prodigies; all
new adherents to a religious sect have wrought some; anf
more extraordinary still, all have found imbeciles around
to believe them. Your Jesus feats do not surpass those
of Apollonius of Tyana, yet nobody thinks to take the latter
for a god; and when we come to your martyrs, assuredly,
these are the feeblest of all your arguments. To produce
martyrs you need but to have enthusiasm on the one hand,
resistance on the other; and so long as an opposed cause
offers me as many of them as does yours, I shall never be
sufficiently authorized to believe one better than the other,
but rather very much inclined to consider all of them pitiable.
Ah my friend! were it true that the god you preach did exist,
would he need miracle, martyr, or prophecy to secure recognition?
anf if, as you declare, the human heart were of his making,
would he not have chosen it for the repository of his law?
Then would this law, impartial for all mankind because eminating
from a just god, then would it be found graved deep and
writ clear in all men alike, and from one end of the world
to the other, all men, having this delicate and sensitive
organ in common, would also resemble eachother through the
homage they would render the god whence they had got it;
all would adore and serve him in one identical manner, and
they would be as incapable of disregarding this god as of
resisting the inward impulse to worship him. Instead of
that, what do I behold throughout this world? As many gods
as there are countries; as many different cults as there
are different minds or different imaginations; and this
swarm of opinions among which it physically impossible for
me to choose, say now, is this a just gods doing?
Fie upon you, preacher, you outrage your god when you present
him to me thus; rather let me deny him completely, for if
he exists then I outrage him far less by my incredulity
than do you through your blasphemies. Return to your senses,
preacher, your Jesus is no better than Mohammed, Mohammed
no better than Moses, and the three of them combined no
better than Confucius, who did after all have some wise
things to say while the others did naught but rave; in general,
though, such people are all mere frauds: philosophers laughed
at them, the mob believed them, and justice ought to have
PRIEST - Alas, justice dealt only too harshly with one of
DYING MAN - If he alone got what he deserved it was he who
deserved it most richly; seditious, turbulent, calumniating,
dishonest, libertine, a clumsy buffoon, and very mischievous;
he had the art of overawing common folk and stirring up
the rabble; and hencecame in line for punishment in a kingdom
where the state of affairs was what it was in Jerusalem
then. They were very wise indeed to get rid of him, and
this perhaps is one case in which my extremely lenient and
also extremely tolerant maxims are able to allow the severity
of Themis; I excuse any misbehavior save that which may
endanger the government one lives under, kings and their
majesties are the only thing I respect; and whoever does
not love his country and his king were better dead than
PRIEST - But you do surely believe something awaits us after
this life, you must at some time or another have sought
to pierce the dark shadows enshrouding our mortal fate,
and what other theory could have satisfied your anxious
spirit, than that of the numberless woes that betide him
who has lived wickedly, and an eternity of rewards for him
whose life has been good?
DYING MAN - What other, my friend? that of nothingness,
it has never held terrors for me, in it I see naught but
what is consoling and unpretentious; all other theories
are of prides composition, this one alone is of reasons.
Moreover, tis neither dreadful nor absolute, this
nothingness. Before my eyes have I not the example of Natures
perpetual generations and regenerations? Nothing perishes
in the world, my friend, nothing is lost; man today, worm
tomorrow, the day after tomorrow a fly; is it not to keep
steadily on existing? And what entitles me to be rewarded
for virtues which are in me through no fault of my own,
or again punished for crimes wherefore the ultimate responsibility
is not mine? how are you to put your alleged gods
goodness into tune with this system, and can he have wished
to create me in order to reap pleasure from punishing me,
and that solely on account of a choice he does not leave
me free will to determine?
PRIEST - You are free.
DYING MAN - Yes, in terms of your prejudices; but reason
puts them to rout, and the theory of human freedom was never
devised except to fabricate that of grace, which was to
aquire such importance in your reveries. What man on earth,
seeing the scaffold a step beyond the crime, would commit
it were he free not to commit it? We are the pawns of an
irresistable force, and never for an instant is it within
our power to do anything but make the best of our lot and
forge ahead along the path that has been traced for us.
There is not a single virtue which is not necessary to Nature
and conversely not a single crime which she does not need
and it is in the perfect balance she maintains between the
one and the other that her immense science consists; but
can we be guilty for adding our weight to this side or that
when it is she who tosses us onto the scales? no more so
than the hornet who thrusts his dart into your skin.
PRIEST - Then we should not shrink from the worst of all
DYING MAN - I say nothing of the kind. Let the evil deed
be proscribed by law, let justice smite the criminal, that
will be deterrent enough; but if by misfortune we do commit
it even so, lets not cry over spilled milk; remorse
is inefficacious, since it does not stay us from crime,
futile since it does not repair it, therefore it is absurd
to beat ones breast, more absurd still to dread being
punished in another world if we have been lucky to escape
it in this. God forbid that this be construed as encouragement
to crime, no, we should avoid it as much as we can, but
one must learn to shun it through reason and not through
false fears which lead to naught and whose effects are so
quickly overcome in any moderately steadfast soul. Reason,
sir - yes, our reason alone should warn us that harm done
our fellows can never bring happiness to us; and our heart,
that contributing to their felicity is the greatest joy
Nature has accorded us on earth; the entirety of human morals
is contained in this one phrase: Render others as happy
as one desires oneself to be, and never inflict more
pain upon them than one would like to receive at their hands.
There you are, my friend, those are the only principles
we should observe, and you need neither god nor religion
to appreciate and subscribe to them, you need only have
a good heart. But I feel my strength ebbing away; preacher,
put away your prejudices, unbend, be a man, be human, without
fear and without hope forget your gods and your religions
too: they are none of them good for anything but to set
man at odds with man, and the mere name of these horrors
has caused greater loss of life on earth than all other
wars and all other plagues combined. Renounce the idea of
another world; there is none, but do not renounce the pleasure
of being happy and of making for happiness in this. Nature
offers you no other way of doubling your existence, of extending
it. - My friend, lewd pleasures were ever dearer to me than
anything else, I have idolized tham all my life and my wish
has been to end it in their bosom; my end draws near, six
women lovelier than the light of day are waiting in the
chamber adjoining, I have reserved them for this moment,
partake of the feast with me, following my example embrace
them instead of the vain sophistries of superstition, under
their caresses strive for a little while to forget your
The dying man rang, the women entered; and after he had been
a little while in their arms the preacher became one whom
Nature had corrupted, all because he had not succeeded in
explaining what a corrupt nature is.
qu'on fait n'est jamais compris mais seulement loué ou blâmé.
Nietzsche, Gay Science