On Atheism: Plutarch

Uploaded by Xoroaster on 30.04.2011

"On Superstition" chapter eleven and twelve
Is it, then, an unholy thing to speak meanly of the gods but not unholy to have a mean
opinion of them?
Or does the opinion of him who speaks malignly make his utterance improper?
It is a fact that we hold up malign speaking as a sign of animosity
and those who speak ill of us we regard as enemies since we feel they must also think
ill of us.
You see what kind of thoughts the superstitious have about the gods; they assume that the gods
are rash, faithless, fickle, vengeful, cruel, and easily offended;
and as a result the superstitious man is bound to hate and fear the gods
Why not, since he thinks that the worst of his ills are due to them, and will be due
to them in the future?
As he hates and fears the gods, he is an enemy to them.
And yet, though he dreads them, he worships them and sacrifices to them and besieges their
shrines to
and this is nothing surprising
for it is equally true that men give welcomed despots, and pay court to them, and erect
golden statues in their honor, but in their hearts they hate them and "shake their head."
Hermolaus attended upon Alexander, Pausanias served as bodyguard for Philip, and Chaerea
for Gaius Caligula, yet each one of these must have said as he followed along:
Verily i would have vengeance if only my strength were sufficient.
The atheist thinks there are no gods; the superstitious man wishes there were none, but believes in
them against his will; for he is afraid not to believe. And yet as Tantalus would be glad
indeed to get out from under the rock suspended above his head,
so the superstitious man would be glad to escape his fear by which he feels oppressed
no less than Tantalus by his rock,
and he would call the condition of the atheist happy because it is a state of freedom.
But, as things are the atheist have neither part nor lot in superstition,
whereas the superstitious man by preference would be an atheist, but is too weak to hold
the opinion about the gods which he wishes to hold.
Moreover, the atheist has no part in causing superstition,
but superstition provides the seed from which atheism springs and when atheism has taken
root, superstition supplies it with a defense, not a true one or a fair one, but one not destitute
some speciousness, For it is not because these people saw in the heavens anything to find fault
with, or anything not harmonious or well-ordered in the stars or seasons, or in the revolution
of the moon or in the movements of the sun around the earth,
"artisans of day and night"
or in the feeding and growth of living creatures, or in the sowing and harvesting of crops, as
a result of which they decided against the idea of a god in the universe;
But, the ridiculous actions and emotions of superstition, its words and gestures magic charms and spells,
rushing around beating of drums, impure purifications and dirty sanctifications,
barbarous and outlandish penances,
and mortifications at the shrines - all these give occasion to some to say that
it were better there should be no gods at all
than gods who accept with pleasure such forms of worship,
and are so overbearing, so petty, and so easily offended.