Requires morality religion
Denis Diderot explains clearly in German why morality does not need God
Even those who do not believe in a higher power can be a good person: Denis Diderot explains this in a small dialogue. Hans Magnus Enzensberger has now translated the booklet from 1774 into German for the first time.
Atheists - they are murderers and thieves! Marshal de Broglie simply cannot think of anything else. The deeply religious lady believes that people who behave virtuously must inevitably believe in God. If they did not, they would have no reason to curb their vicious passions and would indulge in the most pernicious things to their hearts' content. But how is this Monsieur Crudeli to be understood? The gentleman who pays a brief visit to Marshal de Broglie's house is known to be a person "who believes in nothing". But at the same time he can prove beyond any doubt that he neither steals, loots or kills and behaves like a man of honor in everything he does.
We are in the middle of a dialogue that Denis Diderot wrote in 1774 - and at the center of a debate that preoccupied the enlightened age. With the publications of the Dutchman Baruch de Spinoza at the end of the 17th century, the idea arose that there can be morality without religion and that moral behavior does not necessarily have to be based on (fear of) divine laws. This concept found avid advocates in France - at first Pierre Bayle advocated the potential virtue of non-Christians, later it was the radical enlighteners around Paul-Henri Thiry d'Holbach who saw man as capable of himself or by virtue of himself Reason to get good.
Expressing such views openly was extremely dangerous: In a system that saw belief in God as the only guarantor of a moral order, "subversive" opinions were severely punished. Centralized France maintained a system of more severe censorship than any of its neighbors; Books were incessantly burned, publishers banned and authors arrested - by the middle of the 18th century, representatives of the book industry are said to have made up a quarter of all prison inmates. Diderot was also one of them: in 1749 he was imprisoned for a stringently materialistic argument. After that he acted cautiously. He kept a number of his works in a drawer (they only became known after his death), in the great "Encylopédie" he carefully hid his critical points behind conforming formulations, and really tricky things appeared under strange names.
A dead gives cover
So in 1777 a certain Thomas Crudeli came out with the "Entretien d’un philosophe avec la Maréchale de ***" quoted at the beginning. In fact, Crudeli had already died in 1745, but that was all the better because the censorship could no longer harm a dead person. For the defenders of the Christian order, however, the little script had to come to life. In the conversation between the devout marshal and the godless visitor, Diderot not only tore to pieces the idea of atheistic amorality. Rather, he also used the dialogue to enlighten the naive woman about the bloody devastation of all religions and the comprehensive double standards of Christians.
This explosive and funny conversation can now be read in German for the first time: wonderfully transmitted by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, it was recently published by the Friedenauer Presse in Berlin. And if you sometimes get bothered by the lecturing tone of the wise Mr. Crudeli, you just have to look over his teaching because of this sentence: "I want everyone to think in their own way, provided that they leave mine to me."
Denis Diderot: The conversation of a philosopher with the Marschallin de Broglie against and for religion. Translated from the French by Hans Magnus Enzensberger. Friedenauer Presse, Berlin 2018. 32 pp., Fr. 19.90 (can be ordered here *).
* This link is an Amazon affiliate link. The NZZ can receive a commission for orders. However, this has no influence on the reporting.
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