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Thursday, October 6, 2011


The 1763 Treatise on Toleration by Voltaire contains the subtitles "Of Universal Tolerance" and "Prayer to God." The subtitles suggest to me that Voltaire might think that, if we expect man to be tolerant on his own, God help us. The date and place the the Treatise was published, 1763 Paris, tells me that it is probably a product of the wondrous Age of Enlightenment.

Voltaire, Francois Marie Arouet, was a Parisian wit and philosopher, and very much a man of his place and time; but, he is more than that. His words have inspired men from his day to this day. He lived from 1649 - 1778. H e was an Enlightenment thinker who knew the words of Montesquieu, Rousseau, Hume, and probably Franklin, as they knew his.

He appeals to our morality, reason, and rationality. He is a credible representative of Enlightenment thought.

His thesis in the Treatise seem to be that Christian tolerance of Christians is less than it may well be. He persuades me that too many of our acts, of then and now, are not in accord with our words nor with our stated beliefs, much less with good sense. He present us with his observations of the workings of our current beliefs and realities and holds them up to the light of reason so that even a man of poor vision may see the deadly flaws there.

He appeals to words at the very heart of the Good Book, "Love God and thy Neighbor as thyself." and suggests that Christian killing
killing Christian in the name of Christianity may not accord well with those words. I'm sure that he expected our reading of the New Testament to remind us that, as an example of the neighbor we ought to love, Jesus gave us an Arab.

Voltaire feels the pain of man, but in his pain manages to speak sanely.

Voltaire reminds us of our brotherhood in the name of and word of wise men of the ages. He  seems not to ask for perfection, but rather that we tend to act more in accord with the wisdom of the book, the sages, and our own better selves.

Voltaire's 'Prayer to God' ends with '... let us use this brief moment of of our existence in blessing in a thousand different tongues, from Siam to California, Thy goodness which has bestowed this moment upon us.' It touches me. I do, however, hope that his words do not imply that California marks the ends of the earth.

This Treatise and many other works of Voltaire tend to be short and their translation to English clear. I wonder if any of them are available in the form of an audio book.

Getting into the Age of Enlightenment tends to do one good. Part of Steve Job's speech at Stanford reflects Voltaire's Prayer.

Please help me to correct the mistakes I have made by commenting below. You could even mention a part that you like, if you want to.

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