After I reblogged IS COMMONSENSE ENOUGH?, I got the following comment from sklyjd. I posted my reply here.

What are the “secular universal values” is the writer really saying the US would be ruled by a communist or socialist ideological type of government, a dictatorship or similar?

Laws are laid down by the government regardless of being a religiously based government or a secular one. So if there was no government and no enforced laws you would get lots of crime, just as has happened throughout history where crime is committed by people of all beliefs, people with Christian values and heritage are not excluded and commit exactly the same crimes.

What is clear is that sklyjd doesn’t see any practical difference between secular universal values and Christian values. He thinks government and laws create order; he doesn’t seem to understand how much it helps when people want to do the right thing in the first place. Since sklyjd‘s attitude is not unusual, I decided to expand upon IS COMMONSENSE ENOUGH? and my reply to his comment.

What follows is sort of amusing. So please be patient.

Consider this brief explanation of one of Voltaire‘s famous quotes.

  • “Si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer.”[3]
Translation: If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.
Simple: If God did not exist, we would have to invent him
What it means: Voltaire believes in God, but if someone proved God didn’t exist, people would have to invent God.
(from here)

Why did Voltaire believe we would need to invent God? Well, let’s consider some of the commentary on that quote.

Here is the view of a noted Atheist.

Though I dislike to differ with such a great man, Voltaire was simply ludicrous when he said that if God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him. The human invention of God is the problem to begin with. —Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (from here (

Here is the view of a philosophy enthusiast.

Voltaire is often thought of as an atheist, although he did in fact take part in religious activities and even built a chapel at his estate at Ferney. The chief source for the misconception is a line from one of his poems (called “Epistle to the author of the book, The Three Impostors”) which is usually translated as: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him”. Many commentators have argued that this is an ironical way of saying that it does not matter whether God exists or not, although others claim that it is clear from the rest of the poem that any criticism was more focused towards the actions of organized religion, rather than towards the concept of religion itself. (from here (

Here is what Wikipedia offers on the quote.

Voltaire is also known for many memorable aphorisms, such as “Si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer” (“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him”), contained in a verse epistle from 1768, addressed to the anonymous author of a controversial work on The Three Impostors. But far from being the cynical remark it is often taken for, it was meant as a retort to atheistic opponents such as d’Holbach, Grimm, and others. He has had his detractors among his later colleagues. The Scottish Victorian writer Thomas Carlyle argued that “Voltaire read history, not with the eye of devout seer or even critic, but through a pair of mere anti-catholic spectacles.” (from here (

Here is something from a random commenter. It is more to the point.

This statement by Voltaire was written in 1768, in response to a controversial work, The Three Impostors.

This essentially reiterates the importance of the concept of God for the society’s well being. He considered that a belief in God entails a belief in afterlife, that can be considered to be a deterrent for anti-social forces that elude capture and punishment in the mortal life.

Voltaire develops the idea that the existence of God (or the belief therein) helps establish social order.

So, yes. The statement by Voltaire does mean what you think it does. (from here (

Suffice to say Voltaire “confused” some people, but he did believe in God. Even though he was something of a rascal and hardly perfect, he was a somewhat honorable rascal. Did belief in God deter Voltaire’s behavior? Is belief in God a deterrent to bad behavior? Well, the “experts” think so.

As is common practice in evolutionary science, Mercier and his colleagues distinguish between ultimate and proximate causes. An ultimate cause explains how a behavior evolved in the first place, while a proximate cause outlines the conditions in which that evolved behavior will be performed. Consider, for example, birds flying south for the winter. The ultimate cause of bird migration is the increase in survival and reproduction experienced by those who seasonally moved to warmer climates where food was plentiful. In contrast, the proximate cause is the decrease in daylight hours, serving as a trigger that it’s time to head south.

Religious belief of some sort is a nearly universal feature of humanity, so there’s quite likely some ultimate evolutionary cause that explains it. At the same time, not all people are religious, and furthermore the forms of belief among the religious range widely, so we need to understand the proximate causes for this variation. In their article, Mercier and colleagues outline several ultimate and proximate causes for religious belief. (from here (

Belief in God was an evolutionary advantage? Who would have thought such a thing?

Why Do We Have Religion Anyway? ( actually provides “scientific proof” that people who believe in God have more self control, but the experimenters can’t figure out why.

It’s not entirely clear what cognitive mechanism is at work in religion’s influence on self-control. One possibility is that religion makes people mindful of an ever watchful God, and thus encourages more self-monitoring. Or religious priming may activate concerns of supernatural punishment. A more secular explanation is that religious priming makes people more concerned about their reputation in the community, leading to more careful self-monitoring. Notably, almost a third of the volunteers in these studies were self-defined atheists or agnostics, suggesting that these robust effects have little or nothing to do with the suggestibility of the most devout. (from here (

Adam Smith wrote about the formation of the mature conscience (see FOR THOSE WHO EXALT THEMSELVES WILL BE HUMBLED). When we do the right thing when no one is watching, except God, our fellows can trust us. Doesn’t our society need people who can be trusted? Of course, we do.

Anyway, here is the stanza from which Voltaire’s quote was taken.

If the heavens, stripped of his noble imprint,

Could ever cease to attest to his being,

If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.
Let the wise man announce him and kings fear him.

Kings, if you oppress me, if your eminencies disdain

The tears of the innocent that you cause to flow,

My avenger is in the heavens: learn to tremble.

Such, at least, is the fruit of a useful creed.

(from here (

Voltaire may have had little use for organized religion, but he had even less use for Atheism. So Atheists are not especially fond of his works or of the memory of him.

So why that picture at the beginning of this post? Here is another excerpt.

Voltaire’s legacy in our present debates about religious toleration remains potent. Hardly a week passes without an article in the press quoting ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ This rallying cry of tolerant multiculturalism is so potent, that if Voltaire hadn’t said it, we would have had to invent it. Which is what happened – the expression was invented, by an Englishwoman in 1906. No matter – it expresses a truth which is fundamentally important to our culture, so we have adopted the phrase and decided that Voltaire said it. Voltaire’s name has become synonymous with a set of liberal values: freedom of speech, rejection of bigotry and superstition, belief in reason and tolerance. It is a unique and precious legacy. (from here (

Let the skeptics argue about evolution and the plain evidence of God’s existence. If we don’t want our government to secularize the education of our children, we need to wrest control of their education from so-called “liberal” government officials.


  1. Well said, Tom. I appreciated the unpacking of Voltaire’s actual sentiments. There is a lot of misconception around what he actually believed.

    To me, there’s another very potent reason why those who actually follow Christ desire to do what’s right. It’s the grace of God that empowers us to live a godly life (Titus 2:11-12), and His love that compels to live other-centered. For if we truly love others, we won’t rob them or hurt them. We don’t need a law or fear of punishment to do what is right when we’ve been perfected by His love (1 John 4:17-21).

  2. Nice analysis piece Tom. I admire the thought you put into it. I agree with a good bit of what you’ve written here Tom, but I’ve got to admit that sklyjd also has a point.

    From the beginning of history, all societies had similar laws against things like theft and murder regardless of their religious belief system. In that sense at least, the basic laws that have governed humans throughout history are indeed “universal” and “secular” (meaning the rational proximate motivation encompasses the entire human species rather than being solely motivated by any particular confessional mythology, theology or philosophy) . One can believe in any number of religions, one can believe in commonalities of virtue universal to all religions, or one can believe that the state’s rational job is not to pick any given mystical basis for the law except simply to keep the peace. One would seem to get pretty close to the same proximity in the law no matter which proximate path one takes.

    On the other hand, a common trait of all men seemingly since we became Homo Sapiens has been some belief in the human soul and that there exist unseen, unfathomable, mystical forces at play that have controlled our fate as individuals and as groups of individuals, Even if the atheist attempts to substitute reason for religion, because so much is unknown to us, the atheist takes a leap of faith that all can and will be explained eventually by rational enquiry. This leap of faith seems to me a far longer irrational jump than the religious person takes because it assumes a conclusion (no God) without the benefit of a proven alternative theory of ultimate causation.

    I have come to believe that the actual foundation of all morality is selflessness, that love in all of its manifestations (empathy, sympathy, compassion, mercy) drives that selflessness when we act selflessly, and that God IS that love that recognizes and loves the image of God in all of us. However, in order to act selflessly, the “self” has to be dynamically involved. It can’t just be the result of moral programing.

    Most of us, most of the time, simply act morally out the habit of practicing long ago inculcated customs and rules. We automatically stop when a stoplight turns red without always consciously thinking about the question of whether it is morally right or wrong to do so. For example, the actual foundational origins for our driving laws and customs may have been profoundly effected in some unique way (both positively and negatively) by our Christian heritage, but whether or not the young impressionable student went to a secular driving school or a religious driving school would make very little difference as to whether he was a good driver or an awful one. A sociopath can drive a car with automatic lawfulness because he doesn’t he formed those habits. On the other hand, a good Christian may drive up to 10 MPH over the speed limit because he feels it unlikely that he’ll get pulled over and doesn’t really feel that he is breaking any great moral code by doing so.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that laws and customs are not profoundly influenced by religion or that the homogeneity of laws and customs in a given civilization is not important for social order. Expanding on the driving metaphor, in our country we drive on the right side of the road, we measure speed limits by miles per hour and in larger cities, it is customary to wait in line at a backed up onramp rather than just cutting in front of the other cars. If suddenly we were invaded by millions of Japanese who didn’t conform to our laws and customs, but instead drove on the left side of the road, thought our speed limits were kilometers per hour and just cut in line at crowded onramps, then it would be chaos. I bet wars have been fought over less.

    Custom is important. Commonly held institutional conventions of ethics are important. Jefferson thought that Christian rules and customs were so important to our social cohesion that he wrote his own Bible as basically a tutorial of Christian ethics. It’s also important to note, however, that the Deist Jefferson essentially removed the Christ incarnate from his Bible which is exactly what we can do if we with put the rules and customs ahead of the ultimate cause that gives them their moral authority and meaning.

    Put simply, we belittle the radical message of the Christ Incarnate if we think that He was just perpetuating a parochial set of Jewish cultural rules and customs. This would be a pharasaic idolizing of the letter of the law rather than the sacrificial and loving spirit of the law given in Jesus’ words and exemplified by His life, His sacrificial death and His victorious resurrection. Thinking that children are inculcated with morality simply by learning a given set of rules and customs from the Bible is as silly as saying that teenagers can only learn to practice a Christian morality in driving only if they attend a biblical Christian driving academy. This reduces Christian morality to indoctrination and programing of a Madrassa, eliminating the free will of an individual SELF to make purposeful, selfless and eternal moral decisions that go far beyond our basically flawed and finite cultural programing. It diminishes an infinitely loving Christ incarnate present in all people in all times, the universal eternal Alpha and Omega, to a given human culture in a given time.

    When we want to put the Ten Commandments on the Court House steps and claim they are the basis for our secular laws, we miss the point. We make our laws too big and the Ten Commandments too small. As Jesus said, love God and love each other. This is the true moral basis of all the laws and all the prophets. Real morality is an individual self freely and consiously choosing to make a moral selfless choice in, through and with God in communion with his brothers and sisters. If we do this, we put the Ten Commandments in our hearts rather than making some self righteous moralizing statement of own superiority by attempting to defy our mere government’s laws. If we want to put something in the public forum, why not profess the Beatitudes? They make a humble statement of selfless love that I think any moral person in any time and any culture can agree on, even atheists, if they can get beyond their irrational hatred of religion.

    1. @tsalmon

      This much of what you said I agree with.

      I have come to believe that the actual foundation of all morality is selflessness, that love in all of its manifestations (empathy, sympathy, compassion, mercy) drives that selflessness when we act selflessly, and that God IS that love that recognizes and loves the image of God in all of us.

      Even an Atheist can be trusted when he acts towards others in love. The problem with an Atheist is that he does not believe he has any obligation to love his neighbor.

      How do we teach our children to love others? Consider.

      1 John 4:19-21 Good News Translation (GNT)
      19 We love because God first loved us. 20 If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars. For we cannot love God, whom we have not seen, if we do not love others, whom we have seen. 21 The command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love others also.

      If we want our children to love their neighbors, we cannot turn them over to the state. We must love them and put them in the care of people who love them. We must pray for the regeneration of their souls by Holy Spirit. We must do our part by teaching them God’s Word, which demonstrates how much God loves us.

      Why is our government trying to frustrate the efforts of parents to raise their own children? Pride. Prideful people put their own egos before the welfare of others. Instead of encouraging God’s love, His image, to shine forth from their neighbors, prideful people attempt to stamp their own image upon others. It has always been this way. This is why we try so hard to enslave each other.

      So, I say we must bridle our pride. We must let parents choose how to raise and educate their children and hope the love parents have for their children will do its work.

  3. I think I can make this question (of belief in God affecting behavior) a whole lot simpler: The 3 Walmarts in Spokane, WA., have more “self-checkout” registers than “checker” registers. The 3 dozen or so self-check registers each have a single employee watching them, though usually that employee is there to help rather than monitor theft attempts. I (and most users of self-check) could have stolen thousands of $$ of merchandise. If theft were a big issue, these stores (and Fred Meyer and Safeway, etc) would probably not keep adding self check registers with almost no monitoring. Speaking for myself, the thought that–more than any other–keeps me from stealing (even back when I was broke) is “God sees”. It would be interesting to compare “shrinkage” in stores in a mid-sized, relatively conservative town like Spokane, to an ultra-liberal city San Francisco.

  4. Tom,

    I reread your post and all the sources again because it is a very succinct primer of philosophy especially if you read your links.

    Frankly though, I gave up trying to discern which of the hundreds of philosophers over time really figured out an answer to the question if or if not, there was a Creator, or an afterlife, etc. etc.

    Perhaps that’s why I keep pressing the conclusion of King Solomon’s Ecclesiastes to be the best guide to living a life regardless of a person’s mental gifts of life.

    Your final comment, “we need to wrest control of their education from so-called “liberal” government officials “ reminded me of this following proverb which may help relate the task you propose.

    Better for a person to meet a bear robbed of her cubs than a fool in his foolishness. (Proverb 17:12)

    In other words, we mere mortals lost our way when Adam and Eve decided they could be as wise as their Creator.

    And every new generation repeats the same folly.

    Which leads me to conclude, our Creator wants it to be that way either for his mysterious reasons or we are being tested to enter his Kingdom.

    Regardless, anyone who subscribes to King Solomon wisdom and Jesus Christ love in their lives will be blessed if they follow His laws. Blessed with a much more peaceful continence during their lifetimes regardless of how many fools they encounter on their path in life., in my opinion.

    Regards and goodwill blogging.

    1. @Scatterwisdom

      It occurs to that most people don’t understand why a bear robbed of her cubs is less dangerous than a fool in his foolishness. The bear just wants to be left in peace with its cubs. The fool is a busybody fill with conceit. He is not content to ruin his own life. He has to ruin yours too.

      Consider that advocates for the public schools want to take our money and educate our children their way. They are the “experts”. Instead of putting busybodies in charge, school choice lets parents choose their own experts.

  5. Tom,

    Good discerning post and explanation which leads to some further issues about the differences in the teaching differences between religious school vs. public secular schools, in my opinion.

    If someone has never been taught to understand the meaning of Proverb 9:10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, do they lack the wisdom and knowledge to discern the philosophical differences between the laws of God vs the laws of man.

    I wonder if a study was made as I suggested in a previous post if a scientific study was ever made to compare a weighted average differences in numbers of the people imprisoned in the USA who went to a religious school versus a public secular school, would it provide a much more simple explanation than explaining the various philosophies that have been expounded ever since the supposed “great enlighten” period” in history?

    Regards and goodwill blogging.

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