( Originally Published 1879 )
IF we wholly perish with the body, what an imposture is this whole system of laws, manners, and usages, on which human society is founded! If we wholly perish with the body, these maxims of charity, patience, justice, honor, gratitude, and friendship, which sages have taught and good men have practised, what are they but empty words, possessing no real and binding efficacy? Why should we heed them, if in this life only we have. hope? Speak not of duty. What can we owe to the dead, to the living, to ourselves, if all are, or will be, nothing? Who shall dictate our duty, if not our own pleasures—if not our own passions? Speak not of mortality. It is a mere chimera, a bug-bear of human invention, if retribution terminate with the grave. [an error occurred while processing this directive]
If we must wholly perish, what to us are the sweet ties of kindred? What the tender names of parent, child, sister, brother, husband, wife, or friend? The characters of a drama are not more illusive. We have no ancestors, no descendants; since succession cannot be predicated of nothingness. Would we honor the illustrious dead? How absurd to honor that which has no existence! Would we take thought for posterity? How frivolous to concern ourselves for those whose end, like our own, must soon be annihilation! Have we made a promise? How can it bind nothing to nothing? Perjury is but a jest. The last injunctions of the dying—what sanctity have they, more than the last sound of a chord that is snapped, of an instrument that is broken?
To sum up all: If we must wholly perish, then is obedience to the laws but an insensate servitude; rulers and magistrates are but the phantoms which popular imbecility has raised up; justice is an unwarrantable infringement upon the liberty of men—an imposition, a usurpation; the law of marriage is a vain scruple; modesty, a prejudice; honor and probity, such stuff as dreams are made of; and incests, murders, parricides, the most heartless cruelties and the blackest crimes, are but the legitimate sports of man's irresponsible nature; while the harsh epithets attached to them are merely such as the policy of . legislators has invented and imposed on the credulity of the people.
Here is the issue to which the vaunted philosophy of unbelievers must inevitably lead. Here is that social felicity, that sway of reason, that emancipation from error, of which they eternally prate, as the fruit of their doctrines. Accept their maxims, and the whole world falls back into a frightful chaos; and all the relations of life are confounded; and all ideas of vice and virtue are reversed; and the most inviolable laws of society vanish; and all moral discipline perishes; and the government of states and nations has no longer any cement to uphold it; and all the harmony of the body politic becomes discord; and the human race is no more than an assemblage of reckless barbarians, shameless, remorseless, brutal, denaturalized, with no other law than force, no other check than passion, no other bond than irreligion, no other God than self! Such would be the world which impiety would make. Such would be this world, were a belief in God and immortality to die out of the human heart.