Saint-Savin frowned for a moment. "When I was more or less your age, I admired a man who had been an older brother to me. Like an ancient philosopher I called him Lucretius, for he, too, was a philosopher, and moreover a priest. He ended up at the stake in Toulouse, but first they tore out his tongue and strangled him. And so you see that if we philosophers are quick of tongue, it is not simply, as that gentleman said the other evening, to give ourselves bon ton. It is to put the tongue to good use before they rip it out. Or, rather, jesting aside, to dispel prejudice and to discover the natural cause of Creation."

"So you truly do not believe in God?"

"I find no reason to, in nature. Nor am I the only one. Strabo tells us that the Galicians had no notion of a higher being. When the missionaries wanted to talk of God with the natives of the West Indies, Acosta recounts (and he was also a Jesuit), they could use only the Spanish word Dios. You will not believe it, but no suitable term existed in the local language. If the idea of God is unknown in the state of nature, it must be a human invention. . . . But do not look at me as if I lacked sound principles and were not a faithful servant of my king. A true philosopher never seeks to subvert the order of things. He accepts it. He asks only to be allowed to cultivate the thoughts that comfort a strong spirit. For the others, luckily there are both popes and bishops to restrain the crowd from revolt and crime. The order of the state demands a uniformity of conduct, religion is necessary for the people, and the wise man must sacrifice a part of his independence so that society will remain stable. As for me, I believe I am an upright man: I am loyal to my friends, I do not lie, except when I make a declaration of love, I love knowledge, and they say I write good verses. So the ladies consider me charming. I would like to write romances, which are so much in fashion, but though I think of many, I never sit down to write one. . . ."

The Island of the Day Before--Umberto Eco

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