It may be of interest to History buffs, but also to atheists, non-atheists and Believers on the Brink, to discover what the exiled Emperor told his physician, Dr Barry O’Meara, on St Helena, about his ideas on religion. I have translated what Barry wrote in his “Napoleon in Exile. A Voice from St Helena”, which I have only in two editions in French, 1822 and 1860 (if you find a copy of the original in English, let me know; I will purchase it). Readers who picked up my implicit recommendation to read Tom Keneally’s “Napoleon’s Last Island” (“O’Meara Inveigled Me”, August 11, 2017) can read here what they will never read anywhere else. So – for what it is worth – here’s Napoleon (November 1816) talking to his Irish doctor about what I call blindfaithblindfolly :
“During our conversation, I took the liberty of asking the Emperor what his reasons were for giving such encouragement to Jews. He replied : ‘I wanted them to stop practising usury, and to get them to be like other people. There were many Jews in the countries over which I reigned; I was hoping, in making them free and giving them rights equal to those of Catholics, Protestants and others, to make good citizens of them, and to force them to behave like the rest of the community. I believe that in the end I would have succeeded. My reasoning was that, because their rabbis explained to them that they should not practise usury against their own people, but that they could practise it with Christians and others, that, on the other hand, in according them new privileges, I had made them equal to my other subjects.
‘They should look at me as Solomon or Herod, as the head of their nation, and my subjects as brothers of a people similar to theirs. That, consequently, they were not permitted to practise usury with them and with me, but that they should deal with us as though we were of the tribe of Juda; that, enjoying the same rights as my other subjects, they should in the same way pay taxes and submit to laws of conscription and all the others. This way I obtained many soldiers. Beyond that, I would have brought great wealth to France, because the Jews are very numerous, and they would pack into a country where they would have enjoyed such superior privileges.
‘I also wanted to establish a universal freedom of conscience. My system was to not have a predominant religion, but to give everyone a perfect freedom of conscience and of thought, and that all men were equal whether they were Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Deists, etc., so that religion could not have any influence in obtaining employment from the government; that it (religion) could not contribute to welcoming or rejecting them, and that to give a job to a man, one could not make any objection based on his belief, provided that he was capable in other ways.
‘I made everything independent of religion. All tribunals did the same. Marriages were independent of priests, even cemeteries were no longer at their disposal, because they could no longer bury the body of someone, whatever his religion. My intention was to make purely civil everything that pertained to the State and the Constitution, without regard for any religion. I wanted to deprive priests of any influence or power in civil affairs, and oblige them to restrict themselves to spiritual matters, without mixture of any kind.’
“I asked him if uncles and nieces had the right to marry each other. He replied : ‘Yes, but they have to get special permission.’ I asked him whether the permission should be given by the Pope. ‘By the Pope’, he said, ‘no !’. Then, grabbing me by the ear, smiling, he added : ‘I tell you that neither the Pope nor any of his priests has the power to grant anything. It is the Sovereign who can do everything’.”
DELENDA RELIGIO … ?