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Comparative Study of Voltaire's and Molière's Views on Religion in Candide and Tartuffe

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A Comparative Study of Voltaire's and Moli�re's Views on Religion in Candide and Tartuffe Literary works often reveal their authors' views on particular social issues. Tartuffe (1669), a play by Moli�re, and Candide (1759), a philosophical tale by Voltaire, both deal with the question of religion in society. Tartuffe is a satire on the attitudes of the bourgeoisie toward religion in seventeenth-century France. Moli�re firmly believes in religious moderation and condemns religious hypocrisy and fanaticism. Published almost a century later, Voltaire's Candide satirizes eighteenth-century European society by criticizing the hypocrisy of the clergy. As an Enlightenment thinker, Voltaire advocates the importance of free thinking and scientific reasoning. Although he believes in the existence of God, Voltaire is severely critical of revealed religion as well as of religious optimism and fanaticism. Tartuffe is a critique of religious hypocrisy as embodied in Tartuffe. Moli�re's Tartuffe is an imposter, who has no morals and merely uses religion as a cover-up for his vices and crimes. He pretends to be extremely pious, but his actions go completely against the moral codes of his religion. In Act 3, Scene 2, when he sees Dorine, Tartuffe tells her: Cover that bosom, girl. The flesh is weak, And unclean thoughts are difficult to control. Such sights as that can undermine the soul.1 Tartuffe preaches the importance of chastity here. However, in the next scene, he contradicts what he tells Dorine. ...read more.


In this speech, Moli�re juxtaposes truly pious people with those, like Tartuffe, merely pretending to be pious. Truly pious people do not merely preach, for their actions speak louder than words. Ironically, those who always boast about and show off their piety are not truly pious. Moli�re tells his audience that they should be like Cl�ante and practice religion moderately. Like Moli�re, Voltaire attacks religious hypocrisy. However, unlike Tartuffe, which embodies religious hypocrisy in a single person, Tartuffe, Candide focuses on the religious hypocrisy of entire religious organizations. Voltaire believes that the religious clergy of the Catholic Church and the Jesuits, in particular, are especially hypocritical. The clergy instruct people to observe a set of rules and moral codes and severely punish those who transgress them. However, they themselves do not follow these rules and codes. For example, Franciscans and Jesuits are found to have syphilis,2 even though, in accordance with their own rules, they are supposed to remain celibate. To protect their authority, the clergy persecute anyone who breaks or questions the rules. For example, Pangloss gets hanged because he expresses a philosophy that is different from Catholic doctrine (Voltaire 14-15). The punishment of Pangloss exposes not only the brutality but also the hypocrisy of the Catholic clergy, as Catholicism preaches the importance of compassion. What Voltaire attempts to show is the double standard of the clergy: they persecute others but they themselves do not get punished even though they have committed more serious crimes. ...read more.


Pangloss believes that since God created the world and since God is the most benevolent and all-knowing force, the world must be the best world imaginable. According to Pangloss: Things cannot be other than as they are. For, everything having been made for a purpose, everything is necessarily for the best purpose (Voltaire 2). Voltaire attacks this kind of religious optimism that encourages blind religious faith and shows its flaws through Candide's horrible experiences during his journey around the world, such as the drowning of Jacques the Anabaptist, the Lisbon Earthquake and the hanging of Pangloss. After these horrible experiences, Candide questions whether or not these disasters really are for the best in the "best of all possible worlds." Why, he asks, can it be God's will that such horrible things continue to happen? Through the use of various literary techniques, Moli�re and Voltaire have successfully conveyed their views about the negative aspects of religion in Tartuffe and Candide. By alerting people to the dangers of religion, they hoped to change society for the better. Although Tartuffe and Candide were both written a few centuries ago, their messages remain relevant today. Our world is torn by religious conflicts in many places such as the Middle East and the former Yugoslavia. The ongoing global war on terror is a war against religious fundamentalism. Moli�re's and Voltaire's teaching of religious moderation and tolerance is perhaps more urgently needed in our time than it was in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. ...read more.

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