The Drowning Anabaptist and the Slave

Voltaire, the virus, religion, and politics

Todd Daniel
7 min readApr 19, 2020

Last week I talked about the first scientists and the Renaissance, which led to the Enlightenment. That was a beautiful time in the 18th century when the great thinkers of the day started to promote reason and individualism over tradition. People began to question the control of the Catholic church and the absolute powers of the monarchy. In fact, people began to question EVERYTHING, which led to good things like the toppling of slavery, free speech, and religious and political tolerance.

You are likely thinking, “Yeah, so what?” Well, the Enlightenment had a major impact on a new nation on the other side of the pond and it greatly influenced the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

People have acted surprised at me for being a liberal and still being patriotic. I love my country because it was founded on idealism and the person I love most is Thomas Jefferson. Yeah, he had his faults but he represents the values and ideals that make me a proud American. I proudly fly a U.S. flag in my front yard, in honor of Jefferson and the other founding fathers.

But what happened to America? The answer is the same old crap that was going on in 17th and 18th century France. The people were poor, the people were taxed, and the aristocrats and Roman Catholic Church paid no taxes, and held all the power. And like in this country now, the church and nobility were in bed together, and as a team they screwed over the peasants. That was at least until the French Revolution began and the guillotine went into action.

In Comes Voltaire

Voltaire is my fourth favorite person in history, after Daniel Quinn, Teddy Roosevelt, and Jesus. If I need a role model it would have to be him. He is the most famous writer of the Age of Enlightenment and he taught me that it’s not only okay to stand up against institutionalized religion and the 1 percenters, but it’s essential that I do. Voltaire opposed the decaying institutions of his day and for that he was physically beaten, imprisoned, and exiled. I especially love the guy because like me, he loved satire and wit, and those were his primary weapons.

Voltaire also set the standard because he loved science and was a fan of Sir Isaac Newton, and even became sort of like his PR person. You know the story about the apple falling on Newton’s head? Yep, Voltaire came up with that. The idea was to present science in a way people could understand. Voltaire was also anti-war.


The most famous book from the most famous author of the Enlightenment is Candide, a satirical novel that gives European society a hard bitch slap. The book is dark and edgy and in a weird sort of way it describes my life. It starts out with Candide, the main character, living a sheltered life in a castle. He falls for his cousin Cunégonde and is caught kissing her, which leads to his eviction from the castle. He then travels around the world and has a series of adventures, where he sees the dark side of humanity and the apparent indifference of God.

To me, the most chilling scene in the book is when he is in South America and comes across a black sugar plantation slave. He is wondering why the slave has no hand or leg, and the slave replies, “When we work at the sugar-canes, and the mill snatches hold of a finger, they cut off the hand; and when we attempt to run away, they cut off the leg; both cases have happened to me.” And that, he said, is the price he must pay so that Europeans can eat sugar.

In today’s situation, where the coronavirus has completely shaken our delicate society, I see how the wealthy are doing just fine while millions of working class people are now facing eviction or foreclosure. Something is terribly wrong.

The main theme of Candide is to challenge the “optimism” movement promoted by Voltaire’s contemporaries, most notably Gottfried Wilhem von Leibniz.

In the book, Candide’s tutor, Dr. Pangloss, repeatedly says that all is for the best in this “best of all possible worlds.” In one section of the book Lisbon is wiped out by a terrible earthquake, which also causes a tsunami and great fire. This event really happened in 1755 and Voltaire put it in his novel. It makes one wonder why God is so indifferent and even cruel to humanity. During the Lisbon disaster, a generous and virtuous Anabaptist man dies, while a wicked sailor, who steals money, gets drunk, and buys a hooker, gets to live. Where is the justice in that?

I would say that the book and the characters were not pessimistic, but in the end they definitely become realists and get a sobering reality check, which is NOT “the best of all possible worlds.”


One thing that troubles me about my two favorite authors — Daniel Quinn and Voltaire — is that they point out the problems but don’t offer solutions. Perhaps the answer is that there is NO solution for society’s ills. The only thing I see that works is to create a highly educated citizenry and to encourage young people to think critically, which is what Napoleon actually did. It’s strange that we are losing this idea in the United States, but, you see, the wealthy people who are in control WANT a dumbed down population that provides cheap labor and doesn’t question.

If there is any hope for our civilization it’s in the people who have socially mutated and have decided to break out of the cultural cages that they are placed into at birth. In my personal experience I received all the religious and cultural indoctrination from my parents, church, and influential people in my life. But I realized something was horribly wrong and I began to question.

In reading through Candide I looked for the magic bullet that would solve all the world’s ills and maybe Voltaire, in his incredible brilliance, DID put the answer in his book. You see, in the end, Candide marries Cunégonde and, along with his friends, they settle on a small farm and become co-op farmers. So, BOOM, the lightbulb went on in my head today and I believe that’s one solution to our broken and sick society. We could live together in small groups, farm together, and lead a more simplistic life. This also ties in with Daniel Quinn’s idea of the “Leavers,” who are people outside the dominant culture, and who are living sustainably.

I now see this as a dream for myself and the world, where we turn our yards into gardens and focus on relationships and outdoor activities instead of the hell-world that we have created for ourselves. You know, the world that puts us on antidepressants, alcohol, and makes us obese, or even makes us commit suicide. Candide got to see that the world isn’t so pretty outside the castle walls.


So, where was God during the Lisbon earthquake or when the sugar plantation slave was getting his hand and leg chopped off? Voltaire was a deist, who believed that God set the world in motion and then left us to our fate. And despite the Christian Right’s efforts to rewrite history, several of our main founding fathers were deists too, including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin. It’s even believed that George Washington was more of a deist than an Anglican, based on his refusal to receive communion during his adult life.

Now, here we are today and the religious leaders can’t seem to make up their minds about the coronavirus. I’ve heard some religious people say it’s punishment for pornography and fornication, and another pastor said God is using it to teach us about community. Still other religious folks say that it’s “pestilence” and a sign of the Tribulation. If it is a warning sign about the end times, why couldn’t God have just called the Pope instead? Rather, he is primarily allowing the elderly to die, and these are some of his biggest supporters. It doesn’t make a lick of sense to me and I don’t buy the “God works in mysterious ways” crap. The sad thing is that after the “shelter in place” order is lifted, people will return to their churches and continue singing about how wonderful God is.

According to Barna, a research group that studies religious and cultural trends, about 3,500 people in the U.S. leave their church every day, and nine churches close down per day. This doesn’t make me happy; it makes me somber. If American churches could reinvent themselves and actually follow the teachings of Christ for once, they could have a future role in our society.

Voltaire did take some serious jabs at Christianity, Islam, and Judaism during his lifetime, but he was a staunch defender of religious tolerance. He also believed that religion was necessary to maintain social order, since many people are incapable of reasoning and incapable of self-knowledge and self-control. So, from this perspective, religion fills the gap for those who are unable to think critically.

I know that Soviet Collectivism didn’t go well after the Russian Revolution but maybe there is a better way to do it. Maybe Jesus and his disciples provided the model on how to do it right all along. I hope that during the virus lockdown time we all have time to reflect on how we really want to live because the way we were doing it before Covid 19 was a social and ecological disaster. Maybe it’s time for the Second Enlightenment.

Other key figures in the Enlightenment include Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke. I encourage you to read up on these great thinkers.

The Founding Fathers’ Religious Wisdom, by Nicholas Rathod, Center for American Progress
The Founding Fathers, Deism, and Christianity, by David L. Holmes, Encyclopedia Britannica
Why People Walk Away From Church, by Dan Foster,
Voltaire, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Todd Daniel

Mother Earth screams, yet few people hear except for the poets and idealists. I write about my planetary home. Newsletter ver: