Religion in Candide: Theme Analysis

Table of Contents

Introduction

Candide is a satirical novella where the author employs satire as a weapon to unearth the corruption, hypocrisy, prejudices, and immorality that was prevalent in the organized Catholic Church. The strong criticism that Voltaire showers on the organized religion all throughout the entire story are to be understood in the light of the Enlightenment that France witnessed during his time. The enlightenment brought about a questioning attitude in the minds of the intellectuals regarding the corruption and the authoritarian rule of the catholic clergy. Voltaire’s belief in deism is also evident in the story as he wonders at the suffering and misfortunes that man suffers and doubts the existence of a God who is compassionate and kind towards man. However, a close reading of the work convinces the reader that it is not Christianity that Voltaire denounces but it is the failure of the organized religion to offer spiritual solace to a man that he laments and satirizes in the story.

Main body

The religious prejudices of the period are best brought out by Voltaire in the novella. One comes across many instances of religious sarcasm in the story. For instance, the old woman’s story of her father, Pope Urban X, throws light on the corrupted life led by the clergy of the period. Voltaire vividly narrates how the girl has lived a life of luxury and wealth in her childhood. The character of the old man in Eldorado is presented in sharp contrast to the character of the old woman and her father to suggest the value of simple religion. The Anabaptists were a religious sect who have persecuted in 18th century France as they promoted the doctrine of adult baptism which was against the custom of the organized Christian religion. In the novella, Voltaire presents James, an Anabaptist, who displays immense kindness and concern towards him, as an ideal Christian. The Protestants are also being satirized in the story. In the third chapter, when Candide asks a protestant for food, the latter asks him to admit that the pope was the antichrist. Candide refuses to admit so and the protestant yells at him: “Thou dost not reserve to eat….Begone, rogue: begone, wretch; do not come near me again.” (Voltaire, 17). All these instances pointed out in the story throw light on the religious prejudices of the period and show how materialistic were the clergy of the period.

Voltaire strongly satirizes the violence and the subsequent suffering that the people had to undergo and shows how Christian values of love, tolerance, and forgiveness are looked down on by the aristocratic society who comprised of government and religious leaders. There are a number of instances of war and violence in the story and the war between the Jesuit soldier priests and the Spaniards shows how religious leaders fail to display Christian values in their lives. The use of satire reaches its peak when Voltaire narrates how an admiral is executed in England for not having killed enough men during England’s war with the French. On the other hand, the tragedy that happens to the lives of Cunegonde and the family of Pangloss underline this degradation and disintegration of religious values in society. The theme of human suffering is dominant in the novella. At the beginning of the story, the narrator speaks of Candide as a person “whom nature had endowed with the most gentle manners.” (Voltaire, 7). However, one finds Candide ending up as a murderer who kills both Don Issachar and the leader of the inquisition, who share Cunegonde on alternate days, owing to the suffering and the bitter experiences of life he and Cunegonde have to endure. The tale narrated by the old woman on their voyage to South Africa is poignant with suffering and sorrow. The undercurrent of the story is that the organized religion is no longer capable of offering solace to the common man, and the corrupt and material way in which the religious leaders moved about added fuel to the breaking of the moral codes in the society.

Most of the characters in the novella act as the spokesman of Voltaire’s own views of life. The tales narrated by each of the major characters in the story have a message to provide to the readers. When they escape from the land of Eldorado, Cacambo convinces Candide that the material wealth of a person does not last long and that it is his noble virtues and love for the fellow men that endues; no doubt, Cacambo’s words echo Voltaire’s own philosophy of life. Similarly, the sad tale narrated by the negro in Surinam regarding how the natives are being exploited and made to work in sugar plantations is heart-touching. The chief spokesman of Voltaire in the novel is Pangloss who shows immense optimism in life against all the misfortunes and sufferings that take place in his life.

Voltaire’s shift from Roman Catholicism to deism, a belief that even though God created the universe he is detached from it, is evident in the whole story. Voltaire was never an atheist; however, he could not understand why God has given so much suffering to human beings even though He is conceived to be so much compassionate, kind, and all-powerful. On the other hand, the novella can be understood as conveying the Christian theme of salvation and redemption through suffering. Even though Candide, Pangloss, Cunegonde, and the old woman have to undergo a lot of suffering, tribulations, and misfortunes in their livers, they still cherish their optimism and find meaning in their lives on the farm. Candide represents the enlightened man who never loses his optimism of life at the odds of life and the misfortunes and sufferings in his life have been instrumental for him to realize the fact that the world is still a meaningful place to live. The role played by Pangloss in the novel, in this regard is very much as it is he who instills, teaches, and guides Candide to be optimistic; Pangloss’s philosophy of life provides a strong and stable solace to Candide in his adventures.

Conclusion

Thus, it can be concluded that Voltaire’s attempt in the story is to denounce the evil, immorality, corruption, and the pursuit of power that formed the salient features of the organized religion of his time. He wanted the people to be critics of the evil that surmounted the Christian and Protestant religion and bring about a change in society. The ecclesiastical church was after power and influence, and in its effort to amass wealth and political power the Church very often did not pay heed to the spiritual and religious needs of the people. Voltaire believes that it is the inability of the church to offer spiritual solace to the people that have led to violence, evil, hatred, and suffering in society. Thus, one can undoubtedly state that Candide is a strong satirize that mocks at the way the organized religion failed to play its role and the aim of the author is to put an end to the prevailing chaos and evil in the society.

Works Cited

Voltaire. Candide. LLC: Filiquarian, 2007.