Read CHAPTER XVII. of English Pharisees and French Crocodiles, free online book, by Max O'Rell, on


The various religions in existence were founded by men of different nations to suit their own character.

The French, impressionable and fond of pompous pageants, adopted a mystical religion, which addresses itself to their senses; the English, cool and argumentative, preferred a religion which addresses itself to their reason.  This is why churches in France savor of the theater, and churches in England savor of the lecture-room.

Calvinism did not take root in France, and never will, because it is not amiable.  Romanism will never flourish in England again, because it says:  “Believe, without seeking to understand.”

The Roman Catholic religion aims at gaining a hold over the heart, the Protestant religion aims at gaining a hold over the mind.  The first attracts women by its poetry and mysticism and governs through them; the second attracts men by sometimes offering them food for their intellectual appetites.

Finally, the first is under the control of a foreign power, the second is national.

We French people worship a tender, merciful, almost familiar, God, whom we are wont to call sweet Savior.

The English worship the God of the Jews, that God Who commanded His chosen people to exterminate their enemies, and spare neither man, woman, or child, and Whom they call awful God.

The manner in which we speak of the Divinity shocks the English; the manner in which the English worship Him leaves us cold and indifferent.

To the Frenchmen who say that religion is incompatible with liberty, I would simply reply:  England and America are the freest nations in the world, and at the same time the most religious-I mean the most church-going.

To the English who say that there is no religion in France, I would reply:  Our churches are not, like yours, full only from eleven to half-past twelve; they are thronged from six o’clock in the morning to one in the afternoon by a crowd whose fervor is second to that of no other church-goers, and this French piety is all the more admirable because, in our country, religion is not an indispensable garment, as it is in England.

It would be as imprudent to judge the religion of the English from the French point of view, as it would be to judge the religion of the French from the English point of view.  This being granted, something more is requisite, if we would judge fairly, and that is to start with the principle that all convictions that are dictated by conscience are worthy of respect.

But such is not the usual manner of setting about it.  To call one’s neighbors “idolaters,” and hear one’s self called “marchand de Bible” in return, is certainly much more lively.

The English have given the name of Mariolatry to the homage paid to the Mother of Christ, and it is a deep-rooted belief in England that the French pay to Mary a worship equal to that which they pay to God.

Like ourselves, they too often judge by appearances.

The divine honors paid to the Virgin Mary have nothing to do with adoration; the prayers addressed to her are for intercession.  It is a poetical homage rendered chiefly by women, who would fain have the holiest of women plead with a beloved son on their behalf.  It is to her that the young girl turns who has just engaged her heart; it is to her that the young mother prays as she bends over the cradle of her child.

“Horrible!” cry the Protestants, “as if God were not just, as if He wanted to be told what He should do!”

But since you pray to Him yourselves, it is clear that you think it advisable to remind Him sometimes of your needs.

Then the Frenchman (excuse a comparison which, to my mind, appears to be strikingly true), the Frenchman, I say, who has the love and respect for his mother inborn in him, cannot help believing that God could not find it in His heart to refuse him anything, if Mary, His mother, would only undertake to intercede on his behalf.

The homage paid to the Virgin is nothing short of a worship to Purity, and the most ignorant Irish peasant girl has the conscience of her value when she feels she can kneel down before the white-robed statue.  The influence of this worship on morality is enormous.

Take figures.

In Scotland, the proportion of illegitimate children is 16 per cent.  In Protestant Ireland (County of Antrim, etc.) it is 7 per cent.  In the poorest parts of Roman Catholic Ireland, the proportion is only 1/2 per cent.

A religion is materialized that is practiced in temples adorned with statues and pictures, images of the dwellers in the realms of the blest.  The uncultured mortal does not know what abstraction is.  He believes in what he sees.  When our peasant folk think of God, they picture Him to themselves as an august personage in a blue robe with flowing sleeves, who keeps the accounts of our good and bad actions and receives in private audience every morning certain saints, dressed in various colors (St. Peter invariably in bottle-green), who come to talk of their proteges, and recommend them to His mercy.

This materialism of the other world helps the ignorant to understand, and explains why the poor crowd our churches, in the provinces at all events.  I say in the provinces especially, for it would be as wrong to judge France by Paris, as it would be to judge England by Regent Street and the Haymarket.  This is a remark that I should like to repeat at every page.

“What is it that these English people worship?” is the question invariably asked by the French who visit English churches and chapels.  The fact is, there is nothing to be seen there but whitewashed walls, benches, an organ, and an enormous Bible.  Tell them that, in the eyes of the English, a crucifix is a profane object, that would be looked upon with as much horror as a statue of Vishnu, and they will have their doubts whether the name of Christian really ought to be applied to an English person.

In religion, everything is spiritualized in England and America.  A crucifix recalls the fact that Christ became man.

The English will have neither crucifix, statue, nor picture in their churches, because they adhere to the Bible, and there they find, among the commandments of God, given on Mount Sinai: 

“Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in the heaven.  Thou shalt not bow down to them, nor worship them.”

The Roman Catholic Church has suppressed this commandment.  It is not for me to criticise her; but as she has adopted a certain number of commandments, which she has even translated into verse in order to fix them more easily in the minds of the faithful, she would have perhaps done better to adopt them all.  At any rate she has done wisely in interdicting discussion among her followers, and in telling them: 

  Ce que je dis tu croiras
  Sans raisonner auparavant.

The Protestant religion is more practical and better adapted to modern life than the Catholic one; but if the Protestant faith may help you to live, I believe the Catholic faith may better help you to die.

Whereas the materialization practiced by the Roman Church attracts the lower classes, the spiritualization of the Anglican Church tends to estrange them.  The great unwashed of England would not understand the service of the Anglican Church.  This is partly why cornets and drums are being resorted to, to draw them out of their slums.

Everyone takes his religion where he finds it.

Does not the frequentation of French cemeteries show how attached we are to the body?  Does not the solitude of English cemeteries show how little our neighbors share this feeling?

The Catholic is no theologian.  He does not discuss the sermons that are preached to him; he may criticise the language of the preacher, but dogma is not in his line.  All that is spoken from the pulpit is gospel to him.

The Protestant is essentially a theologian.  He sifts most carefully all that he hears in church.  He is not of opinion that man was made for religion, but that religion was made for man.  I have seen more than one storm in a teacup aroused, in little country towns, by a certain sermon that had appeared to the congregation to be unorthodox.  The local newspapers would be full of letters containing the bitterest and most violent recriminations.  The clergyman, attacked like a mere politician who had changed his colors, would defend himself by writing letter after letter to the paper.  Bible in hand, he refuted the arguments of his adversaries, who were his own flock, be it understood.

No demi-gods in England; everyone has to pass through the Caudine Forks of criticism.

A young country curate, finding that his tradesmen’s bills were taking larger proportions than his modest income could stand, resolved one day to thunder from the pulpit against the thirst for riches.

He prepared his thunderbolts.

Never did Horace or Bourdaloue utter such anathemas against the vices of the day.

“My dear brethren,” he cried, “is it possible that you can thus place the love of filthy lucre above the love of virtue?”

And, after a few generalities, he came straight to the point; he accused the tradesmen of making too large profits, and of caring more for the things of this world than for the things of the next.

A few days later, it being the 5th of November, the curate was burnt in effigy.

His parishioners having rendered his life not worth living in the pretty little town of X -, the young reverend gentleman lost no time in packing up his traps and quitting the neighborhood, with the firm resolution never to preach any more sermons ad hominem.

The Anglican, or State Church of England is a Tory institution, that is to say, an eminently Conservative one.  It is also a great school of discipline for the people.  As an Englishman of much good sense said to me one day, the clergyman of a small town advantageously replaces half a dozen policemen.

The Anglican Church is the Church of English good society.

In my quality of Frenchman, I confess to having a partiality for this church, and of dreading the time when she will be separated from the state.

This is why.

If we have many sympathizers in England, they must not be looked for, as a rule, among the bigots of all the little conventicles, who vie with one another in presenting the most striking appearance of virtue and piety.

By these pretentious, narrow-minded folk, the French are more or less looked upon as children of the Evil One.  The intelligent Englishmen of good society, who know and often admire us, generally belong to the Anglican Church, which takes care of their future “by special appointment,” and allows them to relax a little from their natural austerity.

Nature has made the Englishman a Puritan.  Churchman or not, stir him up, and it is the Puritan which rises to the surface.  The day on which the Church of England is disestablished, England will be all Puritan.