the 1740s and dedicated to the memory of Anthony Collins put the position succinctly. Le Philosophe - and it is from this tract that we get the French word for 'philosopher' first used for the philosophically radical proponents of the Enlightenment - knows that 'the existence of God is the most widespread and deeply ingrained of all the prejudices'. In its place the philosopher puts civil society; 'it is the only divinity that he will recognize on earth'.19 With this posture the freethinker was ready to embrace the world, to revel in its pleasures, to live only for the here and now.
Indeed the naturalism in the Enlightenment, of which pantheistic materialism was only the most extreme and philosophically coherent version, accorded with sexual liberty. As the late Roy Porter put it, 'there was a close alignment between sexual permissiveness and endorsement of other Enlightenment outlooks'.20 Christian apologists had known it all along. Heresy could only lead to loose living. In the 1690s, Anglican clergy saw freethinking as not primarily a disease of books, but rather one of mores. Bentley said about his famous Boyle lectures that they were aimed not at books but at mores. It is also in this period that the word 'obscene' acquires its specifically sexual connotation.21 Predictably the pious speculated endlessly about what produced infidelity. The Newtonian, freemason and antiquarian, William Stukeley, was convinced in the 1720s that the learning of his age, and excessive attachment to it, produced infidelity or heterodoxy. 'Thus a mathematician or philosopher who has spent his whole life . . . making experiments in natural knowledge grows so delighted with his science, with the truths he discovers that he begins to despise all other studies, divinity among the rest'. Despite his dedication to the new philosophical learning, Stukeley was convinced that with it one only sees 'but the backparts of God', while with divinity one 'converses with him as a man with his friend face to face'.22 Yet Stukeley was being shrewd when he argued that there was an emotional side to heterodoxy; he saw the alienation as a distancing of the self from God brought about by too much science and philosophy.
If in the 1720s the provincial armchair philosopher Stukeley thought there was too much philosophizing that led away from God, he would have been horrified by what the French produced in the 1750s. Aside from the towering figure of Spinoza in the 1670s, and the less philosophically original Toland writing in the early 1700s, no one until Helvetius laid out a philosophically elegant account of materialism and all of its implications. De l'esprit (1758) unabashedly presented the philosophical principles of a complete atheism. But it did more than that. It assured its readers that republics bring more virtues to their citizens as well as a luxury that would not corrupt. These
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