Famed 18th-century encyclopedist and atheist Denis Diderot got to the heart of religious and irreligious morality, oh so succinctly.

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French Enlightenment philosopher, encyclopedist, and atheist (and contemporary of Voltaire) Denis Diderot succinctly explained religious and irreligious morality in a brief piece he called, ‘Conversations with a Christian Lady.’ It will be most effective if you read this aloud in your best French accent. The characters are no one in particular.

La Marechale:         Are you Monsieur Crudeli?

Crudeli:                    Yes, madame.

LM:                           Then you are the man who doesn’t believe in God.

Crudeli:                    In person, madame.

LM:                           Yet your moral principles are the same as a believer?

Crudeli:                    Why should they not be, as long as the believer is honest?

LM:                           And do you act upon your principles?

Crudeli:                    To the best of my ability.

LM:                           What? You don’t steal? You don’t kill people? You don’t rob them?

Crudeli:                    Very rarely.

LM:                           Then what do you gain by not being a believer?

Crudeli:                    Nothing. Is one a believer from motives of profit?

Diderot was a great thinker who could often express the essence of a matter in few words. Non?

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J. H. McKenna (Ph.D.) has taught the history of religion since 1999 at the University of California, where he has won teaching awards. He has published in academic journals and the LA Times, Huffington...