He is frequently quoted as saying: "As for myself, I do not believe that such a person as Jesus Christ ever existed; but as the people are inclined to superstition, it is proper not to oppose them." However, other quotes by Napoleon indicate a strong belief in Jesus Christ. Possibly Napoleon's views changed over time, or possibly some quoted have been inaccurately attributed to him.
A number of quotes attributed to Napoleon indicate a utilitarian view of religion. "Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet."; He also said: "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich" (quoted from Robert Byrne, 1,911 Best Things Anybody Ever Said, 1988).
From: Ervin Shaw, "Napoleon Bonaparte: 'Emperor' to EMPEROR" webpage, posted circa 2000, latest addition 14 August 2005; in "Christian Testimonies" section of "The Truth . . . What Is It?" website (http://poptop.hypermart.net/testnapb.html; viewed 7 November 2005):
"I know men; and I tell you that Jesus Christ is not a man. Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires, and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist. There is between Christianity and whatever other religions the distance of infinity..." So says Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), emperor of France.
Napoleon expressed the following thoughts while he was exiled on the rock of St. Helena. There, the conqueror of civilized Europe had time to reflect on the measure of his accomplishments. He called Count Montholon to his side and asked him, "Can you tell me who Jesus Christ was?" The count declined to respond. Napoleon countered:Well then, I will tell you. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I myself have founded great empires; but upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love, and to this very day millions will die for Him. . . . I think I understand something of human nature; and I tell you, all these were men, and I am a man; none else is like Him: Jesus Christ was more than a man. . . . I have inspired multitudes with such an enthusiastic devotion that they would have died for me . . . but to do this is was necessary that I should be visibly present with the electric influence of my looks, my words, of my voice. When I saw men and spoke to them, I lightened up the flame of self-devotion in their hearts. . . . Christ alone has succeeded in so raising the mind of man toward the unseen, that it becomes insensible to the barriers of time and space. Across a chasm of eighteen hundred years, Jesus Christ makes a demand which is beyond all others difficult to satisfy; He asks for that which a philosopher may often seek in vain at the hands of his friends, or a father of his children, or a bride of her spouse, or a man of his brother. He asks for the human heart; He will have it entirely to Himself. He demands it unconditionally; and forthwith His demand is granted. Wonderful! In defiance of time and space, the soul of man, with all its powers and faculties, becomes an annexation to the empire of Christ. All who sincerely believe in Him, experience that remarkable, supernatural love toward Him. This phenomenon is unaccountable; it is altogether beyond the scope of man's creative powers. Time, the great destroyer, is powerless to extinguish this sacred flame; time can neither exhaust its strength nor put a limit to its range. This is it, which strikes me most; I have often thought of it. This it is which proves to me quite convincingly the Divinity of Jesus Christ.
Whatever else one may say in response, it is difficult to explain this away as mere eloquence. In fact, it was to counter mere eloquence and such artificial power that Napoleon said what he did. With unbelievable insight, he saw how Jesus Christ conquered. It was not by force, but by winning the heart.
-- from Jesus Among Other Gods by Ravi Zacharias, 2000, W. Publishing Group, Nashville, Tennessee...quoting from Henry Parry Liddon, Liddon's Bampton Lectures 1866 (London: Rivingtons, 1869), 148.