Atheism Among the People

Atheism Among the People

Alphonse de Lamartine
Alphonse de Lamartine

Author: Lamartine, Alphonse de, 1790-1869
Atheism Among the People






110 Washington Street.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1850,
In the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of Massachusetts.
No. 2 Water Street.


Through the past year, M. de Lamartine has published a monthly journal, called The People’s Counsellor, “Le Conseiller du Peuple.” Each number of this journal contains an Essay, by him, on some specific subject, of pressing interest to the French people,—generally, some political subject.
As a companion to one of these numbers, he published the Essay which we here translate. We have thought that its interest and merit are by no means local; but, that it will be read with as much interest in America, as in France.
Edward E. Hale,
Francis Le Baron.
Worcester, Mass. March 7, 1850.



I have often asked myself, “Why am I a Republican?—Why am I the partizan of equitable Democracy, organized and established as a good and strong Government?—Why have I a real love of the People—a love always serious, and sometimes even tender?—What has the People done for me? I was not born in the ranks of the People. I was born between the high Aristocracy and what was then called the inferior classes, in the days when there were classes, where are now equal citizens in various callings. I never starved in the People’s famine; I never groaned, personally, in the People’s miseries; I never sweat with its sweat; I was never benumbed with its cold. Why then, I repeat it, do I hunger in its hunger, thirst with its thirst, warm under its sun, freeze under its cold, grieve under its sorrows? Why should I not care for it as little as for that which passes at the antipodes?—turn away my eyes, close my ears, think of other things, and wrap myself up in that soft, thick garment of indifference and egotism, in which I can shelter myself, and indulge my separate personal tastes, without asking whether, below me,—in street, garret, or cottage, there is a rich People, or a beggar People; a religious People, or an atheistic People; a People of idlers, or of workers; a People of Helots, or of citizens?”
And whenever I have thus questioned myself, I have thus answered myself:—“I love the people because I believe in God. For, if I did not believe in God, what would the people be to me? I should enjoy at ease that lucky throw of the dice, which chance had turned up for me, the day of my birth; and, with a secret, savage joy, I should say, ‘So much the worse for the losers!—the world is a lottery. Woe to the conquered!’” I cannot, indeed, say this without shame and cruelty,—for, I repeat it, I believe in God.


“And what is there in common,” you will say to me, “between your belief in God and your love for the People?” I answer: My belief in God is not that vague, confused, indefinite, shadowy sentiment which compels one to suppose a principle because he sees consequences,—a cause where he contemplates effects, a source where he sees the rush of the inexhaustible river of life, of forms, of substances, absorbed for ever in the ocean, and renewed unceasingly from creation. The belief in God, which is thus perceived and conceived, is, so to speak, only a mechanical sensation of the interior eye,—an instinct of intelligence, in some sort forced and brutal,—an evidence, not reasonable, not religious, not perfect, not meritorious; but like the material evidence of light, which enters our eyes when we open them to the day; like the evidence of sound which we hear when we listen to any noise; like the evidence of touch when we plunge our limbs in the waves of the sea, and shiver at the contact. This elementary, gross, instinctive, involuntary belief in God, is not the living, intelligent, active, and legislative faith of humanity. It is almost animal. I am persuaded that if the brutes even,—if the dog, the horse, the ox, the elephant, the bird, could speak, they would confess, that, at the bottom of their nature, their instincts, their sensations, their obtuse intelligence, assisted by organs less perfect than ours, there is a clouded, secret sentiment of this existence of a superior and primordial Being, from whom all emanates, and to whom all returns,—a shadow of the divinity upon their being, a distant approach to the conception of that idea, which fills the worlds, and for which alone the worlds have been made,—the idea of God!

This may be a bold, but it is not an impious supposition. For God, having made all things for himself alone, must have placed, upon all that he made, an impress of himself; more or less clear, more or less luminous, more or less profound, a presentiment or a remembrance of a Creator. But this faith, when it stops here, is not worthy of the name. It is a species of Pantheism, that is to say, a confused “visibility,” a physical working together into indissoluble union of something impersonal, something blind, something fatal, and something divine, which, in the elements composing the universe, we may call God. But this “visibility” can give to man no moral decision,—can give to God no worship. The Pantheism of which I am accused as a philosopher and poet, that Pantheism which I have always scorned as a contradiction and as a blasphemy, resembles entirely the reasoning of the man who should say, “I see an innumerable multitude of rays, therefore there is no sun.”


Faith, or reasonable and effective belief in God, proceeds, undoubtedly, from this first instinct; but in proportion as intelligence develops itself, and human thought expands, it goes from knowledge to knowledge, from conclusion to conclusion, from light to light, from sentiment to sentiment, infinitely farther and higher, in the idea of God. It does not see him with the eyes of the body, because the Infinite is not visible by a narrow window of flesh, pierced in the frontal bone of an insect called Man; but it sees Him, with a thousand times more certainty, by the spirit, that immaterial eye of the soul, which nothing blinds; and after having seen him with evidence, it reasons upon the consequences of his existence, upon the divine aims of His creation, upon the terrestrial as well as eternal destinies of His creatures, upon the nature of the homage and adoration that God expects, upon his moral laws, upon the public and private duties which he imposes on his creatures by their consciences, upon the liberty He leaves them; so that with the sufferings of conflict He may give to them the merits and the prize of virtue. Thus in man does the instinct of God become Faith. Thus man can speak the greatest word that has ever been spoken upon the earth or in the stars, the word which fills the worlds by itself alone, the word which commenced with them, and which can only end with them;—
“I believe in God!”


It is in this sense, my friends, that I say to you, “I believe in God.”
But, once having said this word with the universe of beings and of worlds, and blessed this invisible God for having rendered himself visible, sensible, evident, palpable, adorable in the mirror of weak human intelligence, made gradually more and more pure, I reason with myself on the best worship to be rendered Him in thought and action. Let me show how, by this reasoning, I am forcibly drawn to the love of the People.
I say to myself, then, “Who is this God? Is he a vain notion, which has no effect on the thoughts and acts of man, his creature; who inspires nothing in him; who gives him no commands; who imposes nothing upon him; who does not reward, and who does not punish?—No! God is not a mere notion, an idea, an evidence;—God is a law,—the living law, the supreme law, the universal law, the eternal law. Because God is a law on high, he is a duty on the earth; and when man says, ‘I believe in God,’ he says, at the same time, ‘I believe in my duty towards God,—I believe in my duty towards man.’ God is a government!”
And what are these duties? They are of three sorts:—
Duty towards God,—that is to say, the duty of developing, as much as possible, my intelligence and my reason, to arrive at the purest idea and the highest worship of the Supreme Being, by whom and for whom all is, all exists:—Religion.
Private Duties,—that is to say, the exact and tender discharge of all sentiments to which form has been given, either in written or unwritten laws, which bind me to those, to whom, in the order of nature, I hold most closely,—the nearest to myself in the human group—father, mother, brothers, sisters, wife, children, friends, neighbors:—the Family.
Collective Duties,—that is to say, devotions, even to the sacrifice of myself, even to death, to the progress, the well-being, the preservation, the amelioration of this great human family, of which my family, and my country, are only parts; and of which I myself am only a miserable and vanishing fraction, a leaf of a summer, which vegetates and withers on a branch of the immense trunk of the human race:—Society.
Let us speak to-day only of these last duties,—because, now we are occupied with politics alone.


God, when one believes in Him as you and I do, imposes then on man a duty towards the society of which he makes a part. You admit it, do you not?
Then follow, and analyze with me this society. Of whom, and how, is it composed?
It is composed, at the same time, of strong and weak, conquerors and conquered, victors and vanquished, oppressors and oppressed, masters and slaves, nobles and serfs, of citizens and bondmen or subjects disinherited and enslaved, considered as living furniture, as tools and laughing-stocks to their fellow-men, as were the Blacks in our colonies before the Republic.
Thanks to the increase of general reason, to the light of philosophy, to the inspiration of Christianity, to the progress of the idea of justice, of charity, and of fraternity, in laws, manners, and religion, society in America, in Europe, and in France, especially since the Revolution, has broken down all these barriers, all these denominations of caste, all these injurious distinctions among men. Society is composed only of various conditions, professions, functions, and ways of life, among those who form what we call a Nation; of proprietors of the soil, and proprietors of houses; of investments, of handicrafts, of merchants, of manufacturers, of farmers; of day-laborers becoming farmers, manufacturers, merchants, or possessors of houses or capital, in their turn; of the rich, of those in easy circumstances, of the poor, of workmen with their hands, workmen with their minds; of day-laborers, of those in need, of a small number of men enjoying considerable acquired or inherited wealth, of others of a smaller fortune painfully increased and improved, of others with property only sufficient for their needs; there are some, finally, without any personal possession but their hands, and gleaning for themselves and for their families, in the workshop, or the field, and at the threshold of the homes of others on the earth, the asylum, the wages, the bread, the instruction, the tools, the daily pay, all those means of existence which they have neither inherited, saved, nor acquired. These last are what have been improperly called the People. This name is extended now; it embraces really all the People; but still it is used as the name of the indigent and suffering part of the People.
It is more especially of this class that I intend to speak, in saying to you, “To love the People, it is necessary to believe in God.”


The love of the People, the conscience of the citizen, the sentiment which induces the individual to lose himself in the mass, to submit himself to the community, to sacrifice himself to its needs,—his interest, his individuality, his egotism, his ambition, his pride, his fortune, his blood, his life, his reputation even, sometimes, to the safety of his country, to the happiness of the People, to the good of humanity, of which he is a member in the sight of God,—in one word, all these virtues, necessary under every form of government,—useful under a monarchy, indispensable under a republic,—never have been derived, and never can be derived, from any thing but that single sentence, pronounced with religious faith, at the commencement, in the middle, at the end of all our patriotic acts:—“I believe in God!”
The People who do not believe strongly, efficaciously in this first principle, in this supreme original, in this last end of all existence, cannot have a faith superior to their individual selfishness.
The People who cannot have a principle superior to their individual selfishness, in their acts as citizens, cannot have national virtue.
The People who cannot have national virtue cannot be free; for they can have neither the courage which enables them to defend their own liberty, nor the conscience which forces them to respect the liberty of others, and to obey the laws, not as an outward force, but as a second conscience.
The People who can neither defend their liberty, nor restrain it, may be, by turns, slaves or tyrants, but they can never be republicans.
Therefore, Atheism in the People is the most invincible obstacle to the establishment and consolidation of that sublime form of government, the idol of all ages, the tendency of all perfect civilization, the dream of every sage, the model of all great souls,—the government of the entire People by the reason and conscience of each citizen,—otherwise called the Republic.


Must I demonstrate to you so simple a truth? Can you not comprehend, without explanation of mine, that a nation, where each citizen thinks only of his own private well-being here below, and sacrifices constantly the general good to his personal and narrow interest;—where the powerful man wishes to preserve all the power for himself alone, without making an equitable and proportional division to the weak;—where the weak wishes to conquer at any price, that he may tyrannize in his turn;—where the rich wishes to acquire and concentrate the greatest possible amount of wealth, to enjoy it alone, and even without circulating it in work, in wages, in assistance, in benevolence, in good deeds to his brothers;—where the poor wishes to dispossess violently and unjustly those who possess more than himself, instead of recognizing that diversity of chances, of conditions, of professions, of fortunes, of which human life is composed,—instead of acquiring prosperity for his family, in his turn and degree, by effort, by order, by labor, by economy, by the assistance of borrowed capital, by the law of inheritance, by the free transfer of real estate, by free entrance into different callings and trades, by free competition in the money market;—where each class of citizens declares itself an enemy to every other, and heaps upon each other all manner of evil, instead of doing all the good in its power, and uniting in the holy harmony of social unity;—where each individual draws around him, for himself alone, the common mantle, willing to tear it in pieces for himself, and thus leave the whole world naked,—do you not understand, I say, that such a People, having no God but its selfishness, no judge but interest, no conscience but cupidity, will fall, in a short time, into complete destruction, and, being incapable of a Republican government, because it casts aside the government of God himself, will rush headlong into the government of the brute: the government of the strongest, the despotism of the sword, the divinity of the cannon,—that last resort of anarchy, which is at once the remedy and the death of nations without God!
Now has not this weakening of the sentiment of God in the soul of the People been, from year to year, from century to century, indeed, I might say, the most discouraging and threatening symptom, in the eyes of those who desire the progress of their race, who aspire to the moral perfection of the human spirit, who hope in Republican institutions, who love the People, who wish to cultivate their reason, who desire that the People should understand themselves, respect themselves, and, finally, by their enlightenment, their conscientiousness, their moderation and virtue, give the lie to those who declare them in a state of perpetual infancy, perpetual madness, or perpetual weakness?
Yes, this is but too true: men have been blotting out God, for a century past, from the souls of the People, and more especially in latter years. The masses have been driven to Atheism, they have been driven on every side and by every hand.
Sometimes, by blasphemies, such as were never heard upon the earth, until an insult to the Creator became a means of popularity among His creatures; blasphemies which would have darkened the sun and extinguished the stars, if God had not commanded His creation to pass unnoticed the revolt of a blind and foolish insect against Infinity, and refused Himself to sink to the foolishness of avenging impiety! Read those lines which I dare not write, those lines where an apostle of Atheism effaces the name of God from the beautiful creation and endeavors to substitute his own! * * *


Sometimes the masses have been driven to Atheism by science. There are some geometers great in paradox, men who, of all the senses that the Creator has given to his creatures, have cultivated only one, the sense of touch,—leaving out entirely that chief sense, which connects and confirms all others,—the sense of the invisible, the moral sense. These savans, geometers, physicians, arithmeticians, mathematicians, chemists, astronomers, measurers of distances, calculators of numbers, have early acquired the habit of believing only in the tangible. These are the beings who, so to speak, live and think in the dark; all, which is not palpable, does not exist for them. They measure the earth, and say, “We have not met God in any league of its surface!” They heat the alembic, and say, “We have not perceived God in the smoke of any of our experiments!” They dissect dead bodies, and say, “We have not found God, or thought, in any bundle of muscles or nerves in our dissection!” They calculate columns of figures, long as the firmament, and say, “We have not seen God in the sum of any of our additions!” They pierce, with eye and glass, into the dazzling mysteries of night, to discover, across thousands and thousands of leagues, the groups and the evolutions of the celestial worlds, and say, “We have not discovered God at the end of our telescopes! The existence of God does not concern us; it is no affair of ours!”—Madmen! They do not suspect that the knowledge and adoration of God are, at bottom, the only business of the creature; and that all these distances, these globes, these numbers, these mysteries of the living being, this dissected mechanism of the dead, these compositions and decompositions of combined elements, these hosts of stars, and these eternal evolutions of suns around the divine hand which guides them, have no other reason for existence, for movement, and for duration, than to compel the acknowledgment, fear, admiration, and adoration of God, by that supreme sense, that sense superior to all other senses, that sense imponderable and impalpable, invisible yet beholding all things,—that sense which we call intelligence!
Alas! it is not that God has denied this sense to these men of figures, of science, and calculation; but they have blinded themselves, they have cultivated the other sense

Download This eBook
This book is available for free download!


普人特福的博客cnzz&51la for wordpress,cnzz for wordpress,51la for wordpress
Atheism Among the People
Free Download
Free Book