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Atheism Among The People by Alphonse de Lamartine

XI. But even this is nothing.à

But even this is nothing. The French Revolution came in 1789. It came to put an end to a double philosophy, -- the spiritual philosophy of Rousseau's school, founded in reason and religion, the material philosophy of the school of Helvetius, Diderot, and their disciples, atheistic and cynical. The thought of the first of these philosophies was religious at bottom. It consisted merely in freeing the luminous idea of God from the shadows by which ignorance, intolerance, the inquisition of temporal dynasties and times of barbarism had falsified it, -- in freeing this idea, debased as it was, -- obscured, and enchained to thrones, -- so as to restore reason to its liberty, to inquiry, to the free conscience of every worship and of every soul; to revive it in the eyes of the People, by leading them to the broad light of day, the evidence of nature, the dignity and efficacy of free worship.

But, for this, it was necessary to dispossess the Middle Ages of their temporal power, of their mort-main possessions, of their civil jurisdictions, of their exclusive privileges, of their legal intolerance against all other divine thoughts, and all other individual or national faith, all other forms of adoration and worship than what were imposed by the exclusive and established religion. To rally the people to this work, a work legitimate in itself, a work which the abuses of a crafty priesthood had made necessary, seven times, and whose accomplishment they had seven times partially and gradually undertaken, since the time of Charlemagne, -- the philosophers of the second school, the irreligious school, the atheistic school, of Diderot and Helvetius, drove the masses from stupidity even to impiety, and the demagogues of '93 forced them from impiety to Atheism, and from Atheism to blood. Demagogues, those poisoners of liberty, corrupt every revolution in which they mingle; they defile every thing that they touch; they dishonor every truth which they profess, by polluting or perverting it. The age and philosophy, Heaven and earth, desire what we too desire, -- freedom of conscience, voluntary worship, -- liberty of the human mind in matters of faith, -- the fraternity of altars, invoking, each in its own language, that God whom the whole earth is spelling out, and who reveals, from age to age, still another letter of His divine name.

Instead of this, Atheists and demagogues united to persecute religion, to revenge themselves for the old persecutions of the priesthood. They profaned the temples, violated conscience, blasphemed the God of the faithful, parodied the ceremonies, cast to the winds the pious symbols of worship, and persecuted the ministers of religion.

In the name of the Revolution, and under the menace of terror, they dragged the People to these Saturnalia. They corrupted the eyes, the hands, the minds, the souls of the populace. These violences to the altar were cast back on the religious idea itself. The People, seeing the temple fall, believed that Heaven itself crumbled; and that, following the profaned image of a vanishing worship, God himself would vanish from the world, with conscience, the supernatural law, the unwritten moral law, the soul and the immortality of the human race!

When the ignorant People no longer saw God between them and annihilation, they plunged into the boundless and bottomless abyss of Atheism, they lost their divine sense, they became brutal as the animal, who sees in the earth only a pasture ground, instead of the footstool of Jehovah.

But these irreligious abominations, and these Saturnalia of Atheism, however much injury they inflicted on the religious spirit of the People, did not effect so much, perhaps, as the reign which followed this anarchy, the reign of Bonaparte, the so-called restorer of worship. And how?

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