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Atheism Among The People by Alphonse de Lamartine

XVII. Thus, look at every free People, from the mountains of Helvetia to the forests ofà

Thus, look at every free People, from the mountains of Helvetia to the forests of America; see even the free British nation, where the Aristocracy is only the head of liberty, where the Aristocracy and Democracy mutually respect each other, and balance each other by an exchange of kindnesses and services which sanctify society while fortifying it. Atheism has fled before liberty: in proportion as despotism has receded, the divine idea has advanced in the souls of men. Liberty lives by morality. What is morality without a God? What is a law without a lawgiver?

I know well, and I shall give you the reason hereafter; I know well, and I mourn to think of it, that, even up to the present time, the French People have been the least religious People in Europe.

Is this because the intelligence of France has not that force, and that severity, which are needed to carry long enough and far enough the idea of God, -- the greatest idea of the human soul; -- that idea, as it comes from all the evidences of nature, and all the depths of reflection, being the most powerful and the most grave of human intelligence, -- and the intelligence of France being the most superficial, the most light, and the least reflecting of the European races?

Is it because our governments have always been charged with thinking, believing, and praying, for us?

Is it that they have always given us gods of the Court, worship according to Etiquette, and religions of State, instead of letting us form, make, and practise our faith for ourselves, by reason, by free-will, by voluntary piety, by association, by tradition, by the sympathies of the community, of worship, and of the family?

Is it because we are, and always have been, a military People, a nation of soldiers and adventurers, led by kings, heroes, ambitious men, from battle-field to battle-field, making conquests and not keeping them, ravaging, dazzling, charming, and corrupting Europe, and bearing the manners, vices, bravado, lightness, and impiety of the camp into the homes of the People?

I do not know; but it is certain that the nation has an immense progress to make in serious thought, if it wishes to maintain its liberty. If we look at the comparative character, in matters of religious sentiment, of the great nations of Europe, America, and even Asia, the advantage is not on our side. While the great men of other nations live and die upon the scene of history, looking towards heaven, our great men seem to live and die in entire forgetfulness of the only idea for which life or death is worth any thing; they live and die looking at the spectators, or, at most, towards posterity.

Thus, even at the present time, while we have had the greatest men, other nations have had the greatest citizens. It is great citizens that a Republic needs!

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