Atheism among the people

by Alphonse De Lamartine

I have finished reading this short book and I disagree with it in its entirety. I will show why I disagree and since it is a big topic we will have it in sections to ensure the length of each post is not too long.

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.

Do we need to believe that there is a sky-daddy watching over us to care for others? Is love, for whatever it’s worth, only conceivable when we include of an imaginary daddy? Are we not capable of just loving one another knowing we are all human, children of accident and soon or later, for those who are lucky, we will be gone?

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!

Here I agree with those philosophers like Nietzsche and novelists like M. Twain that animals look at man and wonder how far he removed himself from his nature how he suffers to the extent that he created a god to worship!

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

Isn’t this a contradiction. To talk about faith and reasonable in the same sentence. I think as human thought expands so does the desire to believe decrease. The idea of god becomes more vague as our knowledge increase and as we learn about the evolution of gods.

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!”

This is indeed new! To consider the idea of god as a law and a government. I will wait for the god believers to explain what this law is, there never seem to agree on many of its aspects.

The love of the People, the conscience of the citizen,[ ……..], 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!”

I refuse to accept that we can only love brother if we love god. In fact I contend we don’t love our brother enough when we love god, when we see love as a duty to god and not to our fellow-man whom we can injure.

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.

To claim that atheists can’t love, can’t fight for social justice, can’t defend human rights is an insult to all atheists. Everywhere atheists are saying we deserve to treat each with kindness. Atheists are the number one humanists world over. We say and write that you are free to worship, to believe as you do as long you don’t make it public policy. It is in the mostly religious states where basic freedoms are denied, where LGBT rights are not guaranteed and so many other ills that can only be tied to religion.

Must I demonstrate to you so simple a truth? Can you not comprehend, without explanation of mine, that a nation[…..]–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!

If this were the case, then Scandinavian Europe where the god idea is receding much farther from the public life would have collapsed. It is however interesting to note that it is in the very religious countries where there is a wide gap between the rich and the poor. In the church the pastor lives well while the parishioners support his bad habits.

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 senses so much, that they have weakened this. They have believed too much in matter, and so they have lost the eye of the spirit. These men, we are told, have made great progress in experimental science, but they have made good, evil, to the People, by saying to them, “We, who are so high, we cannot see God!–blind men! what do you see, then?”

Here he argues against atheistic scientists. He does not show that something besides matter exists. Just goes on to repeat the same line I hear everyday, that we lovers of science are blind. I contend if his god is so powerful, who is at fault here? The scientist who hasn’t been able to find a reason to keep holding the god idea or the powerful god who has failed to convince the scientist? Be the judge.

Thus these men count for nothing the forms of worship and the forms of government. They are neither followers of Brahma, of Confucius, of Mahomet, of Plato, or of Rousseau; neither absolute monarchists, constitutional royalists, nor republicans. They are of the politics, and of the religion, in which they can manufacture most, buy and sell easiest, trade the best, multiply fastest! Their civilization is traffic; their God is the dollar! This sect, useful in administering intelligently the affairs of commerce, has been a shadow over intellectual civilization; for it has forgotten heavenly things, and, in forgetting them, has contributed to make the People also forget them.

Please show me a pastor who is not concerned with growing his flock to increase the dollar and I will show you a fool. I can’t speak for everyone, what am certain of is my god if I were to have any is not the dollar.


About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

10 thoughts on “Atheism among the people

  1. emmylgant says:

    This puzzles me because Lamartine was not exactly known for his beliefs in God. After all he is the guy who said” God is a word men have dreamed to explain the world” ( my translation).
    I can’t find the date of the original publication of this essay. How close was it to the popular uprising of 1848 in Paris, which galvanized popular movements alll over
    ..and he makes my head hurt.


    • makagutu says:

      This is what it says of the paper.

      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.
      Worcester, Mass. March 7, 1850.


  2. john zande says:

    I find the argument that without a god humans are somehow incapable of love/empathy simply abhorrent. Are these people so devoid of humanism that they cannot love without direction or fear? It’s quite sick.


    • makagutu says:

      It is simply an insult to our natures! I can’t believe or accept it. And as you say, it really is sick.


      • john zande says:

        and scary because it’d mean the only thing stopping these people from going on a murderous rampage is the threat of pissing off their god. I don’t want to be on a plane with someone like that!


    • emmylgant says:

      Ah! I believe the argument doesn’t address the ability to show love/empathy without a god, but to keep their greed/passion/hatreds/violence in check without a threat beyond the immediate. I heard precisely this today. The fear that without a “superior authority” to quote Paul of Damascus, people cannot control themselves and will do as they please regardless of others. If that were true, we would have no crime, but that’s another argument altogether.


  3. emmylgant says:

    That would make sense. Although he is totally misguided here.


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