THE one leading characteristic of the French Revolution was atheism. Not the atheism of men as individuals, but the atheism of men in organized, representative, governmental, capacity. It was strictly national atheism: being the action of the national assembly in its official character as such.
This national atheism was not a sudden wild break of men, in an effort to present to the world a novel spectacle: it was the direct, logical, result of a system that had formerly dominated the country.
There had been fastened upon France, through the governmental authority, a religion professedly Christian. It was not Christian; yet it was adopted and ever held by the national authority, as Christian. All national favors were for this religion: the national authority forced it upon all; the national power rigidly excluded all other forms of worship.
When the Reformation of the sixteenth century came, and therein Christianity was offered to the people of France, it was tabooed, denounced, warred upon, and at last, by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, was excluded. Then the nation was left under the crushing weight of the old false religion; and it was not very long before the people of France found themselves under the necessity of relieving themselves of the incubus that was upon them.
This religion had been adopted and maintained for the supposed good of the State. It was proposed always to the State by “the Church” under the pretense that it was essential to the welfare of the State. It was found at last to be the greatest evil that afflicted the State. Instead of being for the good of the State, it was found to be only a continued and increasing curse. And in order for the State to find relief, it was essential to repudiate this national religion.
Now note: this religion, though not Christianity, was held by the people of France to be Christianity. The nation had been trained for ages in the opinion that it only was Christianity. They knew nothing else as Christianity. And to them, in repudiating it they were repudiating Christianity. In repudiating it, they did not pretend to be doing anything else than repudiating Christianity; for it was all that they knew as Christianity, and it must be repudiated. And when men intentionally repudiate Christianity, even though it be in something that is mistaken for Christianity, they commit themselves only to atheism. Thus it was that France attained to national atheism.
This, too, was nothing else than carrying to their legitimately logical conclusion the proposition and arguments, by which the country had been held under the power of that national religion. In arriving at national atheism, every step that was taken in the National Assembly was logically derived from propositions that had been laid down by the Church. Every argument offered was but the legitimate extension of the arguments already in print on behalf of the national religion.
For instance, it has always been argued, and was then argued, by the Church, that the exclusive establishment and maintenance of that particular religion as the only Christianity, was essential to the welfare of the State: and that it was the province of the State, of its own motion by an official act, to establish this religion, for its own good. The Church has long declared in behalf of the exclusive establishment of that religion, that “it cannot be doubted that it belongs to the prince to require of full right that which is necessary to the State.”
Upon this is was argued in the Revolution that, As this religion had been established and maintained for the good of the State, and the event had demonstrated that it was the greatest evil of the State; as it undoubtedly belonged to the State itself to require of full right that which is necessary to the State; as it was not undoubtedly necessary to the State that it be relieved of this great evil; it followed conclusively that the State had full right to repudiate the whole religious establishment. The full right to establish religion, or to do any other thing, for the welfare of the State, remains the full right to repudiate that religion, or to undo whatever may have been done, when it is found to be working evil instead of good to the State. There was no escape from this conclusion.
Holding what had been taught to them by the Church, that “The Church is in the State, and the State is not in the Church,” they declared, “We are a National Convention: we have assuredly the right to change religion”—meaning the religion of the State. “The State used its right to suppress a corporation which had no longer a palce in the new society.”
Bear in mind that this national religion was held by all there to be Christianity, and when this was repudiated, it was intended to be the repudiation of Christianity; and when that was repudiated there was nothing left to them but national atheism. The only religion they had then to guide them was the religion of reason; the only god the god of reason.
Thus, “the boldest measures of the French Revolution in regard to the Church, were justified beforehand from the point of view of the purest monarchical tradition.” It “was only a rigorous application of the maxims of the ancient monarchy. It was simply Gallicanism to the utmost.”
“It is well to remind the detractors of the French Revolution, that the National Assembly in this radical measure only imbibed the principles of the ancient French Monarchy.” (De Pressenseé, “The Church and the French Revolution.”) And these principles of the ancient French Monarchy were derived altogether from the national religion. “The representatives of the ancient society … imagined that they very foundations had been removed, whereas the maxims of their fathers were being turned against them.”
And now, just now, there are national combinations of religionists, determined to fasten upon the United States their religion as the national religion. As we have shown, they have already made much progress. It is proposed by them that the State needs this, and must do it by national acts for its own good. With what they have already gained, they are certain to succeed in their designs. And as certainly as this shall come to pass, so certainly it will soon be found that instead of being for the good of the nation, it is the greatest evil that ever befell the nation, and inevitably threatens only the ruin of the nation. Then a demand will be made that for the good of the nation this religion shall be officially repudiated by the nation as such.
Bear in mind also that this religion is now proposed to the nation for adoption as Christianity. It is not Christianity, but it is proposed as essentially and only Christianity. It has been adopted, and it will be further favored, as Christianity; and when found necessary to be repudiated it will be treated still as Christianity. And intentionally to repudiate Christianity, even though this be brought about through apostate and false Christianity, is to land in atheism. And for the national authority to do this, is to land in national atheism. This is as certain now as it was before. And thus this nation, by encouraging this proposed national religion, will throw itself, as did France, into the terrible strait between the curse of a religious despotism working only certain ruin, and the curse of a national atheism which can work nothing less. Will the people, will Congress, will the nation, take warning in time? And by keeping themselves clear of all semblance of recognition of a national religion, will they do all in their power to enable this nation to escape the ruin which is but the logical result of the establishment of an exclusive national religion?
The French Revolution and the United States Government began in the same year.
In the year 1789, and because of genuine respect to Christianity, the United States rejected all semblance of national religious, holding that no national religion is Christianity. Thus in the Constitution of the United States was embodied the very principle announced by Jesus Christ for earthly government, when he said, “My kingdom is not of this world;” “Render unto Cesar the things that are Cesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s;” “If any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not.”
In the year 1789, began the French Revolution—the ievitable [sic.] logic of an exclusive national religion—an attempt of the French nation to relieve itself of the unbearable curse which had been put upon it in the exclusive establishment of a national religion. This religion was held to be Christianity, and because of its abominable practices and unbearable oppression, was hated and repudiated, and the nation was plunged into national atheism as the only escape.
Thus in these two nations in the same year God set before the world those two all-important lessons as to the right way and the wrong way. These lessons have been before the nations ever since for their instruction. By the example of the United States the other nations were led gradually but constantly in the right way. But now, against Scripture, against the Constitution and every fundamental principle of the United States, against blessed experience, and in the very face of the terrible warning of the French Revolution, the allied religious forces of the United States are determined to accomplish here the establishment of an exclusive national religion.
Is it possible that the American people will allow themselves and the national power thus to be carried captive to error that cannot possibly mean anything but ruin!