The Irreligion of the State
France today bears a striking resemblance to the 'Disciple' whose tragic story was related to us by M. Paul Bourget1 and who suffered so much for the simple reason that he was instructed by a materialist philosopher. Yet the reader will hold the present government far more guilty than the materialist philosopher in the novel if he considers that M. Sixte's2 lessons were directed solely at refined minds, those that we can presume to be capable of determining the strengths and weaknesses of their teacher's doctrines. Whereas the greater proportion of students from 'secular schools' are in no way 'philosophical brains'; they can only accept without question the arguments put before them if not to disbelieve, then at least to believe only in earthly happiness, and as a consequence to prefer the vote over prayer, and dynamite over the vote. Accordingly is an education that is not religious not inevitably atheist? To not side with God, with the soul, when it is a question of a full education, is that not another way, and the worst, of taking sides? "We prefer not to talk about these things", they say. That precisely is materialism. The substitution of the irreligion of the State over a State religion is no surprise then. We can only be astonished that the negation of religion has the same following of fanaticism, intolerance and persecution as has religion itself. The radicals who presently hold public power, be it through the followers that they count upon in government, be it through the fear they inspire in the most moderate, persecute religion in all its forms. But, one might say to them, if materialism was right (which by assent of great idealist philosophies through the centuries is enough of a lie) and if, without believing in the reality of its fiction, a man imagined today a theory of human life, so rich in charitable illusions that men, in accepting it, would submit themselves to it forthwith and would cease to attempt to enjoy violence here on Earth, to merit, through their good and noble works, their eternal salvation, should not the State refer to than ingenious and persuasive poet the care to heal those of our miseries that allow above all others a moral solution, like Socialism. Well such a theory of life and happiness exists, has long been accepted and deservedly so; it is real, with a truth, it really must be said, that has to confront being disowned by the editors of L'Intransigeant and La Lanterne (but there is no authority in the matter of philosophy!). France has grown by teaching it, grown in courage, in unselfishness, in fastidious virtue. It is to intellects as it were raised above themselves by Christianity that France owes her purest masterpieces, be they in the realm of action, be they in the realm of speculation. Yet today, while French missionaries are civilising the Orient, the most daring philosopher of our times could scandalize the materialist corner-shop grocer by his rigorous piety. This religious discipline to which he submits himself, which constrained neither Descartes, nor Pascal, becomes a shackle, it seems, against the unrestrained genius of certain municipal councillors. And it is for this that, in one fell swoop, France has been "delivered" from it. A wretched deliverance! When we free ourselves from a duty, we are less free, we fetter ourselves to base inclinations. An attempt on the life of his emperor recently demonstrated to Prince Bismarck the disastrous consequences of Kulturkampf 3. Can the progress of Socialism terrify government, warn it that there are other things to fear than the far overreaching power of the Church, and that if we cannot seriously refute a philosophy as vain as that of M. Homais4, the facts become responsible for putting their consequences into practice, when it is like that of all imbeciles, a doctrine of destruction and death.
1. In publishing Le Disciple (1889) Paul Bourget clearly sided against positivism.
2. In the novel M. Sixte is the positivist philosopher of whom Robert Greslou claims to be the "disciple".
3. This "struggle for civilization" (actually against the Catholic church) was lead by Bismarck from 1873 to 1878.
4. The "philosophy" of the pharmacist in Madame Bovary amounts to a simplistic anti-clericalism.
First publication in Le Banquet no 3, May 1892.
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