Government without Religion

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Despite the Constitution, there is scarcely a state that would permit any gross violations of Christian morality, Fitzhugh says — again, writing in 1854:

Mormons and Oneida Perfectionists would no sooner be tolerated in Virginia than Pyrrhic Dances and human sacrifices to Moloch. Even Catholics would not be permitted to enact a Parisian sabbath, or Venitian carnival. Christianity is the established religion of most of our States, and Christianity conforming itself to the moral feelings and prejudices of the great majority of the people. No gross violation of public decency will be allowed for the sake of false abstractions.

Women may wear paddies or bloomers, but if they carry the spirit of independence so far as to adopt a dress to conceal their sex, they will soon find themselves in a cage or a prison.

We wished to try the experiment of government without religion, we failed in the attempt. The French did try it, and enthroned the goddess of Reason hard by the reeking guillotine. Moloch might have envied the Goddess the number of her victims, for the streets of Paris ran with blood. The insane ravings of the drunken votaries of Bacchus, were innocency and decency personified, when compared with the mad profanity of Frenchmen, cut loose from religion, and from God.

Soon, very soon, even French republicans discovered the necessity of religion to the very existence of society and of government, and with a profanity more horrible than that which installed the goddess of Reason, they resolved to legislate into existence a Supreme Being. On this occasion, the cruel Robespierre pays one of the most beautiful and just tributes to religion we have ever read. We quote it as a continuation of our argument and an elucidation of our theory — ”That religion is a necessary governmental institution.”


We have not a solitary example in all history to countenance the theories of our ancestors, that a people may be moral, or that a government exist where religion is not in some form or degree recognised by law. What latitude shall be allowed to men in the exercise and practice of religion, is a question for the people to determine when the occasion requires it. It is best not to lay down abstract principles to guide us in advance. Of all the applications of philosophy none have failed so signally as when it has been tried in matters of government. Philosophy will blow up any government that is founded on it. Religion, on the other hand, will sustain the governments that rest upon it. The French build governments on a priori doctrines of philosophy which explode as fast as built. The English gradually and experimentally form institutions, watch their operation, and deduce general laws from those operations.

That kind of philosophy, which neither attempts to create nor account for, is admissible and useful. An extensive knowledge of the history of the various moral philosophies that have succeeded each other in the world, is useful, but only useful because it warns us to avoid all philosophy in the practical affairs of life. If we would have our people moral, and our institutions permanent, we should gradually repudiate our political abstractions and adopt religious truths in their stead.

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