Cult of Reason

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The Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg turned into a Temple of Reason, depicted in 1794. Temple of Reason Strasbourg 1793-1794.jpg
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg turned into a Temple of Reason, depicted in 1794.

The Cult of Reason (French : Culte de la Raison) [note 1] was France's first established state-sponsored atheistic religion, intended as a replacement for Roman Catholicism during the French Revolution. After holding sway for barely a year, in 1794 it was officially replaced by the rival Cult of the Supreme Being, promoted by Robespierre. [1] [2] [3] [4] Both cults were officially banned in 1801 by Napoleon Bonaparte with his Law on Cults of 18 Germinal, Year X. [5]

French language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.

State religion religious body or creed officially endorsed by the state

A state religion is a religious body or creed officially endorsed by the state. A state with an official religion, while not secular, is not necessarily a theocracy, a country whose rulers have both secular and spiritual authority. State religions are official or government-sanctioned establishments of a religion, but the state does not need be under the control of the religion nor is the state-sanctioned religion necessarily under the control of the state.

Atheism is, in the broadest sense, the absence of belief in the existence of deities. Less broadly, atheism is the rejection of belief that any deities exist. In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Atheism is contrasted with theism, which, in its most general form, is the belief that at least one deity exists.

Contents

Origins

Opposition to the Roman Catholic Church was integral among the causes of the French Revolution, and this anti-clericalism solidified into official government policy in 1792 after the First French Republic was declared. Most of the dechristianisation of France was motivated by political and economic concerns, and philosophical alternatives to the Church developed more slowly. Among the growing heterodoxy, the so-called Culte de la Raison became defined by some of the most radical revolutionaries like Jacques Hébert, Antoine-François Momoro, Pierre-Gaspard Chaumette, and Joseph Fouché.

The causes of the French Revolution can be attributed to several intertwining factors:

Anti-clericalism is opposition to religious authority, typically in social or political matters. Historical anti-clericalism has mainly been opposed to the influence of Roman Catholicism. Anti-clericalism is related to secularism, which seeks to remove the church from all aspects of public and political life, and its involvement in the everyday life of the citizen.

Jacques Hébert 1757-1794 French journalist and politician

Jacques René Hébert was a French journalist and the founder and editor of the extreme radical newspaper Le Père Duchesne during the French Revolution.

Composition

Considerable debate has always persisted about the religiosity of the Cult of Reason. [6] It was a hodgepodge of ideas and activities, a "multifarious phenomenon, marked by disorderliness". [7] The Cult encompassed various elements of anticlericalism, including subordination of priests to secular authority, wealth confiscation from the Church, and doctrinal heresies both petty and profound. [7] It was atheistic, [8] [9] but celebrated different core principles according to locale and leadership: most famous was Reason, but others were Liberty, Nature, and the victory of the Revolution. [7]

Reason is the capacity of consciously making sense of things, establishing and verifying facts, applying logic, and changing or justifying practices, institutions, and beliefs based on new or existing information. It is closely associated with such characteristically human activities as philosophy, science, language, mathematics and art, and is normally considered to be a distinguishing ability possessed by humans. Reason, or an aspect of it, is sometimes referred to as rationality.

Liberty Ability of individuals to have agency

Broadly speaking, liberty is the ability to do as one pleases. In politics, liberty consists of the social, political, and economic freedoms to which all community members are entitled. In philosophy, liberty involves free will as contrasted with determinism. In theology, liberty is freedom from the effects of "sin, spiritual servitude, [or] worldly ties."

Nature Universe events since the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago

Nature, in the broadest sense, is the natural, physical, or material world or universe. "Nature" can refer to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general. The study of nature is a large, if not the only, part of science. Although humans are part of nature, human activity is often understood as a separate category from other natural phenomena.

Antoine-François Momoro

Antoine-Francois Momoro (1756-1794) Antoine-Francois Momoro.jpg
Antoine-François Momoro (1756–1794)

One of the more philosophical proponents was Antoine-François Momoro in Paris. In his hands, the capital city's Cult of Reason was explicitly anthropocentric. Its goal was the perfection of mankind through the attainment of Truth and Liberty, and its guiding principle to this goal was the exercise of Reason. In the manner of conventional religion, it encouraged acts of congregational worship and devotional displays to the ideal of Reason. [10] A careful distinction was always drawn between the rational respect of Reason and the veneration of an idol: "There is one thing that one must not tire telling people," Momoro explained, "Liberty, reason, truth are only abstract beings. They are not gods, for properly speaking, they are part of ourselves." [10]

Anthropocentrism is the belief that human beings are the most important entity in the universe. Anthropocentrism interprets or regards the world in terms of human values and experiences. The term can be used interchangeably with humanocentrism, and some refer to the concept as human supremacy or human exceptionalism. Anthropocentrism is considered to be profoundly embedded in many modern human cultures and conscious acts. It is a major concept in the field of environmental ethics and environmental philosophy, where it is often considered to be the root cause of problems created by human action within the ecosphere.

Truth philosophical concept

Truth is most often used to mean being in accord with fact or reality, or fidelity to an original or standard. Truth is also sometimes defined in modern contexts as an idea of "truth to self", or authenticity.

An ideal is a principle or value that one actively pursues as a goal, usually in the context of ethics, and one's prioritization of ideals can serve to indicate the extent of one's dedication to each. For example, someone who espouses the ideal of honesty, but is willing to lie to protect a friend, demonstrates not only devotion to friendship, but also belief in its supersedence of honesty in importance.

The overarching theme of the Cult was summarized by Anacharsis Clootz, who declared at the Festival of Reason that henceforward there would be "one God only, Le Peuple". [11] The Cult was intended as a civic religion inspired by the works of Rousseau, Quatremère de Quincy, and Jacques-Louis David, it presented "an explicit religion of man". [10]

Jean-Jacques Rousseau Genevan philosopher, writer and composer

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Genevan philosopher, writer and composer. His political philosophy influenced the progress of the Enlightenment throughout Europe, as well as aspects of the French Revolution and the development of modern political, economic and educational thought.

Quatremère de Quincy French art historian

Antoine-Chrysostome Quatremère de Quincy was a French armchair archaeologist and architectural theorist, a Freemason, and an effective arts administrator and influential writer on art.

Jacques-Louis David French Neoclassical painter

Jacques-Louis David was a French painter in the Neoclassical style, considered to be the preeminent painter of the era. In the 1780s his cerebral brand of history painting marked a change in taste away from Rococo frivolity toward classical austerity and severity and heightened feeling, harmonizing with the moral climate of the final years of the Ancien Régime.

Adherence to the Cult of Reason became a defining attribute of the Hébertist faction. It was also pervasive among the ranks of the sans-culottes . Numerous political factions, anti-clerical groups and events only loosely connected to the cult have come to be amalgamated with its name. [12]

<i>Sans-culottes</i> radical left-wing partisans of the lower classes during French Revolution

The sans-culottes were the common people of the lower classes in late 18th century France, a great many of whom became radical and militant partisans of the French Revolution in response to their poor quality of life under the Ancien Régime. The word sans-culotte, which is opposed to that of the aristocrat, came in vogue in 1792, during the demonstration of 20 June 1792. The name sans-culottes refers to their clothing, and through that to their lower-class status: culottes were the fashionable silk knee-breeches of the 18th-century nobility and bourgeoisie, and the working class sans-culottes wore pantaloons, or trousers, instead. The sans-culottes, most of them urban labourers, served as the driving popular force behind the revolution. They were judged by the other revolutionaries as "radicals" because they advocated a direct democracy, that is to say, without intermediaries such as members of parliament. Though ill-clad people and ill-equipped, with little or no support from the upper class, they made up the bulk of the Revolutionary army during the early years of the French Revolutionary Wars.

Joseph Fouche (1759-1820) Fouche, Joseph.jpg
Joseph Fouché (1759–1820)

Joseph Fouché

As a military commander dispatched by the Jacobins to enforce their new laws, Fouché led a particularly zealous campaign of dechristianisation. His methods were brutal but efficient, and helped spread the developing creed through many parts of France. In his jurisdictions, Fouché ordered all crosses and statues removed from graveyards, and he gave the cult one of its elemental tenets when he decreed that all cemetery gates must bear only one inscription"Death is an eternal sleep." [13] Fouché went so far as to declare a new civic religion of his own, virtually interchangeable with what would become known as the Cult of Reason, at a ceremony he dubbed the "Feast of Brutus" on 22 September 1793. [14]

Fete de la Raison ("Festival of Reason"), Notre Dame, Paris. Fete de la Raison 1793.jpg
Fête de la Raison ("Festival of Reason"), Notre Dame, Paris.

Festival of Reason

The official nationwide Fête de la Raison, supervised by Hébert and Momoro on 20 Brumaire, Year II (10 November 1793) came to epitomize the new republican way of religion. In ceremonies devised and organised by Chaumette, churches across France were transformed into modern Temples of Reason. The largest ceremony of all was at the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. The Christian altar was dismantled and an altar to Liberty was installed and the inscription "To Philosophy" was carved in stone over the cathedral's doors. [10] Festive girls in white Roman dress and tricolor sashes milled around a costumed Goddess of Reason who "impersonated Liberty". [15] A flame burned on the altar which was symbolic of truth. [16] To avoid statuary and idolatry, the Goddess figures were portrayed by living women, [17] and in Paris the role was played by Momoro's own wife Sophie, who is said to have dressed "provocatively" [18] and, according to Thomas Carlyle, "made one of the best Goddesses of Reason; though her teeth were a little defective." [19]

Before his retirement, Georges Danton had warned against dechristianizers and their "rhetorical excesses", but support for the Cult only increased in the zealous early years of the First Republic. By late 1793, it was conceivable that the Convention might accept the invitation to attend the Paris festival en masse, but the unshakeable opposition of Maximilien Robespierre and others like him prevented it from becoming an official affair. [20] Undeterred, Chaumette and Hébert proudly led a sizable delegation of deputies to Notre Dame. [21]

Reaction

Inscription on church at Ivry-la-Bataille. Inscription Eglise Ivry-la-Bataille.jpg
Inscription on church at Ivry-la-Bataille.

Many contemporary accounts reported the Festival of Reason as a "lurid", "licentious" affair of scandalous "depravities", [22] although some scholars have disputed their veracity. [23] These accounts, real or embellished, galvanized anti-revolutionary forces and even caused many dedicated Jacobins like Robespierre to publicly separate themselves from the radical faction. [24] Robespierre particularly scorned the Cult and denounced the festivals as "ridiculous farces". [21]

In the spring of 1794, the Cult of Reason was faced with official repudiation when Robespierre, nearing complete dictatorial power during the Reign of Terror, announced his own establishment of a new, deistic religion for the Republic, the Cult of the Supreme Being. [25] Robespierre denounced the Hébertistes on various philosophical and political grounds, specifically rejecting their perceived atheism. When Hébert, Momoro, Ronsin, Vincent, and others were sent to the guillotine on 4 Germinal, Year II (24 March 1794), the cult lost its most influential leadership; when Chaumette and other Hébertistes followed them four days later, the Cult of Reason effectively ceased to exist. Both cults were officially banned in 1801 by Napoleon Bonaparte with his Law on Cults of 18 Germinal, Year X. [26]

Notes

  1. The word "cult" in French means "a form of worship", without any of its negative or exclusivist implications in English; its proponents intended it to be a universal congregation.

See also

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References

  1. Chapters in Western civilization, Volume 1. Columbia University Press. 2012. p. 465. Holbach carried the cult of reason and nature to its culmination in an atheistic denial of the deists' Supreme Being, and made the most influential attack on rational religion ...
  2. Flood, Gavin (2012). The Importance of Religion: Meaning and Action in Our Strange World. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN   978-1405189712. During the French Revolution in 1793 the Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris was rededicated to the Cult of Reason, an atheistic doctrine intended to replace Christianity.
  3. M. Baker, Keith (1987). University of Chicago Readings in Western Civilization, Volume 7: The Old Regime and the French Revolution. University of Chicago Press. p. 384. ISBN   978-0226069500. In May, he proposed an entire cycle of revolutionary festivals, to begin with the Festival of the Supreme Being. This latter was intended to celebrate a new civil religion as opposed to Christianity as it was to the atheism of the extreme dechristianizers (whose earlier Cult of Reason Robespierre and his associates had repudiated).
  4. McGrath, Alister (2008). The Twilight Of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World. Random House. p. 45. ISBN   978-1407073767. He was an active member of the faction that successfully campaigned for the atheistic 'Cult of Reason', which was officially proclaimed on November 10, 1793.
  5. Doyle 1989 , p. 389
  6. Furet & Ozouf 1989 , pp. 563–564
  7. 1 2 3 Furet & Ozouf 1989 , p. 564
  8. Fremont-Barnes 2007 , p. 237
  9. McGowan 2012 , p. 14
  10. 1 2 3 4 Kennedy 1989 , p. 343
  11. Carlyle 1838 , p. 375
  12. Kennedy 1989 , p. 343: "The Festival of Reason ... has come to symbolize the Parisian de-Christianization movement."
  13. Doyle 1989 , p. 259: "Fouché declared in a manifesto... graveyards should exhibit no religious symbols, and at the gate of each would be an inscription proclaiming 'Death is an eternal sleep'."
  14. Doyle 1989 , p. 259: "[Fouché ] inaugurated a civic religion of his own devising with a 'Feast of Brutus' on 22 September at which he denounced 'religious sophistry'."
  15. Palmer 1969 , p. 119
  16. "Reason, Cult of Goddess of". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  17. Kennedy 1989 , p. 343: "A 'beautiful woman' was chosen to represent Reason and Liberty, rather than a statue, so that she would not become an idol."
  18. Scurr 1989 , p. 267
  19. Carlyle 1838 , p. 379
  20. Schama 1989 , pp. 778–779
  21. 1 2 Schama 1989 , p. 778
  22. Kennedy 1989 , p. 344: "The Festival of Reason in Notre Dame left no impression of rationality on the memories of contemporary observers.... [I]t was evident that the Festival of Reason was a scandal."
  23. Ozouf 1988 , p. 100ff
  24. Kennedy 1989 , p. 344: "...tales of its raucousness may have contributed to Robespierre's opposition to de-Christianization in December 1793."
  25. "War, Terror, and Resistance". Center for History and New Media, George Mason University. Retrieved 28 July 2012.
  26. Doyle 1989 , p. 389

Bibliography