A Brief History
On November 10, 1793, the government of revolutionary France celebrated the “Festival of Reason”
as it rejected traditional religion (mostly Catholicism in France) and inserted a philosophy known as the “Cult of Reason” as the national “religion.” Nationwide, real women dressed up in white Roman dress and impersonated “Goddesses of Reason.”
This new government had renounced all forms of deities for a secular, scientific explanation of the universe and all in it. Despite having Goddesses of Reason dancing around, the framers of this Cult of Reason were also careful to warn against worshipping science, liberty, truth and reason as if they were replacement gods, and believed that these concepts should still be viewed as the abstract ideas they are.
Churches, including the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, were seized and converted into “Temples of Reason.” Meanwhile, powerful opponents of this new way of thinking included other Revolutionaries such as Maximilien Robespierre. By 1794, the Robespierre-led “Reign of Terror” faction was able to officially repudiate the Cult of Reason and replace it with “The Cult of The Supreme Being,” a kind of a generic deist religion.
As it was, the last visit of many of the proponents of both of these new replacement religions was to “Madame Guillotine,” and when Napoleon Bonaparte came to power, he reinstated the Catholic Church in France. Sorry France, “Reason” will just have to wait for the next revolution!
Question for students (and subscribers): Could you see a “Cult of Reason” ever replacing Christianity as the largest religion in the world? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Aston, Nigel. Religion and Revolution in France, 1780-1804. The Catholic University of America Press, 2000.