Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Theocratic Secularism: Part 1: The French Revolution

During the French Revolution, secularists rejected God
and deified reason in His place.

by Steve C. Halbrook

(posts in this series: part 1part 2, part 3

Theocracy is inescapable. Consider the French Revolution.  While its pretext was building the first secular, neutral, non-theocratic society ever, it simply deified human reason in God’s place.  Bent on building a Reason theocracy, the revolutionaries converted “the venerable cathedral of Notre-Dame into a ‘Temple of Reason,’ dedicated ‘to philosophy.’”[1]  Other church buildings were converted to “temples of reason” throughout the provinces.[2]  During a “Feast of Reason” in the Notre-Dame cathedral,[3] the theocrats designated their messianic deliverer:

Madame Candeile, an actress and sometime opera singer, was carried in under the tremendous nave dressed in “an azure mantle garlanded with oak, holding in her hand the Pike of the Jupiter-People, heralded by young women in tricolor dresses.”  The dignitaries of the Assembly in their medals and plumes cheered as the Goddess of Reason sat grandly on the high altar.[4]
For the revolutionaries, Reason Incarnate had inaugurated her kingdom reign.  Ironically, Jean Jacques Rousseau, a chief philosophical influence on the Revolution, said, “Never was a state founded that did not have religion for its basis.”[5]  This ostensibly religion-less revolution was, to quote Edmund Burke, “Atheism by Establishment.”[6] 

In France's Reign of Terror, secular theocrats sacrificed
"unreasonable heretics" to their idol, the god of reason

Similarly, French Revolution critic G. Groen van Prinsterer calls the Revolution, “the religion, as it were, of unbelief.”[7]  He adds,

The principle of this vaunted philosophy was the sovereignty of Reason, and the outcome was apostasy from God and materialism. … I hardly need remind you that from the outset the supremacy of Reason was postulated as an axiom in philosophy.  This supremacy rested upon a denial of the corruption of human nature.  But where Reason was considered uncorrupted, Revelation could contain nothing beyond its reach, or at least nothing against its verdict.  Thus reason became the touchtone of the truth.  … Holy Scripture, to be holy, came to need the sanction of human approval.  It cannot escape the Christian that at this very juncture the Divine prerogative is already violated as man seeks to be rid of God and to be deified in His place.[8]

Reason for Revolutionary France was both god and holy writ.[9]   As opposed to a theocracy based on the “rule of God,” the French theocracy based itself on the “rule of Reason.”

Excerpt from the (Lord willing) upcoming book, God is Just: A Defense of the Old Testament Civil Laws: Biblical Theocracy, Justice, and Slavery versus Humanistic Theocracy, "Justice," and Slavery by Steve C. Halbrook.  Copyright © 2010 by Steve C. Halbrook.  Based on the master's thesis, God is Just: A Defense of the Old Testament Civil Laws.

     [1] Michael Burleigh, Earthly Powers: The Clash of Religion and Politics in Europe, from the French Revolution to the Great War (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005), 87.
     [2] Ibid.
     [3] Otto J. Scott, Robespierre: The Voice of Virtue (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1974), 208. 
     [4] Ibid., 208, 209.
     During that time the press wrote, “Liberty, represented by a beautiful woman, came out of the temple of philosophy, and taking her seat on the green sward, accepted the homage of the republican men and women, who sang a hymn in her honour, whilst stretching out their arms to her.  Then liberty descended to re-enter the temple, but stopping before her entry to turn and cast a look of good-will upon her friends.  As soon as she entered, their enthusiasm broke out in shouts of joy and oaths that they would never cease to be faithful to her.”  Les Révolutions de Paris, No. 215, 23-30 Brumaire, Year II (13-20 November 1793), 214-15.  Cited in J. Gilchrist and W. J. Murray, The Press in the French Revolution: A Selection of Documents taken from the Press of the Revolution for the Years 1789-1794 (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press Inc., 1971), 118, 119.
     Otto Scott paints a similar picture of a Jacobin Club meeting:  “He [Robespierre] rose to speak inside the Club like one voicing the wishes of its gods, like a man who had visited the mountain.  An observer wrote, ‘The nave of the Jacobin’s church is changed into a vast circus.  The seats mount up, circularly, like an amphitheater, to the very groin of the domed roof.  A high Pyramid of black marble, built against one of the walls—formerly a funeral monument—has been left standing, and now serves as a back to the office-bearer’s bureau.  Here on an elevated platform sit President and Secretaries; behind them the white busts of Mirabeau and Franklin … In front is the Tribune, raised till it is midway between floor and groin of the dome, so the speakers’ voice may be in the center.  The imagination … recalls those dread temples … consecrated to the Avenging Deities.’”  Scott, Robespierre, 140-141. 
     [5] Cited in Charles B. Galloway, Christianity and the American Commonwealth; or, The Influence of Christianity in Making This Nation, 20.  Galloway’s quote cited in Gary Demar, America’s Christian History: The Untold Story (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Inc., 2007), 47. 
     [6] Cited in Burleigh, Earthly Powers, 121.
     [7] G. Groen van Prinsterer, Unbelief and Revolution: Lectures VIII & IX, edited and translated by Harry Van Dyke in collaboration with Donald Morton (Amsterdam: The Groen Van Prinsterer Fund, 1975), 17.
     [8] Ibid., 17, 18.
     [9] As Edward J. Young writes, “To reject external revelation and to regard the human mind as a law unto itself is not to become enlightened but to fall into the grossest of deceptions. … To exalt the human reason, as though it in itself were the final arbiter of all things, is in reality to substitute the creature for the Creator.” Edward J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1973), 21.  

No comments: