Religion and The French Revolution

I am pretty familiar with the American Revolution given my natural interests and after setting my first three novels in the events leading up to and during the conflict. However, book #4, Cupid's Arrow, took me a bit outside my comfort zone and into the French Revolution.

I knew the basics like everyone else: The French beheaded their king and lots of other people, Marie Antoinette said 'let them eat cake' (although not exactly), and something happened at a place called Bastille that the French celebrate in much the same way we Americans celebrate the 4th of July. I also knew that eventually everything spiraled out of control, and a rescue came in the form of one of the most "successful" dictators the world has ever seen: Napoleon. 

But, as I studied, it became obvious that the French Revolution was a lot more complex and intriguing than anything I ever learned in school or by reading The Scarlett Pimpernel and watching two different versions of the movie.

Getting Rid of Religion
Denis Diderot
One of the most intriguing aspects for me was the way the French tried to clear the way for the Revolution by getting rid of religion - specifically the Catholic religion. This made some strategic sense. If you want to overthrow a king who saw himself as appointed by God, get rid of God. Of course, that's easier said than done in a country that was the first state to be legitimized by the Pope, so instead, the revolutionaries turned Catholicism into a sort of state religion, requiring priests to swear allegiance to the civil constitution over their duties to God.

The feelings of the revolutionaries toward the monarchy and the church are
summed up fairly concisely in the words of Denis Diderot, a French philosopher of the time:
"Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entails of the last priest."
Sounds like a lovely man, does he not? <sarcasm alert>

To be fair, the French Revolution isn't the only revolution that sought to either rid the people of their faith (The Cuban Revolution), suppress it (The Chinese Revolution), or use it to their advantage (The Russian Revolution). To my way of thinking, it's not so clear who "won" some of these revolutions, but "the oppressed", the supposed benefactors of revolution, never seem to fair very well. The American Revolution is the one conflict I am aware of that not only sought to preserve religion, but make it a key player in the conflict and subsequent nation building, without demanding adherence at the point of a sword.

Excerpt from Cupid's Arrow
Cupid's Arrow
Release Date: Feb 12, 2016
Perhaps she should have asked Father Hebert to absolve her of the sin she was about to commit. In a country doing its best to rid itself of its Catholic heritage, she had been granted the services of a priest by a jailor who had succumbed to her pleas—and probably her appearance, as well.

Father Hebert was undoubtedly one of the state priests who had sworn an allegiance to the constitution, but she was glad of his services. He had heard her last confession just before dawn and pronounced her mortal soul cleansed and free to enter the kingdom of heaven. Surely, it would be a sin to enjoy watching the death of her husband, but was it possible to ask for forgiveness before one sinned? Perhaps not.

Nor would the young priest think she needed absolution for the sin. The revolutionaries had plucked him from his small village in Ille-et-Vilaine in Brittany and transported him to Paris where he had the unhappy job of hearing the confessions of the condemned prisoners—those who admitted to being papists anyway. He still wore the wide-eyed look of an altar boy who did not quite know what was expected of him.

When Any Religion Will Do
Perhaps the greatest irony is that the French revolutionaries were entirely willing   The Goddess of Reason was eventually celebrated by rather bacchanalian proceedings with the goddess reportedly portrayed by a prostitute who engaged in lewd acts on the altars of formerly Christian churches and cathedrals.
Fête de la Raison
to substitute their own religious practices and idols in place of Christianity. The Cult of Reason, personified by the ironically named Goddess of Reason, was the first. This god, left in the hands of those devoted to godlessness, tended to become a bit, well...un-godlike.

Robespierre’s tried to substitute his Cult of the Supreme Being, a sort of French Deism, at the French National Convention in May of 1794. He was beheaded that July. I don't know for certain that there's a connection, but I am fairly certain Robespierre didn't make many friends when he tried to bring the revelers' fun to an end.

For what it's worth, Napoleon was much more tolerant of faith if a little agenda-driven:
It is by making my self Catholic that I brought peace to Brittany and Vendée. It is by making myself Italian that I won minds in Italy. It is by making myself a Moslem that I established myself in Egypt. If I governed a nation of Jews, I shoulf reestablish the Temple of Solomon.
~ Napoleon Bonaparte
Hat tip: Hollowverse: The religions and political views of the influentials

Although I do like to study these things, I am just a dabbler. If you have anything to add (or to contradict) please do!

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