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Document Details :

Title: Religie, ongeloof en fanatisme in de Encyclopédie
Author(s): VAN HERCK, Walter
Journal: Bijdragen
Volume: 73    Issue: 4   Date: 2012   
Pages: 371-387
DOI: 10.2143/BIJ.73.4.2959712

Abstract :
Starting from the table of human knowledge or système figuré, a meandered walk through the Encyclopédie is taken which brings the reader from atheism to society to religion, superstition and fanaticism. The message it brings is mixed and ambiguous. Atheism is treated as a respectable intellectual view. The articles ATHÉES (atheists) and ATHÉISME (atheism) count approximately 24,000 words – in itself a small book. The main point is here clearly not saving God, but the position of the atheist in society. Moral arguments for and against atheism in society are produced. The arguments against atheism seem, at first, to get the upper hand. Religion is necessary for the wellbeing of society. When we ask which religion is necessary for society, the answer we suspect is a rather general and rational species of religion, namely natural religion. The article RELIGION immediately distinguishes ‘religion naturelle’ from ‘religion revélée’. In his definition of natural religion the author identifies natural religion with morality or ethics. So, the type of religion which is valued here turns out to be in fact synonymous with morality. As the world becomes ever more civilized we don’t need less, but more of this religious morality according to the Encyclopédistes. Progress, capitalist markets and technologies are said to multiply our desires and more than ever do we need virtues like recognition and gratitude. Revealed religion is fiercely criticised when it appears in the shapes of superstition and fanaticism. Jaucourt wrote the rather short article on SUPERSTITION (and SUPER-STITIEUX). Superstition, which was announced as an abuse of religion, is here defined as a species of enchantment or magical power which fear can exert over the human soul – an unhappy child of the imagination, so to speak. Jaucourt recommends the article FANATISME by Deleyre as one of the most beautiful and best articles in the Encyclopédie. The causes of fanaticism are fear, superstitious opinions and the extravagances of the imagination. It results in ridiculous and immoral actions. Fanaticism has produced rivers of blood. This form of fanatical religion is not really religion anymore, but an impiety (‘mais une impiété’). Sacred things are abused and made to serve deregulated passions. After analysing the causes, the symptoms and the cures of this illness, the author makes a comparison with atheism. Again, it is indicated that fanaticism has caused much more evil then incredulity and impiety. So, the circle is closed: although atheism is mildly criticized for containing risks to society, one should not be led to think that the established religions are valued any higher – on the contrary.