Baron de Holbach quoted “Religion diverts us from the causes of evil, and from the remedies which nature prescribes; far from curing, it only aggravates, multiplies and perpetuates them”. Religion is a very important part of human beings’ life as it gives purpose and ethical framework to live a good life. But it was one of the most controversial issues during the French Revolution (1789-1794). French Revolution brought significant changes in not only Europe but the whole world. One of the most crucial time periods in European history regarding religious development is before, during and after the French Revolution.
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Before the French revolution, the French society was divided into three disproportionate and unequally managed estates. First estate consisted of Clergy which numbered 130000 at that time which was about 0.5% of total population. Second estate was the French nobility which constituted 1.5% of the French population and rest of the population were part of third estate which contained rest of the France’s population (Smith and Frank.E). During 18th century, majority of the France’s population were catholic with Roman Catholic Church. Religion and belief in God was really important to the population of France at that time. Therefore Churches and their clergy was the only way for the ordinary people to learn more about God and their religion (School History). Not just that, those clergymen had many roles apart from that at that time. Few essential roles of them were distributing relief to the poor, baptisms and funerals, running schools and even some used to teach at university level and conducted marriages. Therefore the Church and clergymen had practically stronghold among its own population in France.
However, the first estate was quite corrupt and unjust. This 0.5% of the population had control on 10 to 15 percentage of the French Land. The clergy from the church had another huge responsibility and that was to collect tithes from the third estate. Even after collecting a huge annual amount from tithe which was their major source of income, the Church never paid any tax to the state. The church was also wealthy due to the amount of land they had and the revenue and rent received from the tenants. The Church’s revenue at that time was estimated up to 150 million livres (Betros. G). Not only that, any individual from first estate won’t be called for any military service and if any of the churchmen is accused of a serious crime then he won’t be called in civil court. Instead that person can only be called in ecclesiastical court where the fellow members of the clergy will decide what to do (Llewellyn. J and Thompson. S). The whole French estate system was totally based on social injustices which later lead to the French Revolution.
Due to massive unjust towards 98% of the French population by first two estates, in 1789 the third estate started to question the French Monarchy and the authority of the Catholic Church which was really popular for its intertwined status. By this time the French Revolution had started and at the same time under two influential political clubs many religious changes were happening too. A law was passed by National Assembly on July 12, 1790 known as the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, under which the lands that were under the Church was seized. Also the amount of tax and tithes was discussed. Moreover the Church’s power was limited by causing a rift between the new French government and Catholic Church (Weight. A). This is because under Louis XVI, first estate was involved and part of the old French Government and was responsible for biased system. By this jurisdiction that was passed by law, the state is no more accountable to the Catholic Church instead the Church now is accountable to the new French government. But due to occurrence of this law, majority of the French population dechristianized as the schism between those against and in favor of the French revolution.
This incident led to series of anti-Catholic activities which includes removal of church bells and silver plates from the church. Not just that, the anti-Catholics closed the churches and to make it even worse they use to celebrate by burning down religious painting and statues and also confessionals. During this time the violence against priests increased rapidly (Weight. A). The new republic began to work violently to remove any resemblance of the old royal history reign and a new state sponsored atheistic religion named Cult Of Reason was created as a result of replacement for the Catholic Church. In addition all the churches were converted to Temples of Reason. Even the Christian calendar didn’t survive and a brand new revolutionary calendar was soon introduced which was known as French Republic Calendar (Andrews. G).
The purpose of all this was to completely end the influence that Catholic Church had on the French population and also to replace religious events with the secular ones. During this time a huge number of priests were sent to jail too. Later in 1974, Cult of Reason was evolved to the Cult of the Supreme Being which was created by Maximilien Robespierre.