Tuesday, September 04, 2007


France is said to be the most secular state in Europe, yet the crucified Christ looks down from almost every bend in the road, and ancient churches puncture the skyline in every direction. In the massive churches and cathedrals, stone saints look down sadly on the empty dusty chairs.

Is it an exaggeration to suggest that the secularisation was caused by the over-saturation of religion?

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Blogger Karin said...

Or perhaps the unhappy marriage of church and state, which meant the church was (seen as) an ally of the rich and powerful and not a friend of the poor as Jesus was??

3:05 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

I don't think the church is particularly associated with the rich in France, Karin. Quite the reverse if anything.

7:25 AM  
Blogger Karin said...

But it was historically and until fairly recently.

7:29 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Really? Can you give me a link about it?

8:01 AM  
Blogger Karin said...

Try something on the history of the French church. I'm a bit preoccupied at the moment. It was certainly true at the time of the revolution but the Church in many places, not just France, has supported the wealthy and been supported by them.

If I'm wrong I will have learnt something. I need to get sorted for this evening now as it will be busy and most likely quite demanding and I'm probably anxious as I'm having trouble shaking of a headache.

8:10 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

According to this wikipedia page the de-christianisation of France was an objective of the French Revolution.

However, given that this took place in 1750-1800, I'm not sure this explains the current situation in France any more than the English civil war has on Christianity in England.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Karin said...

OK so that explains the historical reasons for the church's decline in France and so may still have some bearing on how French people think about the church today.

I wouldn't have said that a while ago but I read Steve T's book - I think the one on Wesley, I've read several - and he said that the Civil War explains why British (or maybe just English) are very wary of people who are overly enthusiastic about religion. He might have said that was why they were like it in Wesley's day, but I would say that trend still exists today.

So based on that I think it is possible that what happened in the Revolution still affects French thoughts about Religion today.

I knew two French families who were Catholic but the one that made most fuss about it consisted of the daughter of a Marquis and the great-nephew of Charles de Gaulles. I'm not sure if that has any bearing on the matter or not.

The other, ordinary, family went to a church where they played the guitar and didn't use incense when I went along. Just like here there are probably different expressions of the Catholic church in France. I believe Protestant churches are still very much a minority.

I'm thinking this through rather than trying to convince you or anyone. Any more light on the subject would be welcome.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

Well, put it this way, most of the symbols and signs around France you see of Christianity are more recent than the French Revolution.

According to reports I have seen on Roman Catholic websites, a dramatic decline in church attendance occurred within the last 10 years.

I just don't believe there is a direct correlation between the current secularism and the revolution, any more than I believe the nonsense published by Steve T about latent fear of religion caused by the English civil war. I just don't believe that fear of that kind - if it existed at all - can be passed genetically over many generations. Religiousity in general is not passed by genetics or upbringing - as some of the most prominent atheists having backgrounds in faith communities testify. Most people have zero understanding or interest in the civil war, or even Wesley, Luther or Calvin come to that. Whilst it might be true that these things have influenced the balance of religious theology in different countries, I think in themselves they have no effect on secularism. I see no evidence to suggest that.

5:28 AM  
Blogger Karin said...

I don't know, Joe, but 30 years ago France was already known for being fairly secular: people were either Catholic or Communist and the Communists were more numerous.

I think attitudes to religion can be passed down from generation to generation and this would be nurture not by genetics. This may not affect those who experience a deep religious experience, but how many traditional church-goers would have done that?

Some ideas on why the French church is so much in decline can be found here http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/dettaglio.jsp?id=30332&eng=y
in the section entitled THE STAGES OF MODERNITY'S TRIUMPH in particular.

6:02 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

See this: http://www.speroforum.com/site/article.asp?id=7467

6:10 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

And according to the French government, here, the decline started in the sixties.

6:14 AM  
Blogger Karin said...

I don't find it hard to believe that the current decline began in the '60's but I am surprised that Catholics made up over 80 percent of the population in the 1990's still. Perhaps it depends how you define Catholic.

6:27 AM  

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